Go (W)Holy!

1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13  October 29, 2017 – The Reformation

singing “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings/The soul from Purgatory springs.” Imagine this little jingle greeting you during worship, in place of communion. We take a second offering, promising that whatever is placed in the offering plate this time will save you from eternal damnation. And if you put in even more, it can save your loved ones who have already died who may not have been forgiven and are languishing in purgatory. Never mind the fact that we’ll build a big old church building with all the money you share so that everyone in Hutchinson will know this is where God lives.

Just in case you’re worried, this is just a nutshell of some Christian history. It was Pope Leo X who came up with this idea to reconstruct *St. Peter’s basilica and then he appointed Johann Tetzel the Commissioner of Indulgences for Germany, the man who penned that jingle, to travel all around and raise this money.  And who wouldn’t give money if your eternal life was on the line?  Of course you’d be digging out whatever coins you had to give.

October 31st is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the reformation. The reform of the Catholic church which then became the Protestant reformation. It’s why Lutherans exist. It’s why other Christians besides Catholics exist. Martin Luther had been a faithful Catholic and had become a monk in 1505. Working for a religious institution means you see behind the curtain. You see how the sausage gets made. So Luther, who was already disillusioned by trying to earn God’s forgiveness, well he can’t take it when people began to purchase their own forgiveness in order to re-build a church building. In 1517 he wrote what are called the 95 theses, or his theological and academic arguments against selling indulgences. He didn’t know this would split the church and contribute to the reformation of the church. Oct 31 is when Luther sent his 95 theses to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz. And he may have nailed them on the door of All Saints’ Church and others in Wittenburg.

What a fitting anniversary for us to be reading Solomon building the first temple in Jerusalem when the reformation itself was fueled by a building campaign built on the manipulation of people’s relationships with God. And while Solomon doesn’t convince people they will be saved if they give money toward it, he does cozy up to a foreign leader in order to get his beloved cedar wood for construction and he uses slave labor to build it. It is also mentioned in 1 Kings that Solomon builds his own palace which takes twice as long to build, and one can assume that his house, as opposed to God’s house, was much more extravagant.

Today it would be pretty easy for me to talk about how insignificant church buildings are. It would be easy to talk about what a waste of resources they are. It would be easy to talk about how church buildings seem to bring out our very worst. The natural conclusion would be that we who worship in a rented space that isn’t a traditional church building are fantastic. In fact we get it. But that’s not really what this is about.

We know place is important, don’t we? We know that spaces and buildings hold significance for us. I know you have places and spaces that are sacred, set apart, meaningful to you in your own lives. They are markers of time and events. They are places where important things happened, where hard things happened, where life happened. Place and space do matter. But we are not limited by them. God is not limited by them.

Both of these stories about buildings for God are troubling, aren’t they? Slave labor and manipulation of people’s relationship with God and eternal life? Are buildings for God worth it?

While we can’t discount the significance that buildings played in Solomon’s story and Luther’s story, I don’t think either of these stories is about church buildings. The buildings, which remember, Jesus said he would tear down and build up again in 3 days, are a distraction.

The heart of both of these stories is the love of God and why it matters at all to us. Today’s stories are less about where God is worshiped and contained and more about where God is active and alive.

Today’s reading from 1 Kings ends like this: 10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13 I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

God cannot be contained even in the biggest, most lavish church buildings there are. The very servants of the Lord called to their priestly duties to honor God are stopped from ministering by God. And Solomon remembers God has appeared in clouds to his ancestors. God has filled holy spaces before. And Solomon says, But I built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell forever…

Today is a day, like any other day, that we celebrate that forgiveness and love from God cannot be bought or earned or granted. It is freely given. God cannot be contained.

Today is a day, like any other day, that we celebrate that the love of God is not limited by our attempts to hem God in, control God, or say what God is capable of or not capable of doing.

Today is a day, like any other day, that we celebrate that the grace of God is a free gift given to us through faith.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less. No church building can hold this Good News in.

The church has left the building…

Isn’t this the best news you’ve ever heard?