Friday, 16 November 2012

Renewing faith not just bricks & mortar..

It seems somewhat ironic that the week we are our here in our hall worshipping, because we are spending money on our church building, that we read Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple. 

Jesus prediction was deeply challenging for the disciples.  For the Jewish people there was an essential understanding that God dwelt within the Holy of Holies in the Temple itself.  The Temple was undoubtedly central to their faith.  We may speak of churches as being God’s house but the sense of God’s presence within the Temple far outstrips our notions.

This is possibly one of the reasons we hear the disciples marvelling at the Temple.  The great stones and wondrous architecture of the Temple was a reflection of God’s power and glory.

Whilst the disciples stand agog, Jesus has been proclaiming another message.  At the end of the twelfth chapter of Mark’s gospel, which we read last week, Jesus attacks the Temple system which exploits the widows, devouring their houses, whilst the Scribes and Pharisees build their personal privilege and wealth.

For Jesus the Temple itself, rather than being representative of God and God’s love has reduced the essence of the faith to ruins.  Continuously through the Old Testament there is a voice crying out for the widow and the orphan, for the poor and the alien, loving God was not simply about pious sideshows but about helping others.

Jesus whole ministry has concern for others at its heart – healing and wholeness, inclusion and reconciliation.  It is a reassertion of what is often found in the mouths of the Psalmist and the prophets – it is not new teaching!

And Jesus prophecy of the destruction of the temple was yet another counterpoint to the way things had been done and who God’s concern was for.

It is interesting to note that Mark’s gospel was written down around the year 64 A.D..  It was nearly 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Nero was the Emperor and there had already been a series of persecutions of the Jews and the fledging Christian community, still largely identify as a sect of Judaism.  After the burning of Rome Nero had accused Christians of causing the fire and had used this as an excuse to persecute the Christians, putting many to death.

Those hearing this story of Jesus prediction of the destruction of the Temple may have wondered where things were heading given the situation under Nero and Jesus words of wars and suffering may have felt more real than removed in their predicament. 

We know in hindsight that Jesus words were to come true, in the year 70 the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Yet, for Jesus his prophecy was not about the end but new beginnings.  His words were words of hope in the face of great suffering and tribulation.  God’s glory and God’s future are not contained within the walls of a building for the hope of God is founded in community and in love and in the promise of a future beyond the suffering which people might currently be experiencing.

When Mark wrote his gospel his words were timely as he cobbled together his reflection on Jesus life and as the Spirit proclaimed God’s love through his words.

When Jesus spoke these words to the disciples he was continuing the task of reorienting the disciples in their faith to give them the resilience and hope that they would need as they faced an uncertain future.  God is not contained within even the walls of the Temple.  God’s love transcends specific places and is found in people.

These are indeed challenging themes as we contemplate our own church refurbishment.  And it is difficult to avoid trying to justify our decision to spend money on the building at this point in our life as a congregation.  Yet in the mixed up world in which we find ourselves what lessons can we take from today.

I believe most importantly we should listen carefully to Jesus’ critique of the Temple system and consider how Jesus challenged accepted practices.

The life of God’s people was founded not on bricks and mortar but on the love of people, widows and orphans, strangers and aliens.  Jesus challenge to the disciples and prediction of the destruction of the Temple were not ultimately about dismantling God but new beginnings in faith.

This brings me back to our predicament today – spending money on our bricks and mortar, simply keeping this particular church open is a very expensive exercise. 

Why spend the money?  Why keep this congregation going when we could all drive or walk to another congregation no more than a few minutes away?

Many a church building and even more of their contents are dedicated to the work and glory of God, our church building is no different.  But the building itself does nothing for God’s glory in and of itself and used for the wrong purposes, even simply the expression of our personal piety, reflects a state of dementia or amnesia about who we are as God’s people.

The world is littered with the bones of old churches, anyone who has toured Europe no doubt has walked through a few, although, we do not have to travel that far afield to see closed churches.  Just in the local area I can name 5 Uniting Church which have closed.  It would be na├»ve to think that this building and this place will always be a church.

So the changing of our building should be taken as an opportunity to look inwards at our faith and outwards towards those whom God is calling us to love in the community around us, widows and orphans, aliens and strangers, God’s people all.

Jesus ministry expands the vision of where God is and who God loves.  As people seeking to be renewed in our faith and commitment and praying for a revival of our congregation we are stepping out in faith and this will involve taking risks that move us beyond our comfort zones.

The destruction of the Temple was not the end.  God’s promises are bigger than our experiences of life and faith.  God’s grace reaches out to all people.  This is indeed good news.

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