Sermon – Candlemas 2004

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.

Normally, I focus o­n the people in the story and speak about Anna and Simeon waiting for the baby. Or the gentle, holy family lined up waiting with their pigeons with all the other holy families who were waiting to make their offering that day. I?m not going to do that this morning, today I want to talk about the temple itself and the idea of having temples.

What, in fact, I am going to do is speak about some of my experiences of going to temples, mostly churches, whilst I was o­n a recent four day break in London.

If anyone asks you what the sermon was today, you must tell them I was preaching o­n the theme, ?Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness?. For those of you who are actually here, or reading o­nline, you know that the sermon is really about what Kelvin did o­n his holidays!
So, anyway, there I was in London. Sunday morning, what do you do? Go to church. So off I set. I looked up in o­ne of the papers somewhere where I thought there might be some good music and a good sermon and off I went. And I arrived at the door of the church and was faced not with the smiling face of a friendly rector. Nor by the welcomers or sidespeople brandishing service books and encouraging grins. No, I was met with 2 uniformed security guards.

?I?m sorry sir, you cannot come in today.?

?Oh dear?, says I. ?Why not?.

?Well sir, you cannot come in because there is a service o­n and there is no visiting today?.

Now, I must admit to being perplexed by this. For eventually I established my credentials as someone who for some unlikely reason wanted to attend the service and managed to get in. And the service went ahead and was kind of lovely. Kind of. Yet almost all the pews were empty and throughout the service, which did indeed have some lovely music and quite a good sermon, there was the gentle murmur of security guards telling people at the door that they could not enter.

I still find this perplexing. I wonder what you would say if I asked you what the holiest part of the church was. My guess is that almost everyone would point up to the altar. I have a suggestion for you today. Consider that the church threshold might just be the holiest part of the building.

It is the threshold and it a two way threshold. It is the entry point to all that is holy inside, sure enough. The entry point for people to find a welcome and find their way in. In to faith and in to holiness. And in to awe and in to relationship hopefully with God?s people.

But that threshold works both ways. It is the threshold of the world. And it is the place, when we step out of this temple, where we step into God?s world as we leave. Going out to discover a God who has gone before us. Out to share faith and discovery and hope. Out into the world as Christ bearers like Mary & Joseph and Christ discovers like Simeon and Anna.

The threshold. The meeting place between church and world. A two way threshold.

Which brings me to another place of worship o­n my recent trip. I was staying near Kensington and decided to look in o­n the worship of the Russian Cathedral. And stepping through the doors of the church, I discovered myself in another world. The orthodox hold that going into a church is stepping into heaven itself. And for the first time, I knew what they were talking about. There was a timeless other world. A world of personal devotion and corporate expectation which was a thrill. (It was the week of Christian Unity, and for o­nce, I did feel excited by something).

I was particularly attracted by the music, which I had expected to be sung by big butch monks with beards. In fact it was some of the most gentle church music I?ve ever heard and sung by a mixed choir with not a beard in sight.

But the worship made me realise how much the setting can matter. I know that it is very modern to say that buildings don?t matter and that we could worship anywhere. Well, I?m sure we can find God anywhere. But if you have that notion in your heart, remember the tradition of the Bible. Read the reading from Malachi. All about the beauty of holiness. The coming of the Lord is like the scrubbing of the temple until it glistens and shines. The coming of the Lord is like gold and silver. o­ne of the places in which God?s people meet their God is in their devotion and offering.

I know quite a few people who say that they feel closest to God whilst doing simple acts of service in church. Cleaning or polishing or getting things all ready for the faithful.

And I thank God, (No, I really do thank God, that is not just a figure of speech). I really do thank God that I am a part of a community which keeps the temple of the Lord looking beautiful and fit for the king of kings.

Such is devotion. Worship means to bend the knee in the bible. Whether we bend the knee in prayer or bend the knee in service to God and all of God?s people, when the knee is bent the heart is turned towards our God and we face a new little epiphany. A new discovery of god.

Now, the last temple that I want to tell you about was Tate Modern, a huge art gallery in London created out of a power station. Some of you have read what I though about it already o­nline, but I think this is worth bringing into our worship today as we think of the holy family, Mary and Joseph and the child coming into the awesome space of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Tate modern stands opposite St Pauls, that great testament of faith of Christopher Wren which has sold its soul and installed turnstiles to keep people out and charge the people who want to pray. They would be better to cross to the art gallery over the river, with its vast cathedral space inside.

There is an installation there at the moment called the weather project ? there is a sun made up of streetlights at the far end and a vast mirror overhead at great height. Clouds of mist are pumped into the air and hang like incense. The hopes and prayers of the people make the place holy, for people have been going there to chill out. They lie o­n the floor and gaze upwards into the mirror above them. And there is the most extraordinary atmosphere of holiness. People making shapes with their bodies o­n the floor to spell their names out. People waving to o­ne another and reflected in the mirror. And all the while, a gentle hush and reverence.

People looking up to find something great and mystical find themselves. They have a new sense of perspective.

If we don?t provide people with good enough temples, they will make their own.

There is awe. Amazement. Quiet. Reverence. Gentle Laughter.

The characteristics of holiness.

If you want to see it, check the picture o­n the website.

For now though, join me in wondering how to create spaces where people can meet God. For temples there will be. And the Lord comes to them and meets his people there. In holy spaces carved out of time and circumstance, there people find God now, just as much as then.

Inspired by the spirit, let us build spaces into our lives to meet the Lord our God. The light of the world. The Child of his Time and Ours. And he will meet us there. The Lord whom we seek; suddenly, in his temple.


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