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1 Corinthians 3: 10-17
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
For a number of years in my ministry I lived in a parish with a modern church building. I grew to like it and enjoyed worshipping in it. Many people, I know, thought just the opposite, that it was a great pity that they didn't have a lovely olde worlde church with a tower or spire, arches, ancient pews and stained glass windows and perhaps the odd monument or two.
Our churches are, after all, one of the glories of this country, they are histories in stone, they give a sense of continuity and changelessness. Sir John Betjeman, who loved them, in his Guide to English Parish Churches, beautifully sums up their richness and variety.
The Parish Churches of England are even more varied than the landscape. The tall town church, smelling of furniture polish and hot-water pipes, a shadow of the medieval marvel it once was, so assiduously have Victorian and even later restorers renewed everything old; the little weather-beaten hamlet church standing in a farmyard down a narrow lane, bat-droppings over the pews and one service a month; the church of a once prosperous village, a relic of the fifteenth-century wool trade, whose soaring splendour of stone and glass subsequent generations have had neither the energy nor the money to destroy; the suburban church with Northamptonshire-style steeple rising unexpectedly above slate roofs of London and calling with mid-Victorian bells to the ghosts of merchant carriage folk for whom it was built; the tin chapel-of-ease on the edge of the industrial estate; the High, the Low, the Central churches, the alive and the dead ones, the churches that are easy to pray in and those that are not, the churches whose architecture brings you to your knees, the churches whose decoration affront the sight - all these come within the wide embrace of our Anglican Church, whose arms extend beyond the seas to many fabrics more.
Yes, our church buildings are very precious to us and certainly to me - I've loved them all my life - so why do I think that newer church buildings can sometimes speak to us more powerfully than older ones?
The reason is that we can so easily become enslaved by things, particularly old and beautiful things. They become ends in themselves, instead of means, so that for instance keeping the church roof on becomes more important and more time-consuming than what goes on under the roof. So the people that go to the church building begin to forget what they are really there for.
How often does it happen that people in a village who never attend services rush to defend a church building that is in danger of being closed and made redundant?
Is there a need for a physical presence for spiritual realities? Because so much about our faith is intangible and mysterious we seem to need a tangible focus for things divine, something seeable and approachable. Holy places, ancient and modern, help us to feel the presence of God and to worship Him.
But there lies the danger, because too easily we can end up worshipping not God, but the bricks and mortar, the building itself; and the means to the worship of God, the pointer to God's presence in the midst of our community, becomes an end in itself.
That is what had happened to the Temple in Jerusalem that vast complex of buildings which dominated the city in the time of Jesus and that is why in John's Gospel, the cleansing and purifying of the Temple occurs right at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Jesus purifies the Temple because judgement begins at the house of God.
The Jewish religion had lost its vision and its dynamism which Jesus came to restore. This can happen to us too. The fact that we have magnificent buildings for worship that have stood for centuries may in fact be a positive hindrance, because they convey a static idea of God and the church and distract people's attention from the real Christian tasks. And, of course the church can become static, it can go stale: buildings can hinder and obscure our vision, instead of enhancing and focusing it.
The reading from Corinthians reminds us that The Church is not a building, nor is it the clergy, but God's people whoever they may be.
That is what Paul reminds the Christian Church at Corinth about. We are God's temple, we are the body of Christ, we are the Church, not bricks and mortar, and so sometimes a simple and attractive modern building can help us to see that our job is not to become museum curators nor to indulge in esoteric cultic practises, nor to set up an alternative society over and against the rest of society, but to be a visible and active sign of God's presence in the world, to help people to understand and to be what God wants us to be, and to let others have a glimpse of what the wonder and power and grace of God is really like.
We are God's Temple dedicated to His service, and living to His greater glory. Amen.