I love our church sanctuary. Strong, graceful arches. Radiant, stained glass. Stone floor worn by the passing of life. Table, font, pulpit, pew. Acoustics perfect for a grand organ or a girl’s voice. My spirit soars when I enter the space. My heart warms with the scents and memories recalled. It is a special place where we sense God’s presence whether we have worshiped in it for decades or one day.
I know other people feel that way about their favorite sanctuary spaces. And I imagine it’s something like what people felt about the ancient temple in Jerusalem long ago. Trouble was, in Jesus’ time, access was restricted by religious rules and sacrificial practices. To get inside to where God was, people needed perfect unblemished animals and money to pay for them. Life in the ancient temple was built on a structure of ritual as much as stone blocks.
This week in our worship we read the story of Jesus “cleansing the Temple.” He chased out people selling animals for sacrifice and money-changers making a shekel. Sometimes it seems easy to read this story as an example of Jesus speaking out against injustice; and as inspiration for us to do the same. There is truth in that connection. And I find something else at the heart of all the action. Something else as the foundation for all we share in living faith.
Everything Jesus said and did was to help people relate with God. Often they were people who were socially outcast, religiously imperfect, or physically blemished—deemed not good enough. In Jesus, they felt God love them. In Jesus, they followed a way to more abundant life. In Jesus, they found a calling to share that love and life with others. When Jesus cleanses the Temple, that’s what he’s doing. He’s helping people come inside to feel a Holy Presence and find Sacred Purpose for life, without restrictions or exclusions.
Whatever we do together—in our sanctuary and elsewhere in our community—I believe that’s what God wants us to be and to share. Jesus says he is that temple of God’s presence and power in the world. And through the resurrection, we believe we become the body of Christ. We are built together as the temple, the spiritual dwelling place of God. Sometimes theology can seem as complicated as our Gothic architecture. But always depends on the simple cornerstone of Jesus’ Great Commandment—love God and love neighbors.
I love our church sanctuary. My spirit soars when I enter the space. And here’s the great promise of our faith. That experience of God’s grace can be shared anywhere. We don’t need a physical structure like ours. We need relationships of love and forgiveness and commitment and service and peace. We build our bonds of living faith. It is those bonds more than stone blocks that give meaning to our worship and ministry. And I believe that witness will offer an experience of grace to many others who are longing for a sanctuary in their lives and faith.
We are imperfect. We have blemishes on the heart and mind as much as scarred bodies. And in Jesus Christ, there is no wall, no barrier, no condemnation, no exclusion, no ritual expectation that keeps us from God’s love. When we get that merciful foundation laid among us, just maybe we’ll be able to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God and with others, as Jesus did. So may we continue to be a sanctuary and a light … in our city and far beyond … through Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace,