(Sixty years of worship in the church building, Tairua)
by Bruce Gilberd
(Based on John 10:22-30; I Kings 8:27-30)
The readings today have several converging themes.
- Sacred space and the worship of God
- God’s presence everywhere, and also focussed in particular places and people
- Jesus’s startling claim while teaching in the Temple
- The humility and insight of Solomon
- The nature of the one true God: real, accessible, forgiving, …
- Continuity of the Church in history
I recall when praying beside the 3000-year-old foundations of Solomon’s Temple, in 1982, placing a prayer for world peace in a crevice there. The so-called ‘wailing wall’ has attracted pilgrims from the nations ever since the Temple was destroyed by Rome in 70AD.
Today we celebrate sixty years of history in this building. We also celebrate the story of the people of faith, the fellowship of Christian believers in Tairua – going back to at least the 1860s.
These are our key themes today:
- Places of worship and those who gather there
- God’s presence everywhere, and in particular places
- Place – sacred space and places. These have always been important in the history and present practices of the church.
Jesus was familiar with both local synagogues and the Temple – where people gathered for worship, forgiveness, teaching and fellowship. He taught in the open and in both the synagogues and the Jerusalem Temple, and as we heard in today’s Gospel reading, walking in the Temple’s Solomon portico, he confronted those gathered – daring to claim equality with the Father – Israel’s Yahweh: “The Father and I are one.”
The hearers were outraged, and tried to arrest and stone him.
Places are made sacred because of who was/is there, and because of what happened/happens there, and over many centuries believers have made pilgrimages to them.
– to the Holy land
– to Iona and Canterbury
– to Assisi and Taizé, and
– to Oihi and Parihaka
We call this building a church, because the Church, the people of God, meet here and offer heartfelt thanks and worship to God, whom Jesus revealed to us. This, St Francis Church, is a sacred place.
Here in Tairua, and New Zealand, we need to appreciate that we the church can usually gather unhindered, and not persecuted, as many Christians are across the globe.
Place and people – both sacred.
- Now to the second point: God’s presence:
Everywhere, and also in particular. He is indeed “beyond and in our midst”.
Solomon, dedicating the Temple 3000 years ago, prays, “But will God indeed dwell on earth? Even heaven and the highest heavens cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”
Yet Solomon then draws on God’s promise: “My name (= I am) shall be there – in the Temple.”
– The author of the cosmos,
– The creator of this solar system,
– The source of this planet earth and all its life …
is willing to be especially present in a Place, for that is his promise.
So we, the privileged present people of faith here, the Church here, gather week by week, as did the first post-resurrection church, to praise God and to “devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (as Luke puts it in Acts Chapter 2).
We give thanks for this sacred space, and all who have nurtured it.
We give thanks for our life together.
We give thanks that the Creator of the Universe encounters us here, in this specific place, face to face, whenever we gather.
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on us;
Take us, break us, recreate us.
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on us.
Forgive, O Lord, what we have been,
Sanctify what we are,
And order what we shall be.
What we know not, teach us;
What we have not, give us;
What we are not, make us.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,