Has God Left the Building?
This much I know to be true. God has a great sense of humour. One of the ways I imagine God is much like Dickens’ ‘Ghost of Christmas Present’. This larger than life spirit has a monstrous belly laugh. This is the first Sunday we are worshipping in the sanctuary with its new flooring. By the way, do you like the flooring? It was laid by a group of guys who decided to call ourselves – OFF, Old Farts Flooring.
On this Sunday of all Sundays, God decides to tell us the story of the greatest temple of all being destroyed. Not one stone shall be left standing upon another. Then God hunkers down on his celestial throne elbows Gabriel in the side and says, “Let’s see what they do with this one, Gabe.” There is a wisdom here we need to be reminded of, especially today.
Jesus began the first sermon he ever preached with these words:
Blessed are the poor in Spirit.
Blessed are they who mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the pure in spirit.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
To begin his ministry with these words means that they were obviously very important to him. How did we respond?
We built this. ( picture of a cathedral)
Jesus said when you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, care for the sick, you do it unto me.
And we do this. (picture of a crowd of worshipers cheering a Jesus sign)
Jesus takes one small boy who is willing to give whatever he has in his small shepherd’s pack and offer it to others, and encourages the other 5,000 to do the same and they end up feeding 5,000 people.
And we turn it into this. (Picture of Pope and priests)
I am not sure that Jesus asked for any of this. So why do we do it? Jesus is calling out the truth of our humanity. Regardless of how close we draw ourselves to Jesus, regardless of how enlightened we attempt to become, the reality is, disciples across the ages are attracted to splendour and grandeur. We want to see our God lifted high, matching the majesty and might we see in the kingdoms of this world. We take the power of God and try to illustrate using the world’s terms of reference, when all along God’s power is defined in complete opposites of what the world defines as glory, in grace, in bowing down, in serving.
Success in our minds settles on the numbers of butts we have in the pews, on the size of our budget, on grants and on new and shiny programs. There is a phrase for all of this. It is called The Idolatry of Grandeur. “The Largest…” ends up being a mission statement. “The Biggest…” ends up being a vision statement. It shows that even the church is susceptible to the measures of might and the gauges of greatness set by society.
Today, Jesus calls out this truth for us; churches built on this kind of ideology will fall. Not one stone will be left standing upon another.
Is it at all possible that this is what Jesus was talking about? On average, 4,000 churches close every year in North America.
Mark is a young man who, along with his wife, faithfully attended their local church every week. Mark is a deeply devoted man, devoted to his God, his faith, his family, his community. His faith is a huge part of who he is and how he sees himself.
However, he said he would never talk about his faith even to his closest friends and he would most definitely never invite them to church. His friends are church illiterate. They wouldn’t know where to sit and when to stand and what to do when they prayed. They wouldn’t know the music. They are afraid they would stick out. They are afraid they would be judged. More importantly, there is nothing in there that would help them find God.
Mark says he has better conversations with his friends at their local bar, over a beer. Mark and his friends are police officers. They patrol the seediest parts of their city. They have all experienced a lot of violence, great tragedy, and some horrific scenes. It is in that bar, over a beer, that he and his friends find a comfort zone which makes them feel safe enough to open up and share.
So it occurred to Mark, why not do church in his neighbourhood bar? Didn’t Jesus take his faith, his religion out of the temple and share it along the shores of Galilee while Peter, James and John, who were working hard at fishing? Didn’t Jesus stay in people’s homes, making their dinner tables a place where he shared his faith? Didn’t he attend community events like weddings where on one occasion he turned water into wine to help the wedding couple save face.
So Mark approached his church with this idea. You can just imagine the response. What would the people around Wesley say if I wanted to start doing church at the Rex Hotel. (Although, you have to admit they do have really good pizza). Just the idea of doing church in a bar almost split Mark’s church.
Of course, the focus of concern for the council changed from this being an outreach ministry to the church associating itself with drinking. And, I am sure, that after such a contentious meeting, most of them went home and had a drink. One member of the Board proclaimed, “I gave up drinking when I was 25. Haven’t touched a drop since. It almost destroyed my life. Now the church wants to hold services in a bar. I’ll quit before that happens.”
By a small margin, the church council accepted Mark’s idea, and did so at arm’s length. If this idea came back to bite him, Mark was on his own. It didn’t. Now, once a week, people fill the tables of this bar and, with drinks in their hands, hear the ancient story anew and connect with one another, share their stories, wrestle with questions of faith, mortality, ethics, bare their souls, and release their deepest fears and yearnings. Healing for the soul happens in this bar every week, as grace, compassion, caring, hearing and love flow as readily as the beer.
So on this Sunday, as we proudly admire our new floor and express our gratitude to all those who have made this a reality, Jesus is shining a truth upon our humanity. Why is it we fear that some day there will not be left one stone standing upon another. Has God left our building? Has God left because our vision statement has become one of preservation for all that we have come to love, all that we have come to cherish that simply does not hold the same significance to others who have just walked in our doors? The Idolatry of Grandeur.
Jesus asks of us one simple thing; to seek first the kingdom of God and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Period. When there is not one stone standing upon another in this place, where will people find God be then? Where will people be seeking God then?