Theme: in exile, the building is no longer the center of gravity for the kingdom of God.
Purpose: Help members adjust to the new reality of where God is active in the world.
Let me begin today with a question. Actually this is the 2nd time I asked this question from up here but the last time I asked it – last week – I asked the children. This time I’m going to ask the adults:
What would you do if the church wasn’t here?
Let me create an actual scenario to make this a more realistic hypothesis.
Monday morning you wake up and you get a call from Dana Opp, who would invariably be the first to find out about something like this, that there was an arson at the church and the sanctuary, the Upton Room, the entire church buildingburnt to the ground last night. It was a windy night and the manse went with it too. It’s a miracle none of the surrounding homes were damaged.
You come down to 7617 Idylwood and sure enough there are nothing but embers left.
The next day, Bob, being the industrious and eager-beaver builder that he is, goes down to the city hall to check on getting a building permit because he wants to waste no time in rebuilding the sacred walls.
The city clerk checks the title deed and discovers, lo and behold, that the land was actually sold several decades ago to the city to make ends meet. Legally, Idylwood Presbyterian Church no longer owned the property on 7617 Idylwood Road.
Bob calls Kate and sends her in with her legal expertise to fix the problem and Kate reluctantly concedes that it’s all true: IPC has been squatting on city property for the last 40 years. They have no legal right to build on the property much less hold services there.
Word gets out. There’s an uproar. Even the neighbors are upset. The city offers a buy back for a mere $600K but that’s way out of the realm of possibility.
By Saturday, the truth settles in: Idylwood Presbyterian Church is homeless.
Sunday morning arrives. Even if they wanted to protest, it’s November and too cold to meet outside anyway. The manse is not equipped for meeting. What do you do?
You might now have a sense of what it was like to be a Jewish exile there in Babylon hanging out with your fellow Jews by the Chebar river.
What do you do with yourself on a Sabbath day when your place of worship has been removed?
Where do you go to be with your people?
How do you worship God without a pulpit, a choir, and offering plates?
(Well, some of you may not have a problem with removing the offering plates, I don’t know)
How do you remind yourself that you’re a believer without the weekly pilgrimage to the house of God?
What does your faith look like now?
But before we jump back into the past, let’s linger long enough to discover another group of folks today, in 2016, who already feel the same way about their faith even without the arson and the city takeover of church property.
They’re called the religious ‘nones,’ a truly 21st century phenomenon.
They are given this name by virtue of their written response on public surveys.
When they are asked about their religion, they mark “Christian” without hesitation.
But when the survey asks for specifics such as “which denomination or affiliation,” they check . . . you guessed it: “none.”
Now I’m 53 years old. When I was a kid and someone asked my friends who what their denomination was, even if they hadn’t been to church for years, they’d put something: I attended a Baptist church for a funeral so I guess I’ll put Baptist; my Grandmother was a Methodist so I’ll put Methodist.
But now, apparently there’s no shame in saying, I don’t belong anywhere.
Statistically, 56 million Americans fit this description. That’s one/third of every Christian in America. They’re not a part of ANY organized religion.
Ex. Bridges, Meetup.com, “I’m sick of church”
As I move among these folks more and more, I realize that they are not sick of Jesus, or of faith, or of a spiritual life.
They are in fact hungry for God.
No, what they can no longer tolerate is the institution we call church; they have no more stomach for it.
I’m glad to say I love coming to IPC every Sunday morning. I love being in a sanctuary, singing to the Lord with organ, or guitar, or some instrument. I love celebrating the sacrament of holy communion together, of the order of worship, and yes, the refreshments after the service.
But in the 21st century, I am slowly becoming the exception rather than the norm.
Increasingly, the ‘average’ American not only doesn’t go to the church but feels estranged from church, feels like a foreigner in a church, feels like they don’t belong.
And for many of them, no church growth strategy, no potluck, no pancake breakfast, no amazing children’s ministry or trippin’ youth ministry is going to change that.
In many ways and for many reasons, they can’t come back. Not to this. Not to church as we know it. Not to ushers and calls to worship and one hour services and buildings and grounds committees.
If and when they come back to anything, it will look very different than this.
It is easy for us in the church to look at them and say, what’s wrong with those people? When are they coming back? Why can’t they see their way back to God?
Ah, but then we read Ezekiel:
11: 22 – 23
Could the glory of God ever leave the temple?
Could God’s holy presence ever be extricated from Mt. Zion, the holy city?
In fact, back in 2 Chronicles 5, it explicitly says that it was under the wings of the cherubim that the ark of the covenant was first moved into the temple way back in Solomon’s time.
If they moved it in, they could move it out!
It was then that they remembered that for all those years in the wilderness, during the time of Gideon, and of Samson, and of Samuel and even during the reign of King David, the glory of God had dwelled in a tent! And before that, he had no earthly habitation.
The residents of Jerusalem were taken captive, marched 900 miles away to a foreign land, and guess what? God was coming with them!!
God had left the temple grounds and was not dead. Rather, he was on the move!
1. Jesus: Zaccheus
2. Paul: Lydia
3. Martin Luther: Roman church
4. John Wesley: the world is my parish
5. Modern day examples:
a. Bare Bulb
b. FPC Arlington
c. BCP Meetup
It’s difficult to underestimate the theological bombshell of this vision.
If the temple, temple worship, animal sacrifice, protecting national boundaries, supporting a monarchy, perpetuating a dynasty, etc. etc. etc. all those things that must be done to maintain a land, a nation, and a holy city . . . if all these things are taken away, sure, it’s devastating, but . . .
Think of the possibilities!
What ELSE could our faith consist of?
What else might God be up to?
What better ways could we occupy our time?
In fact, the exile marked the birth and revival of many facets of the faith that had been long dormant:
· The practice of the law as the defining mark of a Jew – the rise of the Pharisee came out of this movement
· A renewed emphasis on keeping the Sabbath – so much so that it gets excessive by Jesus day
· Preserving the writings and stories of the people – the scribe became an integral part of the leadership of the Jewish people.
It was a stunning but wonderful revelation to discover that their faith could actually flourish without all the accoutrements of the faith that for years they had relied on to keep their faith going.
Well, I’m NOT proposing we get rid of our church, or our Sunday morning worship service, or our blessed ushers or choir.
But I am proposing that we think more seriously about geographically where the center of mass of the kingdom of God is.
What location does God’s activity revolve around: 7617 Idylwood Road?
Or 7230 Idylwood Road (Lemon Road Elementary)
Or 7416 Arlington Blvd (food pantry)
Or (home of Ann Stuckey)
Or maybe an address near you?
Jesus: “the kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ’Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17: 21)
This is good news. Do you know why? Because for the growing number of spiritual ‘nones’ in our society, the only hope they have of finding church is for you to bring it to them.
Remember the Bible verse: “wherever two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them.” Just two or three.
Saturday morning with Tim & Terry
Friday night with discipleship group
Wednesday morning with an IPC parishioner
God is on the move – may you find him at work near you this week!
Benediction: This week, look for the holy in the most unsuspecting places.
Questions for Discussion
Where is the center of gravity of your faith?
Where is it difficult to be a person of faith? To practice?
What was your worst experience of hypocrisy or inconsistency of place and behavior?
What is God’s view of those outside of Christendom?
What is their view of us?