July 18, 2021 Reopening Celebration
We are purposefully celebrating the fact that the church is really open after our long year plus of COVID! It is true we have been gathering for quite a while, but the decision that we celebrate when things were officially and fully open was made at the May Session meeting; May of 2020! Here we are 14 months later and finally are confident that things are under control.
I was reading one of my journals, actually the year my Mom passed away. We were driving to St. Cloud and discussing grandparents and great-grandparents with our then 5 year old granddaughter Rebekah. She asked if my Mom made it to 100 years old. We told her no, but 99 is pretty good. She said that Grandma's mom will make it. “My siblings told me she's really close.”
In a connected story but in an opposite direction: then 9 year old Maggie was looking at some shiny stones on our dresser and asked what they were for. I explained they were for decorations and added, “Maybe we could use them at your wedding some day.” She replied, “You might be dead by then.”
Kids don't always have a clear picture of time and its passing. Our reopening today reminds us of the time that passed during the pandemic.
The Old Testament story is about David wanting to build a temple, a dwelling place for God. God's presence was known to the Israelites in the Ark of the Covenant which was housed in a tent. David didn't feel that was an appropriate place for God's presence; he felt the need to build God a temple in which to dwell. God's answer to that was that David's Son Solomon would be the one to build the temple.
The story raises the question, what is an appropriate dwelling for God? God is omnipresent, God has no need for a home. Yet for centuries; millennia, human beings have sought to honor God with cathedrals and temples and monuments. This sanctuary in which we gather is a beautiful example of how God can be honored. We hold a deep affinity for this house of worship. But as we have spent more than a year wondering if and when full worship in this sacred space would resume, let's consider the import of this church to our corporate worship.
We don't need a beautiful sanctuary to worship God; God can be worshiped in any building or in any place. But this sanctuary was built to make our worship more meaningful. The majestic ceiling has beams that come together in the center suggesting our prayer rising to the throne of God. It gives a visual effect of the wide and wonderful world that God has created. It urges us to see God as our Father and the wide world as a wonderful place filled with the blessings of God. The flow of the floor and pews to center on the pulpit which is under the cross with the depictions of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And our extraordinary stained glass windows. From time to time through the years the children and I have wandered the aisles and looked at the small windows and shared the scriptural stories told there. Jesus is both sacrifice and Lord. Jesus is the Lilly of the valley from the Song of Solomon, given as words of the Messiah. There is the stable in Bethlehem. The lake shore where Jesus called the disciples; where he taught, where he fed the 5000.
And I love those little stories our windows tell. But what draws our eyes are the two large windows, our signature feature. Jesus in Gethsemane and Jesus the good shepherd. Jesus fully human praying for deliverance in the garden of Gethsemane; Jesus and his love and care. It brings us the understanding that Jesus knows our fears, knows grief. But also the understanding that when we are facing those things, Jesus not only walks with us, He cares for us as the good shepherd cares for his flock. Stories we can recognize every time we gather in the sacred space.
For even as I acknowledge we don't need to be here to worship the Lord, we can also acknowledge that this is a sacred space. The physical attributes of this space expand our souls, if we let them. God can use the beauty and the ambiance of this place to open our spirits to experience God in ways we may miss in more secular settings. John Calvin says a sacred space like this can cause us to, “raise our minds upward and seek Him in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father.” This place encourages us to recognize the very presence of God; not just here but in every place we may be...God is there.
In our gospel, Jesus invites his disciples, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." God has commanded a Sabbath rest, a time away from the world and resting in God's presence. This is not a deserted place, but a place of fellowship with others seeking to praise God, seeking to share prayers and praise, seeking Sabbath. So as we are welcomed back fully into this sacred space, as we gather in renewed fellowship and share communion and a potluck meal, let's not lose sight of the fact that God is always with us. This is really just a place. As Don read from Ephesians, we belong to the body of Christ; not an individual church. We are “members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” See, even our inclusion in the very family of God is a kind of building, a church, a sanctuary. It is not this sacred space that brings us into that saving relationship with God, but the fact that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our faith. For our passage goes on to complete this thought, “In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” My sermon title is “A Dwelling Place for God?” And for the Old Testament faithful, the Ark of the Covenant and then the temple in Jerusalem was seen as the dwelling place for God. For many centuries,the Church was the dwelling place of God with the Holy Eucharist considered the very body of Jesus. This church was built over 100 years ago and it is a sacred space and I am so thankful that we have this place to gather. And I'm so thankful that the worst of the pandemic seems to be in the past and we can go forward sharing this sacred space again. But know this, that no church is the sole dwelling place for God. Indeed, it is you who are the dwelling place of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ dwells with each one of us, you are a sacred being through the grace and power of God. Remember that you, Roger, Robbie, Julie, Barb, Jayne, each of you is the dwelling-place of our Lord. As we celebrate our fellowship today; as we lift our prayers to the throne of heaven, as we have entered into God's presence in word; as we sing our hymns of praise in the fellowship and presence of each other, and as we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we are reminded that God dwells in believers of every time and place. The body and the blood of Christ, taken in remembrance of him, is a physical reality and the spiritual reality is that Christ has promised to be present in the bread and the cup. Not in a magical way but in the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit the presence of Jesus is made manifest. Jesus said to take and eat; take and drink and remember... remember this morning that Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. Remember that you are the temple of God, loved and saved for eternity. Live in that reality and share the love of God in your world. Amen.
Our next hymn celebrates Jesus, the Lord of the dance, who leads us wherever we may be. Jesus brings the life, is the life that will never, never die. So dance; if not physically, spiritually as we celebrate the Lord of the dance who leads us because he dwells within us, Jesus Christ.
Hymn: I Danced in the Morning 302 PH