Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43
I confess to being a divided self regarding my response to beautiful churches. I have spent much of my life seeking them out and visiting them. I love their infinite variety -- whether the Roman Parthenon remade to function as a Christian temple or a roadside Baptist ivy-covered wooden structure down a dirt road in rural Alabama. I love the magnificent and the simple.
My own parish is a gorgeous Upjohn building, dedicated in 1848, Grace Church in Newark -- from the start intended as a center for Anglo-Catholic worship. Bishop George Washington Doane titled his dedicatory sermon “The Beauty of Holiness.” When you walk inside, you understand why.
A dozen years ago when members of the vestry identified what we like the most about the parish, predictably people said the diverse membership, the music, the windows, the nave….. and almost everyone independently said, “the silences.” Lectors for the first two lessons typically wait silently in place from 30-60 seconds after finishing a reading.
See all of God’s real estate in the Diocese of Newark.
I am uneasy with calling churches or temples, as Solomon does, a House of God. Christianity is at real risk if we behave as if we can keep God locked up in a building or on an altar. God is much too busy to waste times on thrones. Often the architectural gift we claim to give to God is really our gift to ourselves, to make us feel better, to appease God, to make ourselves look better than those who don't have the resources to build such a building.....
I live in a diocese where many of the older church have turned ugly on the outside with a century or more of harsh weather, and some are ugly inside. Their current residents (I speak of the people; not God) struggle to keep the lights on; the high ceilings suck up much of the heat intended to make parishioners comfortable. Only the wealthiest can afford to keep up properly a home built in the style common for homes when these Houses of God were built, and many of the wealthy prefer to build their homes from scratch, something that expresses who they are and the relationship they wish to maintain with the current environment, not the environment of 150 years ago.
Frequently I watch Korean Christians move into neighborhoods, rent a house, and set up as church. In time they leave that house and rent or buy a larger house, and after they have more resources, they sometimes buy up a lovely but vacant church that once was “God’s house” for the Presbyterian god or an Episcopalian god.
In spite of his enthusiasm on dedicating the new house he has built for God, Solomon is wise enough to know the truth, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”
That house was destroyed in 70 AD, almost two millennia ago; yet the Jewish religion in which it was built continues today.
Voluntary societies in churches often have an easier job of rolling with the exigencies of time and place. The less property they have, the easier it is for them to adapt to new conditions, to move to a new place.
Before Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the center of worship for the Jews was the Ark of the Covenant, a simple structure easily ported from place to place on a cart.
Richer and finer is often not better.
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
The places where we gather together become holier still by our gathering there. Old English hal survives in three words in modern English, hale or ’healthy’ as in “hale and hearty young person”; whole as in “complete; of one piece“; and holy.
All three are still the same; we cannot have one of these without the other two. There is no health without integrating all of one’s body. There is no “wholeness” if the body or the spirit is sick. Holiness is impaired when a person is incomplete.
The same may be said for religious community. Worship spaces bring us together. In them we reconcile. In them we experience our wholeness.
Ubuntu was the theme of the 76th General Convention this past July, meeting in Anaheim, California. Ubuntu is a South African concept given much currency by the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his American disciple, The Rev. Dr. Michael Battle. Ubuntu may be encapsulated in a few phrases: “You are, therefore I am.” Note the communal emphasis, which contrasts sharply with individual emphasis of philosopher Descartes' “I think; therefore I am.”
Ubuntu emphasizes “I in you; you in me.”
Corporate worship gives space for Ubuntu. But they are not the only places we can encounter the living God. We must not let their beauty distract us from seeing the holiness in creation and in one another all around us.
This passage has been important sustenance for me in my ministry, especially when I have done battle to urge the church, the university, or the society to treat lgbt persons justly.
Among my papers is a collection that I purposely avoid, as it does not encourage my good spiritual health: it is a volume which I labeled Episcopal Snide -- a collection of hostile letters written to me by bishops through the years. Fortunately there have been few additions in the last decade, but the two decades before that yielded many. I grew to understand what Saint meant when he counseled, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
The military metaphor which he develops thereafter has grown a bit tedious for me through the years -- the belt, the helmet, the shield, the shoes…….
I join Saint in asking you who read these reflections, “Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” Amen
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recently claimed that the Episcopal Church has not made our case to the rest of the Communion to justify our blessing of lgbt persons and our openness to consent to the consecration of otherwise qualified lgbt priests as bishops.
Over the last three decades we have produced stacks of theological analysis trying to explain our actions, including To Set Our Hope in Christ written at his request and submitted three years ago to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, England.
Perhaps what the Archbishop means to say is that he does not agree with our case, not that we have not made our case. He himself made “our case” when he was Archbishop of Wales. At that time he was a forceful advocate for lgbt persons. Perhaps what he means to say is that many others in the Communion do not agree with his case or ours, not that we have not made our case.
Some who listened to Jesus in the episode John records today did not feel that he had made his case either. I confess to understanding him only because I know the ending of the story, that most in audience did not know. He had not yet held the first Maundy Thursday Mass. He had not yet been crucified and buried. He had not yet been resurrected. St. John is writing long after those events, but describing an audience that took place before those events. Some of them left Jesus because they did not understand. I wonder how many came back when more of the truth was fully revealed to them.
I wonder how many of the schismatics in the Anglican Communion will return.
"Do you also wish to go away?" Jesus asks each of us in this text.
Like Simon Peter, I answer him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."