How Lovely is Your Dwelling
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!
The Psalmists words described the Temple in Jerusalem, but they are appropriate words for this evening. We have come to Gods house tonight, the dwelling place of the Lord of hosts to consecrate this space as holy space, this ground as holy ground. Look around you at this beautiful new church building. How lovely.
The Psalmist wrote those words about the Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 84 is one of a half dozen psalms that were sung by pilgrims making their way to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The words of Psalm 84 tell of the journey pilgrims made to Jerusalem and the awe the pilgrims felt as they came within sight of the Temple.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! The Psalmist goes on to exult in verse 10, Better is a day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. That is the joy of coming into a place where one can truly feel Gods presence. The Psalm could be applied to this place. How lovely is St. Margarets of Scotland in Moultrie, O Lord Almighty! Better is one day at St. Margarets than a thousand elsewhere. Or even the updated version, Better is one Sunday morning in St. Margarets of Scotland than a thousand on the golf course.
We dont call a church a house of God because we think that God is contained within the walls of the church. This is Gods house, because we know that God will meet us here. The weightiness of Gods presence can be felt in this place. But Gods presence does not need such a lovely place as this new building. Gods presence could be felt at Mimi and Van Platters house, at the borrowed chapel of the First Methodist Church, at the Seventh Day Adventists, Magnolia Manor, and in every place the people of St. Margarets have met. I know this because you would have not made it to this night without Gods presence among you. God has been working in you, through you, among you to bring you to this place. As a community of faith, you have been on a pilgrimage that brings us now to this lovely house of God.
The Book of Common Prayer translates the first words of Psalm 84 as, How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! Thats another aspect of what the Psalmist is crying out from the depths of his soul. The word Hebrew word for lovely can also mean beloved by me. So Gods dwelling is both lovely to behold and something you love or hold dear.
I hope that this building is already beloved by many of you. Think also of how many people will come to hold this place dear in the coming decades. All the worship services, the baptisms, weddings, and funerals will create indelible memories of time spent in the house of God. People not yet born will one day pass this building and feel happy just to see it because what it has meant to them and their family. This building can be the focus of your community of faith.
The Temple in Jerusalem was just such a focal point for the Children of Israel. The Psalmist who wrote glowingly of the courts of the Temple was only one of tens of thousands who adored the Temple. The words of Psalm 84 were written about the 10th century B.C. Temple of Solomon. But by the first century that grand building had been replaced by a Temple Mount of grand design and awesome scale. King Herod did not change the Biblical designs of the Temple itself or of its furnishings. But Herod greatly built up the Temple Mount and the buildings that surrounded the Temple itself. Then Herod covered the outside with so much gold the admittedly biased historian Josephus wrote that when the sun shown on the Temple it virtually blinded all who looked upon it. There is no doubt though that the Temple was an impressive structure. The vast scale of the complex commanded awe from all who saw it. The Temple was a building worthy of being called the House of God.
It was to this Herodian Temple that Jesus approaches as a pilgrim in our Gospel reading for this evening. Jesus has come into the Temple again and again throughout his life. But this is Jesus final pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the passage before our Gospel reading for this evening, Matthew told the story of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The crowds wave palm branches, lay their cloaks on the path and cry out Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Jesus goes straight to the Temple itself. Jesus climbed the Temple Mount to that most lovely dwelling place of God. As Jesus entered with his disciples and a growing group of curious onlookers, the white stone and gold embellishments must have been shining in the late afternoon sun. Decked out for the pilgrims making their way into town, the Temple would have been looking its Passover season best.
Once inside the Temple gates, Jesus literally turned the place upside down. Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He shouts out the words of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah saying, My house shall be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.
Jesus is angry and he doesnt care who he upsets. Jesus showed with his actions that no matter how lovely the building looked, if it was not living up to its purposes, then it was not worthy to be called Gods house.
Jesus did not care about the beauty of the Temple complex. The building itself was not what mattered to Jesus. Jesus cared whether or not that building was living up to its true design. Jesus was concerned for its original purposes.
Jesus then showed with his words and his actions what he considered appropriate in the Temple. Jesus called the Temple a house of prayer. Jesus tells us the Temple should be primarily a place to come and commune with God in prayer. He also showed that the Temple was not merely a place for those who had it all together. Jesus cured the blind and the lame. Jesus wanted the Temple to be the place where Gods healing presence could touch the lives of those who need God most.
Notice how these two passages of scripture go crashing against each other. In Psalm 84, the Temple is that most lovely and beloved of buildings in the world for it is in the Temple that the pilgrim knows they can encounter God in a powerful way. Then in the Gospel reading, the Temple is the building that needs spiritual cleansing because the Temple is no longer primarily concerned with serving the needs of those who most need Gods presence and healing touch.
I said earlier that this building we are here to consecrate this evening can be the focus of your community of faith. It can be about the building, but it should not be about the building. The focus of your community of faith is our one God revealed to us through his son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Making the power of God manifest in our lives and making God known to the people who live in and around Moultrie is the focus of your ministry here.
When you met in a home, it was easy for your common life to not focus on the building. When you met in the Methodist chapel or the Seventh Day Adventist Church, it was easy to not focus on the building. As a church, you reached out in love to create the St. Margarets House before your church had a home of its own. Finding a way to create St. Margarets House when you had no resources of your own showed the type of self-giving love God most desires from Gods people.
But now, you find yourselves with the remarkable gift of this lovely house of God. This is the time when the temptation will come to focus on the building. You probably have not experienced it yet, but the temptation is coming. The furnishing, the care, and the upkeep of this lovely building will take money, time, and energy and thats OK. However, when you make decisions for the sake of the building, then you are getting off course. Remember first and foremost what are Gods purposes for this place. This is to be a house of prayer for all people. This is to be a place where Gods healing touch is offered to those who need God most. Set those purposes before you. Make them the target for which you aim. Then decisions about who can use the building, when and for what will not be made for the sake of this building. And also cant rely on the building itself to do the work of spreading the Good News in Moultrie.
Find new and innovative ways to invite the people in who need God most. Dont wait for them to be attracted to your lovely building. Look for creative approaches to ministry that will encourage spiritual seekers to enter this lovely dwelling place of the most high God. You will each need to be involved in spreading the Good News that the living God can be experienced in this place. You cant simply wait for people to decide to come here on their own.
It is Little Bo Peep who waits for the sheep. Remember the rhyme?
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep
Little Bo Peep describes the type of church that creates an attractive church building in hopes people will want to come. The idea is that if you leave them alone, the sheep will return to church on their own and if your church is attractive, then it will be your stall to which they return. But Jesus already showed through his actions that an attractive building alone does not make a building into a lovely dwelling place for God.
Jesus was not Little Bo Peep. Jesus was and is the Good Shepherd who actively goes out looking for the lost sheep to bring them back into the fold. That is the task set for St. Margarets and this newly consecrated church building will be a wonderful aid in helping lost sheep want to come home. It really will help to have such an attractive place to which you can invite people to come. Those lost sheep are out there. You work with them, you shop alongside them, your kids go to school with them and play on sports teams with them. Each creative new offering that gets St. Margarets name out into the community is yet another chance to side with the Good Shepherd. Each time you invite someone to church, you are sharing in the work of the Good Shepherd.
We know that God is not contained within the walls of this lovely dwelling place. God is out there as well as in here. God is in and around Moultrie working in the lives of each and every person. God is preparing the hearts of the people who most need this church so that they are ready to come when asked.
Decide for yourselves: Will you, like Little Bo Peep, take this newly consecrated church building and turn it into a nothing more than a lovely stall for sheep who wander through the door. Or will you do the harder work of turning St. Margarets newly consecrated church into the Welcome Home Center for the Good Shepherd?
Your answer will determine whether this new building is merely a lovely building or a beloved House of God dear to those who find in it their own relationship with our loving God.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + 6230 Laurel Island Parkway + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526