(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
A Sanctuary That I May Dwell With Them
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
The very first worship structures recorded in the Bible were the altars that Abraham built to worship God after he arrived in Canaan (cf. Genesis 12:7-8). But after Israel left Egypt, God through Moses asked them to create a larger structure, an elaborate and beautiful tent, to symbolize God’s presence among them. They obeyed and built the Sanctuary in the desert.
1 Kings 8:1-13
When the people of Israel were firmly settled in the land of Canaan, King Solomon set out to carry out his father David’s plans for a Temple in God’s honor in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Kings 5:1-6). He built a building of great scale and beauty. In his prayer at the Temple’s dedication, Solomon made it plain that God is not bound to any one place or building (cf. 1 Kings 8:27). But the God of the universe honored Solomon’s Temple, filling it with his glory.
Ezra 1:5-7, Haggai 1:1-8, Ezra 6:13-18
When Babylon’s armies overran Jerusalem in 586 B.C., they destroyed Solomon’s Temple (cf. 2 Kings 25:9). Two generations later, the Persian ruler Cyrus gave the Israelites permission to return to Jerusalem from exile. Interestingly, Israel’s leaders did not talk first of starting a new government. Their primary focus was on rebuilding God’s house in Jerusalem.
In Jesus’ time, King Herod (a vassal king appointed over Israel by Rome) had greatly expanded and beautified the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, trying to win his Jewish subjects’ favor. Luke’s story about Jesus as a young man showed him in the Temple, fascinated, inquisitive and at home. He matter-of-factly referred to the Temple as “my Father’s house.”
Although King Herod and many manipulative politician/priests used it as a political pawn, Jesus honored the Temple. Seeing its spiritual meaning sullied stirred him to angry action. John said as his disciples watched him, they thought of Psalm 69:9, a poem about passion for God’s house. Both Matthew and Luke wrote that Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 (“My house will be a house of prayer”), showing how the Temple should link God with God’s people.
Acts 2:42-47, 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:1-5
The religious leaders in Jerusalem conspired with Rome to crucify Jesus, and fought against Jesus’ followers as they proclaimed that their Lord was risen. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the early Christians continued to honor the Temple as a worship and prayer center. God used it, as God has used many other buildings throughout history, as an instrument to build his spiritual temple in human lives.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Almighty God, help us to build sacred spaces in which others can meet you. Help us to honor your house in our lives and in our worship. Give us a hunger to worship you, and to offer our small gifts with a heart full of love. May our buildings demonstrate our commitment to you and to your will, but may our hearts forever be your true sanctuary. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
As you drive around the city, which are your favorite church buildings? What about some of the church interiors you have seen? What do you tend to like and dislike about these churches? Do you think they are a physical reflection of their congregations?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
• Read Exodus 25:1-9. Why did God tell the Hebrews to build this Sanctuary? Was it for God, or for the Hebrews who were to wander in the desert for 40 years? Did God demand that everyone give? Why not? Where did they get the items they donated? What made this structure holy? Did it offer solace and hope to the people? What kind of structure would God have us build today? Who would it benefit? What would be the benefits of having such a sanctuary, designed by God? Is it possible for us to have a sanctuary that we believe God has guided in designing?
• Read 1 Kings 8:1-13. After the Ark of the Covenant was brought in, God entered the new Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple replaced the portable Tabernacle as the Hebrews’ central sanctuary. How did the Temple compare to the Tabernacle in size and majesty? Why was this Temple the right thing for the Jews to build? Was its location important? What purpose(s) did the building’s grand scale serve? Do we honor and worship God with the churches we build today?
• Read Ezra 1:5-7, Haggai 1:1-8, Ezra 6:13-18. The Babylonians overran Jerusalem, destroyed the first Temple and dispersed the Jews throughout the Babylonian empire. Where did the Jews worship then? Was this when the concept of the Synagogue arose? When a new Temple was proposed, didn’t the Jews still have synagogues in which to worship? Do you suppose that some Jews questioned the need for such a grand, magnificent Temple? Did the new Temple serve a good and noble purpose, even though other places of Hebrew worship already existed?
• Read Luke 2:43-49. Do you suppose that, when the second Temple was being proposed, the people had any idea how significant it would become to the coming of the Messiah? Can anyone see the future and truly predict the value of anything that belongs to God? Did the presence of the young Jesus serve to further sanctify (make holy) the Temple and the worshippers within? Was this the first time Jesus had been in the Temple? Prior to the construction of the Temple, could the people have predicted that their Messiah would have been consecrated there? Do you look forward to entering “your Father’s house”? How important is that to you?
• Read John 2:13-21. How can we maintain “zeal for God’s house”? Is there any risk that we might forget the purpose for which it was built? Is there any risk that we might “worship” the building rather than God? How might we prevent that? Once inside, are we open to encounters with both God and our fellow worshippers? Do we build church buildings only for ourselves, or do we also build them for people who have not yet met Christ and for future generations? Can we build confidently, believing in God’s continuing blessings for our church, a community of believers?
• Read Acts 2:42-47, 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:1-5. Does God use physical buildings to do great spiritual work? Can you think of any examples? Can you describe this work? If, God forbid, our church buildings burned to the ground today, would we still be a church? In what way are we like “living stones”? How do we continue God’s great spiritual work as bodies of believers? As individuals?
From last week: Did you think about how your own “love of money” might be clouding your judgment? Did you make a list of these attitudes and situations? Did you ask yourself what you could do to combat your own attitudes and then act on them? Please share with the group any surprises you discovered in this process.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, April 28, 2013:
We’re taking a break from our current sermon series so I can share with you our leaders’ thinking regarding our future building plans. I’m really excited to be sharing this with you! But first I want to remind you that our mission is not to build buildings. Our mission is to build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians. Our vision is to be used by God to change lives, transform communities through our work with the poor, and to renew other churches by our work with them. Any talk about buildings must help us to do these things….
We hope to reach 10,000 more young adults in the next twenty years – this will not only change their lives, but will give this church a future. Those 10,000 will continue our work in the schools, touching 10,000 children, each of whom will touch thousands more. Together we’ll work to strengthen 10,000 other churches which will touch one million people in those churches, each of whom will touch thousands of people. Do you begin to see the ripple effect? The course of history will be changed in so many ways by God’s work through you.
While building buildings is not our mission, our buildings play a key role in fulfilling our mission. Buildings can either impede our mission, or they can support it. What I’m going to suggest to you today is that our current buildings, without any modifications, are going to have a detrimental impact upon our mission in the years ahead. And the buildings we’re proposing address our current challenges and will have a positive impact upon our mission in the years ahead….
This week I spent time reading many of the Bible’s passages about buildings. What I found was that God seems to have felt having a place for people to come and worship was important. He also insisted that this place be built with beauty and excellence and serve as a reflection of his presence with his people. He called the people to give sacrificially to make these buildings possible, even as they continued to care for the poor.
Exodus is a hugely important book in the Bible. In it we read the story of the birth of Moses, his call to lead the Israelites, the plagues, and the liberation of the slaves from Egypt the biggest stories of the Old Testament. Exodus devotes the first 14 chapters to these stories. But it goes on to devote the final 15 chapters to God’s instructions to Moses to build a sanctuary and the very specific architectural plans and design God gave him. The building was called the Tabernacle or the Tent of Meeting….
Later, 15 chapters in I and II Chronicles detail David’s work in planning for the building of the temple, the people’s sacrifices, and his son Solomon’s actual construction of what they called “the house of the Lord.” Solomon himself noted that God does not live in houses built by human hands, but the place represented God’s presence in their midst, and was where heaven and earth met in the people’s experience. The Psalmist captured the spirit of the Israelites about the temple when he wrote: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” Why? Because it was there that he went to meet God, to receive grace, to discern God’s will, to find life….
The Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586. Returning to the Holy Land 50 years later, the people began to rebuild their homes, some of them fabulous paneled houses, but left the temple in ruins. God sent the prophet Haggai who pronounced that it was a sin that the people had built their paneled homes but left the temple in ruins. The governor, Zerubabbel, began a capital campaign and rebuilt the Temple.
By the New Testament period, that temple was replaced by Herod’s temple. In the only childhood story of Jesus, we find him at age 12 in the Temple, his parents unable to find him. When they do find him he says, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” In one of the most dramatic events of Jesus’ life he threw out the moneychangers in the temple and cleansed it, noting once more that the temple was “my Father’s house.” The last week of his life he came there every day to teach. Jesus knew that his father did not live in buildings made by human hands, but the building was important to him—for it represented his Father.
After his death and resurrection the apostles gathered daily in the Temple. That Temple, like the tabernacle and the two temples before it, represented God’s presence and the meeting place between heaven and earth. It was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, but it was considered so sacred that to this day Jews return to the western wall of its foundations—and they come there to pray and to leave their prayer requests for God.
Here’s my point. God recognized the value of sacred structures, as did Moses, the prophets, Jesus and the apostles too, as places where people would meet him and as symbols of his presence in their midst. He commanded that these buildings be built with symbolism and beauty, and crafted with excellence. You will hear people say, and you may feel yourself, that there is something wrong with building a sanctuary. That does not seem to be God’s perspective in scripture. Nor is this a matter of either helping the poor or building a sanctuary. We will do both, and we’ll do more to help the poor by having the right building.
How important are church buildings?
In the middle of World War II, the chamber of the House of Commons was destroyed. As Britain’s parliamentary body deliberated how and when it would rebuild, Prime Minister Winston Churchill rose to defend reconstructing it in the exact style and layout as the previous version. He opened his speech with what is now a classic statement of the importance of architecture: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Churchill went on to argue that the shape and size of the room were integral to how the House of Commons functioned. Among other reasons, he contended that the small room was necessary for their conversational way of doing business, as the smaller room inevitably made the discussion more intimate.
Churchill’s basic insight is that our physical environments subtly affect how we act in ways we usually don’t consciously notice. Theologian Jamie Smith puts it in a slightly different context: a building can be an “incubator for the practices that shape [us] into a certain kind of people.” A medieval cathedral makes certain responses and dispositions more likely than others. Buildings like Westminster Abbey or Notre Dame make it easier to cultivate a sense of quiet reverence, if only because the stone walls and tile floors offer little muting effect to sounds. The places even make certain forms of music more plausible: Palestrina’s masses are built for the soaring heights of St. Peter’s basilica, while a praise band with drums would be an acoustic nightmare.
Buildings don’t determine our behavior, of course. But because they do make certain forms of life more plausible, our architectural judgment needs to be theologically informed.
The indwelling of God’s presence as a result of Pentecost chastens any pretensions that buildings can pass on or preserve the faith on their own. At the same time, this indwelling life of the Spirit needs external, visible support to flourish. The life of Christ is “poured out in our hearts,” but it gets there by way of the body. Reading the Bible or hearing the proclamation of the Word are just as sensory as walking in a church, which is why we attend to the words differently depending on whether we are saying them out loud, listening to them, or reading them. Cut ourselves off from this practice or the other practices of the church, and the fruit inevitably withers on the vine.
Buildings help shape us then, because our bodies affect our souls as much as our souls affect our bodies. While evangelicals have rightly focused on the interior life, the interior life has a particular shape based on whether and how we “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice.” While architecture may not be the main thing for evangelicals, the main thing isn’t the only one that matters.
This week, think about how you hope your own home is somehow a reflection to others of who you are and what you believe. Does it in any way reflect your love of and commitment to God? Can you think of changes that might make it a better reflection of your faith? If so, consider making some of those changes this week and next week, share with the group whatever you discovered.