Churches are witnesses to the presence of God
In the earliest days of the church Christians met in the Temple in Jerusalem and in each other’s homes – Acts 2:46. The Jews during the Biblical period regarded the temple in Jerusalem as the one and only place on earth where God could be properly worshipped. For the people of Israel the building spoke powerfully of the presence of God.
The people had first known God’s presence with them on Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law. Then the Ark of the Covenant, a portable gold covered wooden chest, which contained the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, became the place of God’s dwelling and the place of God’s presence with his people through the wilderness years. Finally, once Israel had settled in the land, God allowed Solomon to build him a house or Temple.
For the people of Israel, the Temple spoke of God’s presence and their election to be a people holy to him. It was the place of encounter with God: through instruction in the Law; through the celebration of festivals both personal and national; and, through the forgiveness asked for and received in the offering of sacrifice.
God’s presence in the Temple did not mean that God was absent from other parts of life, but the particular presence of God, focussed in the Temple, enabled the people to remember that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it’.
Likewise, our church buildings are witnesses to the presence of God among God’s people. We don’t have churches because they keep God safely contained, away from all the corruption and sin of the world ‘out there’ – though, too often, that’s how our churches are used and perceived.
We build and dedicate churches as a sign that God is present, in every community, and so that we have a place to gather, to meet with God, and to learn to recognise him. The focussed presence of God in this place teaches us to recognise God better when we step through its doors, back into the busyness of the world and our everyday lives.
But church buildings on their own will only get us so far. They need to be active places where Christ is preached and loved – in the scriptures, in the sacraments, in each other and in the stranger.
Every Sunday, we rededicate ourselves to being the sort of people that God calls us to be. It is from here that we’re sent out to live what we’ve received: to be witnesses to the God who dwells among us in our homes and schools and workplaces.
We go out as witnesses to Jesus, not to a world from which he is absent, but to a world in which he is waiting to be recognised, loved and served.
– based on a sermon preached by the Rev’d Anna Matthews, Cambridge, and recommended for me to read by a friend on Facebook