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A Simple Matter


OT: 2 Samuel 7:1-7
NT: Acts 7:44-50
Texts: John 4:19-24
       Ephesians 2:13-22
       1 Peter 2:4-9

This morning I want to speak with you very briefly. I want to make but a single point. It is one of the most elementary theological truths, and one that all Christians of every stripe agree upon. There are very few such consensus truths. It is so obvious, so self-evident that no one would reject it. And yet I am afraid that in our impending circumstances, some of you may actually be in danger of forgetting it.  It is this: the church is not the building; the church is the congregation! I will make no pitch either for or against selling the church building. I will say my piece and you may vote as you will.

If you know anything of the holy history of the Bible, you know what happened when the people of Israel were too attached to a particular house of God. Isaiah or one of his pseudonymous successors said that Assyria would never overwhelm Jerusalem because God had his house there. He should never have said this. It created untold mischief.

Later on, the prophets Micaiah and Jeremiah both were jailed and persecuted for announcing that so little was God married to the Jerusalem temple that he had already decided to give the city and the temple over to heathen invaders. The people just couldn't believe this, and they paid a dear price for it. The temple was not a totem, and it did not protect them.

The temple was destroyed, but the religion of Israel was not. It was more resilient than the temple worshippers had feared. How could you have Israelite faith without the temple? It turned out not to be that important, and that was a good thing to learn. The faith was able to thrive, to flourish, to evolve in new ways that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. There was much more to the Israelite faith than the temple.

Those whose faith was in the temple had their faith destroyed. Those who believed instead in a God who would go with them, as he had accompanied Father Abraham in his wanderings--their faith grew as it traveled.

God was not bound to a particular building, a particular piece of property. Neither was their faith. If their faith had been tied to one place, it must have missed God, because he was never bound there.

A new temple was erected generations later. And again some Jews began to think God had everything invested in that particular building. Others did not.

What happened when the Romans destroyed that temple in AD 70? The Jews whose religion was inextricably bound up with that building, the Sadducees, vanished. Their idol had fallen. The Pharisees, on the other hand, had never put all their eggs in that basket. For them it was the scriptures, and the God of the scriptures, that lived and moved and survived the fall of the temple. It never could have contained him anyway: how could it have mattered to him where his people worshipped him?

The early church was more like the Pharisees at this point. Gentile Christians were barred from the temple anyway. They came to think of themselves as the temple, as we have just read in Ephesians and 1 Peter. Once Christians became the established religion of the empire, they began to erect their own buildings, and mighty handy things they are, too. But no one ever lost sight of the central fact that the church of Jesus Christ is not a building.

There is such a thing as sacred space. A place can become holy to you because it is a warehouse of cherished religious memories. That is good. It is much like your own house. You hate to have to move and leave all those memories behind. But of course you won't leave them behind. You'll always have them.

But is the past the only direction you look for religion? What about the future? If you moved into a new building, are you telling me you would not begin to accumulate spiritual experiences to treasure there? I sure hope not!

The church is not the building! The church is the congregation! The church, the New Testament says, is a body, not a building. Isn't it true that there is something seriously amiss if a building suddenly starts moving? Earthquake! But there is nothing wrong if a body moves! It's supposed to, and there is something drastically wrong if it can't!

There may be reasons not to sell this building. If we stay in it, I will be happy, though if we go, I expect to be happy, too. But one of the reasons for not selling the building is not that you think of it as the church. Does our common life together over many months and many years mean so little to you? Would you leave your family if they picked up and moved to a new home? I cannot believe it. I do not believe it. If the church moves somewhere else, I expect to see you there.




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