The passage I used for the phone line prayer meeting the other morning, Thursday the 2nd July, was from Genesis 28. Jacob uses a stone for a pillow, has his dream of angels ascending and descending, recognises the presence of God, and turns the stone into a marker anointing it with oil, declaring the place to be the house of God (Bethel), and gate of heaven. What I find strange is that Jacob’s response to what God has actually said – “I am with you, and will watch over you wherever you will go” – is to try and identify God’s presence at one location instead of taking into his heart the omnipresence of God.
This is a feature that occurs throughout the bible. The Israelites on their post Passover journey to the Promised Land have the physicality of the fiery cloudy pillar with them day and night, but moan to Moses about feeling abandoned. After the construction of the tabernacle with its Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments, the tent and physical object seem to be revered almost as much if not more than God and His Word. Having established Jerusalem as the royal city David wants to build a temple, a palace for the presence of God to dwell but the Lord says no, after all how can the one who created all live in something made of stone.
David’s son Solomon sets to work on construction, this time the Lord doesn’t intervene and the Temple is built. In 1Kings 6:12 the Lord says “‘As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfil through you the promise I gave to David your father.” The blessing of God with his people will have nothing to do with the actual building, but whether they are faithful. The structure merely relocates the altar used for sacrifice, and provides a new storage space for the Ark of the Covenant.
Then we can think of the time of exile and how the Temple in Jerusalem was allowed by God to be torn down because, to the king and people it had become a place of no meaning or value – or rather it had taken on earthly value rather than being a reminder of God whose decrees, laws, and commands they no longer obeyed.
Post exile the temple gets rebuilt over many years, but there is a question of whether the people have really changed. The use of the courtyard where Jesus turns the tables over illustrates it has not, it is a “den of robbers” not the house of the Father, not a place of truth, mercy and justice.
So then we come to the question that I am being asked increasingly – when are we back in the Lord’s house? When can we worship again? When is the church going to be open? – my answer is that the church is not closed and never has been in 2000 years – you are the church, you are the body of Christ, and if you are actually thinking of when we get in the building please remember that the physical structure is just a tool to help us in what we might do and so we must think is it the right tool to use at the current time?
What about the house of the Lord – well there are 2 answers to this one- the spirit dwells in you, you have God’s presence within you as much if not more so as any building, or if you do want a building then consider the house of the Lord to be where you wake up in His presence, it is your home.
When can we worship again? – again 2 ways of looking: as God’s people all that we are and all that we do should be an offering of worship to the Lord, if it is not worthy of Him why are you doing it – His presence should direct every angle of our living from whether our trading (in business or doing our shopping) is just and fair, whether all our words are kind and loving, and whether we misuse or have good stewardship of what we have been blessed with. The other understanding might be to consider what you have done at home these last 3 months in way of personal reading and prayer, and in how you may have engaged with our Sunday time of worship online and on the phone.
Perhaps this still has not satisfied you. You want to know about entering the building, the law says we can!
The elders have decided that we will not be opening for personal prayer at this time. We feel that people have the opportunity to pray at home, and as the restrictions on being open for personal prayer does not permit those staffing the premises to pray with an individual, then there is little benefit for a great deal of effort.
The pub is open, why not the church building? The law allows us! Well it does and it doesn’t – yes places of worship can be open but there are restrictions. Boris’s announcements have generally been great in headlines but often lacking the true detail behind it.
The pub, the cinema, the restaurant, the hairdresser and everyone else has restrictions – “The Stand Up Inn” is currently signed as “The Sit Down Inn”. Similarly we can gather but we cannot have social interactions. We are told that the time together should be “an absolute minimum”. “People should avoid singing”. “Any shared facilities for children … should be removed and/or put out of use.” We will have to keep a register of attendance for 21 days. We can legally have more than 30 of us, but when seats are spaced at 2m it won’t be much more than that number in the church. We are also asked in the government guidelines to remind people aged over 70 that they should stay home as much as possible, and in the personal risk assessment published by the URC those over 80 should not attend. A church service would not be as we know it, and for some with health conditions it is perhaps still out of the question. That said we will continue to aim to bring worship from church this September, hopefully still with streaming.
We will get back in the building, and I hope to soon have some form of in person prayer meeting – though we can’t sit in a circle as we are to avoid facing each other.
Please continue to pray for the virus to be eradicated and for the full opening of church buildings across the land so that the day will come when we may gather in our buildings, worshiping God with heart, and soul, and voice. Until we do let us continue to pray and praise as the scattered church.