King David felt guilty as he sat in his commodious new house and thought of the ark – the symbol of God’s promise to be among those who commit to living by the Ten Commandments, and the sign of God’s pledge to all who walk in the way of the law: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
The ark deserved more than a tent and David intended to do something about it.
Today’s Old Testament reading is a delightful conversation God asked Nathan, prophet and advisor to King David, to relay to him, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”
God never asked to have a house; yet, to this day, there seems to be the felt need to ignore God’s wishes that hold to the architectural rule: Structure follows function.
The first function is that temple/cathedral/church/meeting house, by whatever name the structure is called, is built to function as a place of meeting with God, the living, ever-present God, in a tented space where people can say, “Truly God is in this place.”
When the Schwenkfelders arrived in America and settled in the central and northern part of what is now Montgomery County, they worshiped in their farm homes which proved to be a less than worshipful place.
There were too many distractions, especially for the children and youth who found ways to break away from the service of Bible reading, a sermon, prayers and singing.
One was for a child to look out the window and shout, “The pigs are running away!” Or, “The cows broke through the fence!” That brought an end to the service as everyone ran out to catch them, only to find pigs and cows were where they belonged.
After a few years they built meeting houses and, in the upper district, a stone cathedral-like building in the middle of a farmer’s land. In 1911 special excursion trains from Philadelphia brought sightseers who processed from the local station, across the fields to see what Schwenkfelders had built to function as a space to worship God,
apart from daily life and distractions staged by children.
They found they needed a sacred space away from the commotion and stress of everyday life, as did the first families who built this place in 1855, in which we are now worshiping.
The second function is that temple/cathedral/church/meeting house, by whatever name the structure is called, is built to function as a place of meeting with God’s Person.
King David heard God’s promise of the One Who was to come: (he) “shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.”
The promised one of King David’s line, the heir born to Mary and Joseph, Who would call God “Father” and be called God’s “beloved Son.”
He would be a living ark of the covenant, bringing the laws to life with His word “love” – love of God, others, self;
He would be the King of God’s kingdom of justice and peace for all nations, races and classes.
He would be a place of meeting with God in human flesh. Not a building, but the living temple of God’s Person.
The blueprint for that function either got lost or was rejected for the elaborate construction project of a temple on the mount in Jerusalem, now only a painful memory, for the Roman legions reduced it to rubble in 70 AD.,
But both Jews and Christians have followers who are determined to rebuilt it, even though God has always had a different plan.
A legend tells of the devil challenging God to silence and God accepts, to the devil’s delight; now he will be in full charge. After a while God asks the devil to grant God one word, only one. The devil allows God’s wish for what harm can God do with one word? In barely above a whisper, God utters that one word: “JESUS.” (Adapted from: "A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers" W.J. Bausch p 234)
And through Him God speaks, first in stories and healings, and ultimately through the Cross and empty tomb; that echo with what Jesus said before that world and life-changing weekend, (John 12:32) “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
The second function of a place of meeting with God’s Person.
The third function is that temple/cathedral/church/meeting house, by whatever name the structure is called, is built to function as a place of meeting for God’s People.
Occasionally someone asks to “see our church.” As I show them around, they admire the stained glass windows, imagine the strains of music from the organ, focus on altar table and cross, and quite often exclaim, “What a beautiful church.” Hearing that, I answer, “Yes, but I haven’t really shown you the ‘church,’ because the ‘church’ is the people who come together to worship the God they meet through Jesus Christ."
I don't use that drop in visit to add that "church" comes from the Greek ekklesia, meaning an assembly of citizens, called to come together to meet as the community.
God’s people, first described in today’s Gospel: a great crowd; (for whom Jesus) had compassion… because
they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
God’s people, who, receiving the seeds of Christ’s compassion, grow into being a sheepfold for the lost and bruised, who – with them – are drawn into the embrace of Christ, the Shepherd of their souls.
Or, in the Apostle Paul’s architectural terms to the church in Ephesus, they are members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone (the foundational stone for all the stones laid on it.)
God’s people, who in Christ are joined together as a structure that grows into a holy temple in the Lord;… a dwelling place for God.- and a place of God’s compassionate people.
The story is told of a monk who while walking spotted a precious jewel on the road; he picked it up and put it in his bag. Later a poor man approached him and beg for food. When the monk opened his bag, the beggar saw the gem and asked to have it; the monk gave to him. Off he went, rejoicing, but a few days later he searched out
the monk to return the gem. “Why?” he asked, and the poor man said, “Because what I really need is what enabled you to give me this gem.” (www.sermons.com for July 19, 2015)
Of course the answer is, “The compassion of Christ that makes His church a compassionate people.”
The third function of a place of meeting for God’s People.
“Building the Perfect Church” – an impossible task for humans, but not for God Who rolls out the blueprints for us to see in today’s Scripture: that temple/cathedral/church/meeting house, by whatever name the structure is called, is built to function as a place of meeting
with God’s Person,
for God’s People.
and seeing, we pray: (borrowing the words Prud E. Deitz, NCH # 407)
2 Teach us to build; upon the solid rock
We set the dream that hardens into deed,…
3 O keep us building, Master; may our hands
Ne'er falter when the dream is in our hearts,
When to our ears there come divine commands
And all the pride of sinful will departs;
We build with Thee; O grant enduring worth
Until the Heavenly Kingdom comes on earth. AMEN.