Sermon delivered on the first annual Dedication Festival to celebrate the founding of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH on Sunday, Trinity 13C, August 25, 2013.
If you would like to hear the audio version of this sermon, click here.
Lectionary texts: 1 Chronicles 29.6-19; Psalm 122.1-9; Ephesians 2.19-22; John 2.13-22.
In today’s Gospel, we see what seem to be an unusual action on the part of Jesus. The gentle Lamb of God becomes the lion who is determined to protect what is rightfully his or more precisely what is His Father’s. We really should not be surprised, in last weeks Gospel, Jesus warned that he has not come to bring peace, but a fire, a fire that would bring even division.
For the Jewish people, the temple was not merely a meeting place or even a symbol of God’s presence, it was for them the very place on earth where God dwelt. It was the place where they could encounter God, worship God, invoke God’s blessing. But by Jesus’ time, there were those who choose to, using another translation, turned the Temple into a den of thieves. This was a especially true of the money changers who would routinely rip-off the pilgrims coming to offer sacrifice at the temple. In driving the money changers and merchants out Jesus was responding in just anger to a total corruption of what the Temple was about. He was declaring by his actions that God’ relationship with his people was to be special, pure, and holy.
When questioned about His authority to do this, Jesus give an answer that would only be fully understood when after three days in the tomb, He is raised by the Father from the dead. We know now what they could never have imagined, that this itinerant Jewish teacher was the very Son of God, fully divine and one with the Father and the Holy Spirit and that through the working of the Holy Spirit the intimate experience of God would no longer be limited to the Temple but would be found wherever men and women would offer true worship.
While today we as Christians no longer worship at the Temple, we still gather in places and buildings, some perhaps as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple and others like us today in simple rented gathering spaces which we decorate and arrange so that we more easily raise our hearts and spirits in worship and praise. So this being the case. we might learn something from the Jewish people as they built, dedicated and worshiped at the Temple.
In our first reading from Chronicles we see David rejoicing at the generosity of the people in bringing many valuable gifts to be used in the construction of the Temple. He rejoices that the leaders have set an excellent example of generous giving. David himself had already given generously. But even as he rejoices in this outpouring of goods, he acknowledges that all this is possible only because God has first given these gifts to his people. David is the preparer and not the builder. His son Solomon would be the one to undertake the actual building a task that those who questioned Jesus’ authority claimed took 46 years to complete.
Nonetheless David could now feel an assurance that the Temple would be built a permanent place for God to dwell. David knew well that his people and the Ark of the Covenant which had been God’s resting place had been a nomadic people with no place of their own and even as David see his dream of the temple coming close, he recounts how he and the people of Israel are “aliens and transients” before God… as were their ancestors, a people whose days are like a shadow and for whom their is no hope.
After the Temple has been substantially completed, it was dedicated. There are various definitions for the word dedication. In the case of the Temple, there are two definitions that seem appropriate one is a a ceremony to mark the official completion or opening of something such as a building and the other is an act or rite expressing commitment to a divine being or a sacred use.
To some extent the this Dedication Festival is an annual celebration of a completion – the coming into existence of a church body known as St. Augustine’s. A place was chosen for worship, leadership team formed, and liturgical services and ministries begun. Everything that was needed to be a local church body had been completed. Truly the members of St. Augustine’s have committed themselves to God and this parish to sacred use.
But I believe a another definition of dedication is even more appropriate. That definitions is the setting aside for a particular purpose. In this parish, that is expressed most eloquently in its mission statement Changed by God to make a Difference for God. For the members of this parish, it is not merely enough to have sacred spaces and ceremonies, it is not enough to worship God in community or privately, it is not enough to have great Christian fellowship – and all these are present and true – but the members of this parish having experienced God’s Blessing want to and have given generously of themselves.
They have allowed God to change them and to keep changing them so that they can be the Body of Christ in the world around them. Changed by Christ they reach out to share the Good News and making Christ present to others by visiting the homeless and those in nursing homes, by collecting food stuffs for those in need both human and animal, by holding up brothers and sisters in prayer, not only those within this parish, but wherever and for whoever their is a need. It is a parish that is not afraid to pray for God’s healing and is willing to make present the healing touch of Christ by supporting, comforting, sharing those with needs.
It is right and good and a holy thing that we do as we celebrate that original dedication with a re-dedication. A recommitment to be transformed by God. This will require that we continue to be generous with our time and resources and it will required us to remember that all that we have comes from our God. We must realize that some of what we do today we will not see come to completion. Like David we need to act in faith and trust that if we prepare and plan well, that God will see the completion. As the Temple took some 46 years to build, we must realize that the building of this parish will take years, but unlike the Temple it will never be completed.
As in the Gospel reading, we see how abuses crept into the Temple, some innocent enough, the providing of doves and lambs, etc. for offerings but more evil ones as well like the dishonest money changers. Jesus was forced to drive them out of the Temple to safeguard it’s purity. We need to examine both our church life and our individual lives to make sure that we have not allowed our practices to interferr with our pure worship of God. Hopefully these comparisons with the Temple and the church have been helpful, but I believe it is important that we recognize a major difference.
The Temple was a single place where God was seen to dwell. In a sense, God could be restricted to that place , that period of worship, without any real involvement in daily life. The people continued to see themselves as strangers and aliens in this world, to a great extent as even as strangers and aliens in their relationship with God.
We are different. The Temple was build on an earthly cornerstone, but We are a people who have Jesus Christ as our cornerstone. The Temple had a foundation built on human soil, but our foundation is built upon the faith of the apostles and prophets. They were a people who could not get over the feeling that thy were strangers and aliens, but through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are no longer strangers, no longer aliens, but citizen with the saints and yes, even members of the household of God.
We no longer are bound to a particular place or time in which to encounter God, worship God, or invoke God’s Blessing. God now dwells with and in us. Our bodies individually and especially when we gather together as Church have become the new and more perfect Temple. We can now make the presence of our God felt wherever we go. We have been truly Changed by God to Make a Difference For God. Amen.