John Morrison – 23 April 2017

Early this week I texted Belinda. Before she left I said I wouldn’t disturb her holiday by contacting her. She indicated, however, that she wanted me to let her know if anyone died. So I told her about Ian’s passing and she replied expressing sadness at the news.

She also mentioned that they had just visited Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  “Just beautiful!” she said. This amazing church, begun in 1882, is now 70% complete and is expected to be finished by around 2030.

Although I haven’t been there, I’ve visited many other grand cathedrals and basilicas in Europe. I must admit to mixed feelings about them. On one hand, I find them fascinating and awe-inspiring, especially the history and architecture. On the other hand, however, the expense and grandeur, bordering at times on ostentation, makes me uneasy. Couldn’t simpler and less costly buildings have sufficed making more funds available for the real mission of the church? Yet the beauty and magnificence of such buildings can lift our thoughts and spirits towards the Divine. And when we spend so much on other public buildings and on our own houses, doesn’t God also deserve worship centres that are a tribute to God’s magnificence and our commitment? As you can see, mixed feelings.

I had similar reactions at the recent Versailles exhibition. Versailles was such an incredible vision and project and yet it entailed the extravagance and decadence that eventually contributed to the fall of the monarchy. I have wondered at times whether such a fate could befall the institutional church. The difference of course is that the church, in essence, is spiritual and part of God’s plan, despite its human imperfections.

My sermon today includes a quick description of the Jewish Tabernacle, which was superseded by Solomon’s Temple and then Zerubbabel’s post-exilic Temple, which was extensively renovated and expanded from around 20AD by Herod and his successors. The Holy of Holies was God’s designated dwelling place. With the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, Jews were forced to re-vision worship without their centralised sacrificial system. Christian worship had already diverged remarkably with believers meeting together in homes. Their number grew rapidly, even without dedicated church buildings.

Easter reminds us of Jesus’ declaration “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” referring to his own body. (John 2:19-21) In Scripture, the term church refers to Christians, not buildings, and is described as the body of Christ. God dwells not in a building, but within God’s people through the Spirit. So wherever we worship, and in whatever sort of building, we worship the risen Lord Jesus who is God with us through the Spirit. Welcome to worship