OUR LIFE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD
Over the last number of centuries we have grown accustomed to meeting in buildings constructed to the glory of God. These buildings have been designed to reflect the symbols of our faith and to draw our attention to the heavens. And while the shape of these buildings vary from rectangular to round, they are often filled with intricate woodwork and stained glass windows designed to focus our minds on the life of Christ and to remind us of the sacrifice made on our behalf.
In fact the buildings are designed to encourage us to see the space as holy space. Any church building – from the simplest country church to the most ornate cathedral – any one of them can evoke a sense of the divine to the person who truly seeks to find God.
Moreover our buildings are filled with structures to highlight the specific rites and practices that mark our faith. The baptismal font is ever present in most churches. In some it takes a place of especial prominence. Its place reminds the believers of that moment when they decided to dedicate their lives to God. If their baptism was as infants, the font would remind them of the faith which they had known all their lives and which they had affirmed when they made their formal declaration and commitment. The communion table for us takes a central place in our buildings. It is a simple table designed to remind us of that first last supper that Jesus shared with those first disciples. And while others have chosen to place altars as a sign of the sacrifice of God in Jesus Christ, we have chosen to focus on the communal sharing of a meal. Our table is simple for it is not the table itself that makes the sacrament so special or the elements that are placed upon it for our consumption but rather it is the presence of the One who calls us to come to this table and it is the remembrance of what the elements symbolize.
Remember that that first table in that upper room held no magic. It was not made of special wood or endowed with a special blessing. It was a table. What made it special was what was put upon it and even then it was the meaning with which those elements were imbued.
Another structure that is prominent in most of our churches is the pulpit. Often larger churches will have both a pulpit and a lectern. The lectern is the place from which the Scriptures will be read. In many communities, the Gospel reading will be read with the congregation standing. The reading of the Word of God has ever been with us. The Jewish synagogues always included the reading of the Word of God and we continue that practice today. Many of us use the Revised Common Lectionary to guide our year. The lectionary encourages us to explore all the parts of the Bible and to ever remain acquainted with the history of the people of God and to be reminded of the struggles they went through as they sought to live their lives with God. The reading of the Word of God can be powerful in and of itself. When we ask God to open our minds and hearts to the words contained in the Scriptures, we are seeking to learn the lessons of life that God desires us to know and discover how we can make them an active part of our daily life. I would encourage all readers in worship to not feel that you need to rush through the readings. Take the time to enjoy it. It will aid all of us in hearing the words and pondering them in our hearts and minds.
For many of our churches, it seems strange perhaps that the pulpit is higher than the communion table. There are many good reasons for this. Primary of course was the need for the preacher to be seen and heard by all who were in attendance. Modern day microphones have largely eliminated that need. But there also was the sense that the Word of God was critical to the faith of the people. The preaching on the Word of God has been and continues to be a vital part of our worship experience. Even more so, it was the major part of the worship experience when the singing of hymns was not as prevalent as it is today. Today our worship experience is rich with song and special music. Perhaps there are some who feel that the minister needs to talk for at least 15 minutes to make the time here worthwhile but it should be all the elements of the worship experience combining to provide us - as a community – with the strength and encouragement to go out from here to live our lives as the people of God and to seek to be servants by responding to the needs we find around us.
And so we are surrounded here in this place with a space that has been dedicated to the glory of God and filled with symbols that remind us of our relationship to our God. But is this what is meant by our life in the house of God?
The house of God is an ancient term used by the people of God for centuries. It was a way for people to be able to relate to God. After all, they had houses, so it only made sense that God would have a house. But they also knew that their houses were mobile. Remember that the first people to come to know God in the time of Abraham were wanderers taking their sheep and goats wherever they could find water and grass. They gave no thought to a permanent dwelling place. And so for them the house of God was not in one fixed place. The house of God was wherever they were for they knew that God was with them always. When the first temple was constructed, that was the first time that the people came to believe that there was one house in which God dwelt. Of course, this caused great distress to the people when the exile occurred because they felt that God would not be able to find them because He was in His house in Jerusalem. Yet they came to understand that while God may be in the temple, He was also with them in their exile.
Perhaps we too have come to believe that God can only be found in the places we have constructed. Perhaps we have come to believe that our life in the house of God is within these walls. But the reality is that our life in the house of God is far larger than this place. For the house of God is the heavens, it is the universe, it is the creation that we see and the creation we cannot even glimpse.
Our life in the house of God is the life we live day by day. And wherever we walk, whatever we are doing, whomever we encounter, we are ever in the house of God!