Sunday, March 8, 2015
I’d like to start my reflection on the gospel this morning with this short video. (Start by watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arxfLK_sd68). Write on a piece of paper, if you’ve got one, some of your reactions to what you saw. As you’re comfortable, go ahead and turn to your neighbor and share some of those reactions. What did you think? We originally watched this video as a church council a few months ago, and one person said that the video was “convicting.” It’s convicting, because we know that the Christian church – not just Lutherans, not just Protestants, but all churches of all denominations are in decline, yet sometimes we keep doing the same old things the same old way expecting different results. This is not just a Bethel issue – this is a capital – C – Church issue. Do you know what the only growing denomination in the United States is? The Mormons! And they tend to have lots of kids and require every person after they graduate high school to serve as a missionary for two years! This video for me is convicting because it tells me that as a church we cannot keep doing things the way we’ve always done them – directing all of our energy and resources toward getting people into a building.
In the United States, an average of 20 Christian congregations close every month. The church building is no longer at the center of our society and culture, as the video points out. Only about 30% of millenials and younger describe themselves as churchgoing folks. People do not just go to church anymore – we know this. Jesus reminds us today, however, that he has not abandoned the church. Jesus reminds us of what the church really is, and how we can start moving those arrows from a focus inward – from sustaining our building and programs inside the church, to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ wherever we are. Jesus helps us turn those arrows outward. Did you notice, in today’s gospel that Jesus leaves the temple – Jesus leaves the building, to help people worship and serve God outside of the temple walls? Jesus has left the building, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What struck me as I was studying this gospel passage from John this week is that moneychangers and livestock in the temple were NOT unusual for your average faithful first-century Jew. This marketplace was simply a part of the temple religious practice. People understood that these services contributed to funding and caring for the large, impressive temple structure and making the daily sacrifices possible. In driving out these moneychangers, then, Jesus was insulting and challenging a long-held structure that helped maintain the building and traditional worship practices. Over the years, faithful Jews had forgotten that the temple was built as a place of worship, not as a place to sell things. And ever since the first temple was built in Solomon’s day, faithful Jews also thought that the only place to REALLY worship God was in the temple – that was where God lived. The temple was God’s house. If you remember from the Christmas story, even Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple for his dedication, because that was what faithful Jews did. If you really wanted to worship God, you went to the temple.
In today’s gospel, Jesus makes the radical assertion that we don’t need a building to worship God. In fact, he refers to his own body as God’s temple – Jesus takes the church out of the building and instead asserts that the church is made up of people – the body of Christ. In talking about the temple being destroyed, which really did happen in 70AD, Jesus is turning those arrows around, from pointing inward to a building, to outward. Jesus completely changes people’s ideas about how and where God can be worshipped. In essence, Jesus says that God can be worshipped anywhere, at any time. Jesus takes the church out of the building.
Now, I think the Holy Spirit is at work here today, because we really need to hear these words from Jesus this morning here at Bethel, right?! As we deliberate together on how to take care of this gift of a beautiful building that God gave us almost 100 years ago, we could easily get stuck into arguing about boilers, doors, and money. We could easily forget that the main purpose of the church is not to sustain a building. God gives us the power to worship and to share the love of Jesus wherever we go, 24/7. Jesus reminds us today that WE are the church, not this building. We are the body of Christ, equipped by God with hands, feet, and voices to worship and praise God not just here on Sunday mornings, but all of the time.
Do you remember that old Sunday School song? The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people. I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together…all who follow Jesus, all around the world, Yes we’re the church together!
The church is the people. PEOPLE are the best resource God has for making disciples of Jesus. We can pour money into our building and host the “greatest event ever” as the video suggests, but nothing is as effective an evangelism tool as being in relationship with other people who do not go to church. We can be the church anywhere, and it doesn’t cost one red cent. Not that it doesn’t cost us anything, though, right? As Paul reminds us, the message about the cross is foolishness to some. We may be ridiculed or rejected, turned down time and time again. I heard a statistic last week that a person needs to be invited to a worship service an average of seven times before they’ll take you up on your invitation. I think it’s important for us to listen to Jesus this morning and remember that even if this temple of Bethel were destroyed today, our CHURCH would continue to exist, because you all make up what we call the church. God wants to use you, and me – US together, as the church, to make a difference in the world.
We’ve been talking a lot this Lent about practicing our faith. Faith takes practice, and people, like the church, are never perfect. When you watch someone in the NBA make a free throw, it looks effortless, right? But how many times do you think that person has practiced throwing free throws? Thousands of times. As the church in the world, we need to practice sharing our faith – it’s not easy the first time, or the tenth time, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. So, here’s my challenge to you all this month: for the rest of March, I’d like you to try using two words: “my church” in a conversation with someone else – start with once a week, and then see if you can use it even more often. So for example, if someone at work asks, “How was your weekend?” you could respond, “Well, on Sunday morning, my church’s choir sang a beautiful song that really inspired me.” Or…”My church hosted a group of nice young college students that were engaged in community service in Omaha for their spring break, and I just thought that was really neat.” See what conversations open up from those simple two words, “my church.” See how Jesus is helping you take the church out of the building, helping you be the church, be the body of Christ to someone else in your daily living. Let’s be the church together! Amen.