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Church vs Church
December 25, 2018
Our old testament reading is very well known but as I read it in preparation for this service I was surprised to note its relevance for today. In the reading King David has a wonderful idea to build a temple or church for the ark of God which is where the ancient Israelites thought that God could be found. As David said in verse 2 See now, I am living in a house of cedar but the ark of God stays in a tent. But God makes it clear that he does not want a specific building, he has been used to moving around amongst the people like a shepherd with his sheep and now is not the time to confine him to a specific place “Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought the people of Israel from Egypt...” . And that made me think of the problems facing a number of worshipping communities in Tasmania as we contemplate the sale of churches. There has long been a discussion about the relative importance of “church” the building as opposed to “church” the people. If there is no specific church building can people still meet to worship God and support each other. The answer is a resounding “yes”.While there are advantages in having access to a permanent building there are also advantages in being more mobile and able to worship in different places and over the years church groups in Australia have met in community halls, schools, recreation centres, old cinemas and cafes and pubs. Meeting in these places makes the group more conspicuous to the non church community and also provides access to a safe or known environment for those who want to dip a toe into worship. As God was telling David there are advantages in not being confined to a specific space. But there is more to this story than a mere discussion about whether or not God needs a building. According to Tom Wright1 , ex Bishop of Durham and Professor of Old Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, the passage turns on a pun because in the old testament the word “house” can mean either a building or a family and a “royal house” either a palace or a lineage. God hears David's offer of a more permanent dwelling but a true temple cannot start with a human initiative and provision of a building is not the ultimate solution to the problem facing humanity. God will raise up a son of David's to build the temple but bricks and mortar will not resolve the underlying problem, for that God will provide a living human being, himself in human form “The Lord will make you a house, When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors , I will raise up your offspring after you … He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me.... Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever. “ Solomon's temple became a home for God's glory but the early Christians always believed that, as intended, this glory had taken up permanent residence in Jesus. They believed that the temple promise made to David in the old testament had been fulfilled in the human Jesus and this was clearly expressed in our reading from Ephesians. Although the original temple built by Solomon had been destroyed it had been rebuilt in a similar form and as such provided for different areas of worship for Jews and gentiles and even men and women. In his letter Paul points out that these divisions no longer exist for the disciples of Jesus because Jesus has replaced the original law that required the circumcised and uncircumcised to remain separate “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in one flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us” While this temple history and theology is interesting we might be forgiven for questioning its relevance for us today. We meet as a church and worship in building called church and we do not deliberately exclude anyone, surely we have moved on from temples. But I wonder if we have? 1 Twelve Months of Sundays, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2012 Today's Gospel reading was odd. Tom Wright dismissed it as being like a picture frame where the picture has been removed because it omits a story. I use the term book ends to describe it but whereas Tom dismissed it with the words “no comment” I think that I can see a very strong message for us today. The first few verses follow the return of the disciples from their missionary journey and Jesus plainly feels that they need a time of prayer and meditation to regroup. Unfortunately the obvious needs of the people around them who were like sheep without a shepherd caused Jesus to change his mind and he taught them. The missing stories are the feeding of the five thousand followed by Jesus walking on water as his disciples went across the lake to find a peaceful place on the other. But once again the obvious need of the people caused Jesus to change his mind and teach and heal them. At the moment the church in Tasmania is grappling with the need to sell buildings to create a restitution fund and at parish level we are working to develop a ministry plan that will see us surviving as a sustainable church for the next five years. We could be forgiven for thinking that we need a time of prayer, meditation and regrouping if we are to ensure that the church, whether as building or people continues. However, there is a big divide in the community between the church and the non churched and while it may not be of our deliberate making it is perhaps bigger than the divide that existed between Jews and gentiles. As disciples who are charged with making more disciples we need to follow the example of Jesus and address that division now rather than taking time out. By way of an example and explanation, I recently looked at the 2016 statistics for Cygnet to find out how many children were in the area. However, once on the site I also looked at the answers that were provided for religious affiliation. From the poor quality map that accompanied the statistics it appears that the following information only covers Cygnet township and a very small surrounding area. Lymington, Glaziers Bay, Cradoc, Nicholls Rivulet and anything south of Cygnet beyond the Nicholls Rivulet Road turn off was not included. So, as at 2016 there were 1556 people in Cygnet with a median age of 44. Children in the 0-14 age group numbered 304 with another 107 in the 15-19 age range, which is important information if we want to develop a youth ministry. But the really interesting information related to religious affiliation, which was a question that did not have to be answered. The following information was provided by those who chose to respond. Affiliation with established churches was 31 Uniting Church, 416 Catholic and 205 Anglican. While we may ask where the majority of the self-identified 205 Anglicans are the more important response was from those who said that they had “no religion”, which was 630 people. That's 630 people with whom a divide exists that we as a church people should be working to overcome. God saw the need to be a shepherd amongst his people as being more important than being confined to a building. Jesus saw the need to minister to the people as being more important than rest. The early church saw the need to break down barriers as being the basis of church. As we develop our ministry plan and look to the future we should be of a similar mind. As we are looking to the future of our church I would like to move the prayers that we normally end the service with to this point if that is alright with our musicians. So let us say the prayer on the front of the pew bulletin and sing the first verse of hymn 139. Joan Rodrigues