However it is that you found your way to church today, I’m glad you did. There’s no question; there are some surprising blessings that come from having church like this. People who are not able to come to Twelfth and Twelfth on a Sunday morning can now worship with us online. Our services include incredible music from artists who no longer play or who live far away. Besides staying safe from the virus, there are splendid silver linings in our YouTube playlist worship. It’s just, you and I know.
We are a people who miss being together in person. We miss showing up together in the sanctuary. We miss the building. And I know the Sunday School song. I know the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, but the truth is: the building is part of who we are. Could be where you got confirmed or where you got married. Our babies have crawled around on its floors; our families have eaten from its tables; our best friends have worked in its flower beds; our neighbors have come to play trivia in its fellowship hall. This isn’t just any building!
It is a home for our church family.
It’s a gift to us from the generations who have gone before.
Recently, I received this card from a member which features a photo of the sanctuary from Nineteen Sixty-Five. Here’s what I love. The person who sent me this card is one of our newer members. She didn’t go to Church of Peace when it looked like this, I didn’t go to Church of Peace when it looked like this; neither of us have our own memories in this iteration of the sanctuary. But that’s what’s so meaningful! We know that by inheriting this space, we’re inheriting the legacy of those who have gone before. It’s not just about our warm memories, it’s about their memories too.
At Church of Peace, we value our history. That is one part. We honor people like Emma Kahn, Reverend Rolf, Lou Bauck, Mil Lamp, Reverend Kuenning, Dick Lohrens… The names of the saints are all over the church on memorial plaques on the doors and the windows. We honor the saints. We honor the building as a gift from the saints. All of that is beautiful, but somewhere along the way, I went and got it mixed up in my own heart.
Love the building; preserve the memory of the ancestors. Or is it, preserve the building; love the ancestors. Without even realizing it, I was acting like the building still belonged to those who had gone before, like if we mean to secure their approval, we should keep the building pretty much the way they remember it.
This summer I came upon a reflection written by Reverend John Edgerton for the United Church of Christ Still Speaking Devotional. He writes: “Consider churches with great big buildings —far bigger than are needed for the members. Almost to a one, those churches are space-sharing with immigrant congregations, or running food pantries…, or holding 12 step groups,” the list continues.
His next sentence put a pit in my stomach. He asks, “What would the generations who built these great edifices think of all this?”1https://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional_small_but_spicy Exactly!
Then the reflection ended with a twist that brings me to tears every time.
Today our scripture comes to us shortly after David had been anointed King of Israel. He had just come dancing into town, bringing the ark of the LORD into Jerusalem, establishing it in the tent he had pitched. Here David is unpacking and getting himself settled into the palace. In this moment, he is not on the run. He’s not being besieged by enemies or pestered by the public. In this moment, David finds himself… at home. And this gives him an idea! Instead of keeping the ark of the LORD in a tent, David decides that he would like to build a proper house for the LORD.
Now in the story Ron read, the word “house” refers to something more than a building. First, a house for God is similar to a headquarters; it acknowledges authority by being the place where God can work. So just like a judge needs a bench or a teacher needs a classroom, surely God needs a temple. David understood that.2Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2009. pages 72-75. Second, the word “house” also means dynasty, as in the House of David, the lineage of David. So something else a house does is establish the institution for future generations. The third thing a house does is precisely what David is enjoying. A house gives refuge from threats and a place to rest. A house makes it possible to be at home.
And so it is that David confides in the prophet Nathan (who functions a little like his conscience). That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, and God said: All this time, I’ve been traveling with the people in a tent and a tabernacle, and I’ve never asked for a house. Tell David, says the LORD, that I will be with him. I will build him a house! It will establish his authority, protect his descendants, and give him rest from his enemies. Now later, David’s son, Solomon, does build a temple for the LORD —you know, to establish God’s authority, and protect future generations, and give refuge from fighting. But in the story we hear today, David’s proposal gets flipped around and given back to him.
And maybe it’s not like a tit-for-tat reciprocity. Maybe it’s more like call and response… Maybe it’s like when God was making the world, she was singing while she was working. Well God went and got some of her singing into everything living, so now we can’t even help but sing back to the LORD. It’s how we were made. God wants to make a house for us; we want to make a house for God.
You and I know, the people who built the church did this to acknowledge the authority of God, they did this to establish an institution for future generations. They built the church —we build the church— so we’ll have a place to be home because at heart, we’re all longing for home.
Here’s the thing about wanting to be at home: Once you are… Once you find all the cozy refuge and all the comfy rest, that’s when it becomes clear —Oh! There’s something here that needs to be shared. As it turns out, it’s not just about me feeling at home. Now I want God to be at home. It’s not just about me being secure. I want our children to be at home, and their children, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
If we’ll let it, longing for home could awaken our empathy —because everybody needs a place where they’re at home, and choosing to notice this need in each other is exactly what will unleash new possibilities for serving the people who are most vulnerable for serving the people in the neighborhood. It seems like a problem with a solution, but that’s not it. Longing for home is not really the problem. It’s a gift that we’re borrowing from the generations who will come after. It’s what gets us wondering, what do we need to give them? It’s what reminds us, we could be a people who dream.
Without even realizing it, I had been thinking that if we wanted to honor the saints, then we need to keep the building the way they remember it, but that’s not it! It’s not the building they want us to keep. It’s their commitment to imagining how our church could serve the people who need help —that’s what they meant to hand on to us!
All their discussions about adding the Education Building, or installing the elevette, that wasn’t so we’d be stuck with the elevette forevermore! That’s so we would learn how to keep asking: How can we make the church more accessible?
“What would the generations who built these great edifices think of all this?” asks Reverend Edgerton in his reflection. “They built that education wing for Sunday School. What would they think of it being used to host tutoring for neighborhood children? They built the gym so the youth group could play basketball. What would they think of it being used as emergency shelter?”
He continues, “I think they would say, ‘My God, if we know the building was going to be used for all this, we would have built it twice as big.’”
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the people who built Church of Peace didn’t know the day would come when our Food Pantry would serve hundreds of families in a month, when we’d make a public statement welcoming those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer. They didn’t imagine we’d be writing letters to men in prison or selling books at the Academy.
One hundred and twenty five years from now, imagine what the church might become! If your spirit pops in for a visit, you might find Kellyn’s grandson’s pet therapy practice where the green space is and Malia’s granddaughter’s legal clinic where the music room is. You start to panic because: What have they done with the choir! But don’t worry. Simon’s great-grandchildren and Olivia’s great-grandchildren have teamed up and renovated the whole third floor for their musical theatre camp. Oh -just wait til you see what they’ve done to Fellowship Hall.
There’s a rumor that if you’re in the sanctuary alone at night, after the gardening club cleans up and the play rehearsals finish, you can hear the faintest murmuring under the dome. They say if you keep really still, you’ll feel a glimmer of warmth flicker inside you. Well that’s us, you know.
One hundred and twenty five years from now, all of us saints of the church, we’ll turn up every now and again giving courage to our descendants and cheering them on. My God, we’ll murmur to each other. Look at what they’re doing with our church! It’s amazing! We really should’ve built this place twice as big.