The House Where God Lives

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
October 5, 2014
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
The House Where God Lives
Exodus 40:1-4, 9
The Lord spoke to Moses, “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. You shall put in it the Ark of the Covenant, and you shall screen the ark with the curtain. You shall bring in the table, and arrange its setting; and you shall bring in the lampstand, and set up its lamps. … Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy.”
I Kings 8:22-23, 27-29
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart. … But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there.’”
2 Timothy 2:20-21
In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.
It is good for a church every now and then to revisit who it is and where it has come from. It is good for a church to occasionally take inventory and assess whether it is, indeed, “the house where God lives.” And the dedication of three new pieces of worship furniture which we did here today seems the perfect time for a church to do that introspection.
For our scripture readings today, I chose three passages—two from the Old Testament and one from the New—all about the furniture, the “utensils” of the place of worship, all about the prayers that were said over them, to bless them. Each scripture represents a different era in God’s ongoing work of “salvation history,” as theologians refer to it. In each era, God has a different type of dwelling place. And buried in the text about each dwelling place is an insight about the “kind” of house where God wants to live. Let’s look for those insights now.
In our first scripture reading, God lives in a tabernacle. Now, that’s a strange word—a word we don’t often encounter outside of this story. A tabernacle is, literally, a tent, a hut, a dwelling place, a resting place. God commanded Moses to build this sacred space for the Hebrew people as they traveled in the wilderness during their exodus—their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt. The tabernacle was a tent—a very large tent, and in this case, a very large portable tent—built to God’s precise specifications, and it was the place where the people could go to meet God.
God wanted the tabernacle to be a holy place—a sacred space—someplace unique and special where individuals could go and know they had encountered the Divine One. So God commanded Moses to pray over the tabernacle and its furnishings and to anoint them so they would be holy. The Hebrew word for “anoint” here is mashah, a form of mashiah, a form of messiah, which means “anointed one” or one set apart. God wanted Moses to make the tabernacle and its furnishings, in a sense, a “messiah,” a place set apart, for the people so they could know God—so they could come apart from their daily troubles and meet the divine. And that is one thing God wants this house we call the church to be: God wants to live in a house where people can separate themselves from the noise of life and experience true holiness, find true purity.
And later, in our second scripture reading, God lives in a temple. God leaves the portable, dusty space of the tabernacle and gives Solomon the honor of building the temple, a more permanent structure, now that the Hebrew people have finished their wandering and have settled in the Promised Land. Solomon, like Moses before him, prays for the structure, and we have part of that prayer in today’s second scripture reading, as Solomon dedicates the temple as God’s second dwelling place. Some of you may know that God had originally instructed David—Solomon’s father—to build the temple—but then God changed God’s mind.
In 1 Chronicles 22:8, God says to David, “You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.” David was a man of war, and we could debate all day about whether those wars were necessary and whether God sanctioned those wars, but the bottom line was that God did not want a man of war to build his house. God wanted a man of peace to construct the temple. God’s house was to be “a house of prayer for all nations,” and to be that, it must be a place of peace. And so, that is another thing God wants this house we call the church to be: God wants to live in a house where people can leave their conflict behind, pray without fear, and find peace.
Our third scripture reading is drawn from the second letter of the Apostle Paul to his disciple (his student) Timothy. At this point, God’s house was not (for the followers of Christ) the tabernacle or the temple, but the church—the embodiment of a brand-new faith. Paul creates a metaphor for Timothy, comparing the members of a church to the “utensils” in a house. Verses 20 and 21 read: “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves … will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.”
So, here, Paul is instructing Timothy to tell the people in the churches that every single one of them has a purpose and is useful to God. In the life of the church, every one of us has a calling. We are those special utensils, ready for every good work, well suited to some type of ministry, some purpose, in the house where God lives. It could be a ministry that’s shared by everyone in the church—an “ordinary” ministry, like singing the hymns with the congregation during worship, or giving in the offering, or greeting a newcomer—or it could be something more unique, like preaching a sermon, or leading the youth group, or repairing the furnace.
Each of our task is to find our own unique calling and act on it. And every time we look at God’s beautiful house—this one with its warm wood ceilings and beams and rafters and carvings—and every time we look at these lovely new furniture pieces that we have dedicated here today, we are to be reminded that this is a place set apart for experiencing the holy (like the tabernacle), for leaving our conflict behind and finding peace (like the temple), and for discovering our own purpose, our own unique calling (like the early church).
Jo Wasson found her own unique calling. She is well-known throughout the conference as being a strong advocate for justice issues and missions. Jo loves the United Church of Christ and has always been a strong voice for the wider church. I remember when I first arrived and Kimberly, who preceded Theresa as secretary, would get off the phone with Jo, a little bit frustrated because Jo was so insistent that the mission efforts of the month have a place in both the bulletin and the newsletter! Yes, Jo Wasson has always been intensely determined to give her causes a voice. We don’t know yet whether Jo Wasson will ever again be able to use that strong voice for justice and missions. But we are privileged to have her among us, as an example of how much difference one person can make.
On a lighter note, I saw the softer side of Jo yesterday. I saw her sense of humor. One of her nurses in the ICU encouraged me to try to get her to laugh—to express normal human emotions. That nurse, in fact, was a young, rather attractive male nurse with a charming island accent, and as soon as he left the room, I said to Jo, “Now, you’ve got a cute nurse there, and I don’t want you flirting with him too much! You need to get some rest!” Jo let out a big belly laugh, and that cute nurse, sitting outside Jo’s room with the door cracked open, probably wondered what that was all about!
Yes, Jo Wasson is a strong voice for justice and a legend in her own time. Likewise, we dedicated the two altar chairs and the side table today in memory of some equally strong voices who are no longer with us. Rev. Nick Natelli is also a legend, speaking peace and justice into every corner of the Christian life here in Black Forest. And Audeen Murrah, like her husband Dalton, gave decades to the work of La Foret, our UCC church camp, believing in camp ministry and the relationships it nurtures. Each of them found their unique purpose and fulfilled them in Christ’s service.
Come away and experience God’s purity. Leave your conflict behind; pray and find peace. Discover the task for which you are perfectly suited and find purpose. Let your experience of this house change the house where God truly wants to live— this house —your heart.