Discussion thought fo the Day….
27 “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! 28 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you today. 29 May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 30 May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 1 Kings 8:27-30 (NLT)
41 “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42 for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43 then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.
1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)
But more than that: we want to see heaven, we seek something greater, for the human soul thirsts for God, for the living God. The places of pilgrimage have marked a kind of geography of faith in our country, that is, they make visible, almost tangible, how our forefathers encountered the living God, how HE did not withdraw after creation or after the time of Jesus Christ, but is always present and works in them so that they were able to experience HIM, follow in his footsteps, and see him in the works HE performed. Yes, HE is there, and HE is still there today. It is from this inner encounter with the Lord that there originated the places and images of pilgrimage in which we, so to speak, can participate in what they saw, in what their faith provided for them. (1)
It has become a mantra among modern Christians, “the church isn’t the building, it is the people!”
And as this has become more common, we see the church becoming more disposable, we are willing to let them fade into ruin, we are willing to sell them off and let them become restaurants, or antique shops, or be torn down to make way for homes or strip malls.
Let me be clear, I am not talking about Gothic cathedrals; the Church might be a store front, or a modular building, or an old wooden frame building out in the country. Nor am I talking about a form of worship – either that modified from ancient forms of liturgy, or free-form prayer and study that is equally ancient.
But these places are the church.
Because they are the places, like the temple, where God put His Name, they were dedicated to God’s work, to bring honor and glory to His name by becoming a place where the gospel was shared, where people were taught about God’s faithfulness, where people would be baptized and enter into fellowship with others who depend on God. They are the place where that fellowship, God and His people was expressed and celebrated in Communion.
Not just one generation, but generation upon generation. They are the places of pilgrimage we have been given, Pilgrimages that aren’t once i n a lifetime, but daily and weekly..As such, they do what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about – “they make visible and tangible how our forefathers encountered the living God, how He did not withdraw from them after the time of Jesus Christ, but is ALWAYS present and WORKS in them so that they were able to EXPERIENCE HIM, follow in His footsteps, and see Him int he works He performed. ”
As I watch the church experts these days, there is a new mantra. No longer is it the building that is not the church; the congregations are no longer the church either. More precisely, they find that God doesn’t sustain a church past 25-40 years (they forget the part of the original study talking about rededication – holding on to part that explains their observations) As they have been willing to close the buildings, now we are willing to close down the people.
In doing so, we lose the history, not of this person or that, but of their encountering God on His terms, on His ground, on Holy ground, holy because it was where He put His name, where they built it to honor Him. This is what Cardinal Ratzinger was writing about when he continued,
HE is there, and HE is still there today. It is from this inner encounter with the Lord that there originated the places and images of pilgrimage in which we, so to speak, can participate in what they saw, in what their faith provided for them.
As I talk to people who are broken, there is a need to find something bigger than they are, something that will give us hope, something that will assure us that we can go on, that God is still working with HIs people. That there is something work sacrificing for, not just for our sake, but for our communities. Something that is not just a testimony to this generation, but to generations to come.
These places where God meets His people, where He assures them of His love, where He welcomes those foreign to “religion” to come and pray,t o come and find God’s heart, where they find God revealed to them, can serve in such places, because they always have. They are the gathering places, they are places of peace, because they are places of prayer, and absolution, fellowship, sanctuaries and fortresses where we can find rest and healing.
Sustaining them will take work, sacrifice of time and money. THat’s okay; they took that to build them. It will take a lot of teaching, a lot of sharing why God’s love is important, from scripture and the lives of those who went before. That is okay as well! The greater cost will be found when by closing them, disbanding their people, we send an unintended message of what doesn’t matter to “organized religion,”
They are where we, as a communion meet God. These places, centuries old or decades, large or small, ornate or plain, are where we become part of the church, where we become the church.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty to abandon them, or the people and God that are the reason they exist.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 165). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.