Is the Church falling apart or being put together?
John 2: 13-22
We are a people commissioned to deliver good news to the world, but with congregations in decline, buildings closing, budgets shrinking and ministers disappearing the future doesn’t look good, does it? Who will be left to deliver the good news?
We can’t afford to maintain buildings or employ ministers so we are having to turn to the market place to raise funds to do the work God has called us to do. The Church is sitting in her own doorway holding out a begging bowl to save her life when she has the resources to save the world!
I am beginning to sound like one of the many prophets of doom and gloom, but I am going to surprise you. I am excited about the future because I have a vision of a growing church that will rise up from the ruins to multiply by ten, twenty, thirty or a hundred times the size of today.
A lot of people won’t believe it until it happens, but what we see as an institution falling apart is a Church still being put together by our Father, through the witness of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not going to recognise the Church we see standing outside an open tomb, on a walk down the road or breaking into our lives through locked doors, but she is being put together. If you want to see a miraculous sign, bring in the demolition team and we will see how the new Church will come together much quicker than it took us to build the great temples of history.
Jesus tells the Jews (19) that if THEY destroy the temple he will rebuild it and from that I get the message that if we demolish what WE have built it will be replaced with what God is trying to put together. The sooner we get on with it the quicker the new church will emerge, but we are reluctant to dismantle the temples of our traditions which have taken years to build. If we did, or when we do, they can be replaced within days in the hearts of the people. Then we will have churches up and down every street with Love touching every neighbour. Idealistic dreaming, isn’t it. Well, let me dream and I, for one, will try and catch the dream!
The Church is being put together as something for us TO BE every day not a place for us TO GO on a Sunday. We have built a GO TO place to gather rather than being a people commissioned TO GO and scatter the seeds of hope around the world. Jesus was not suggesting knocking down the wonderful religious temples, but illustrates how we can do more as a church of flesh and bones than one of wood and stones. The temple that lives in his body (21) is from where the Spirit of God reaches out to inspire, encourage and heal. The Word becomes flesh and finds a home in us (John 1: 14) when we receive the Holy Spirit Jesus breathes into us so that we can go and do what our Father sent him to do. (John 20: 21-23)
I imagine the gospels to be like a giant jigsaw puzzle and when we pick up the different pieces we begin to put the big picture together. The picture I see isn’t a church falling apart, but of one that is being put together and will become stronger and more visible than at any time in the past. We can put the picture together and share the vision as we take the pieces from the gospels and make them fit into our jigsaw.
I know we can be selective about the pieces of gospel we take from the box, and we can see different pictures, but my vision is of a church that will come together, not one that is falling apart. I can imagine sitting around my dining room table with a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the Church when Jesus comes in through my door, turns the table upside down and scatters all the pieces so that I have to start all over again. Just when I thought I had completed the picture!
What God is building is places of prayer, not centres for business. The temple, like the church today, was a place to worship God not to bow down to the power of money. God doesn’t live in the beautiful buildings of Jerusalem, or anywhere else, or on mountain tops, but is found in the heart of people.
God is in the process of moving home from a house on a mountain which is difficult to reach to one in the valley with easy access to the front door. Our Father is on the move from mountain and temple to make a home in the human heart where true worship is in spirit and truth. (John 4: 21-24)
I know that every time we have moved home there has been a lot of clutter to be cleared away and Jesus has seen cobwebs of attitude that have to be got rid of! He’s clearing out the rubbish from the house ready for our Father to move in! Is your house ready to accommodate our Father?
Church isn’t an institution created by people that costs money to maintain, but is made by God in the heart of people who are fed through the Spirit with the words that will sustain her through the wilderness of persecution and temptation. The Church is built on the rock of a person, Peter, (Matthew 16: 18) not shaped out of the rock of a mountain.
As Paul says to the Church in Corinth, “you yourselves are God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in you!” (I Corinthians 3: 16) We are the temple, or Church, of the living God who lives with us and among us and walks with us everywhere we go (2 Corinthians 6: 16). Church IS God’s people not a building to go to and depart from, but becomes part of our very being.
The building we come to is the workshop where people are shaped into God’s Church by the Carpenter’s love and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is so wonderfully described in a prayer from the Iona community: “ Christ, the Master Carpenter, who, at the last through wood and nails, accomplished our whole salvation, wield well your tools in the workshop of your world, so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand.”
The Church in flesh and bones is like a widow who doesn’t sit begging at the door but gives all she has for God. (Luke 21: 1-7) She doesn’t ask the wealthy to support her, but what she gives is of far greater value than the beautiful temple dedicated to God. Dismantle the building stone by stone and God will still be living through the widow who gives everything she is to the neighbours on her street.
The wealth of the market place has broken in to take control of God’s space, but God’s will is for the Spirit of truth to break into the market place. That really does demand a table turning ministry that scatters the coins of the wealthy and builds that house where Love can dwell and all can safely come — a place where ALL are welcome. Is your house ready?
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus refers to scripture and says that people are turning the house of prayer into a den of robbers. We invite the world to take away the spiritual wealth when we depend on money to maintain what we are instead of being who we are called to be! In trying to save our life we will lose it because we can’t buy it with our financial wealth, but by investing our life we will renew it. (Matthew 16: 25)
Jesus is reclaiming the temple as a place for everyone when he drives out the money changers and traders then, to the anger of the chief priests and teachers of the law, welcomes the blind and the lame who come to be healed. (Matthew 21: 14) That was a radical breaking of rules because King David had banned the lame and the blind from the temple (2 Samuel 5: 6-10 and 1 Chronicles 11: 4-6) but now those that were kept out were welcomed in! All are welcome in God’s house and all of us are being shaped into a Church where Love can dwell.
God has moved out of the buildings and formal institutions that cost money to maintain and into the people who are sustained by a faith through the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We don’t have to beg for money to live, but if we live our faith like widows with nothing the Church will come together with a wonderful new ministry that will reveal God’s Love to the world. Our physical wealth won’t buy the spiritual health of the Church!
Yes, it’s all idealistic dreaming from a foolish imagination and we won’t dismantle our religious institutions with all their formal structures, regulations and amazing traditions will we? I have a vision that God IS putting the Church together and the sooner we take apart what WE have built the quicker it will happen. Such foolish visions and dreams really do need faith that God can achieve the impossible — because we’re not going to do it, are we?