St. John’s, Upper Hopton. Feast of Dedication: 27th October 2019
Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 2: 13-22
Until you become the dwelling-place of God
‘[Y]ou are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.’ May it be given to me to speak to you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
One hundred and seventy-three years ago this last week, (the 21st to be exact), this church was dedicated to the glory and praise of Almighty God.
The years following 1840, though comparatively tougher socio-economically than today, must nevertheless have teamed with promise. The railways were coming; Britain was on its way to industrial revolution and consequent prosperity. The poor – many of whom in the industrial north mine and your ancestors – were little by little being raised from their entrapment as workhouse conditions began to improve with the publication of the Chadwick report into sanitary conditions amongst the labour-force, the advent of co-operatives promoting charity and self-help, and increasing poor-law unions from the late 1830s which sought to improve the thereunto abysmal workhouse conditions. At the time this church was built and consecrated, there comes a wind of change. God, in his wisdom does a new thing; transformation starts to happen and conditions, attitudes and behaviours by the end of the nineteenth century improve.
And the Church today might well – and rightly well – ask ourselves, “What has happened?” “Is this truly progress that we see around us on the cusp of the 2020s?” Have things changed or is it all illusory? Where is God in this increasingly distended and unfathomable world His people continue to mar? As the title of a recent book by Paula Gooder puts it, ‘Where on earth is heaven?’
It is a great privilege and joy to be here with you this morning and to be asked to preach. And there is no better occasion than that of a dedication festival to ask such questions: Where, then, is God? What is he up to? And most especially on this day, what are you doing, Lord, in St. John’s; in this team of churches; and in us their living-stones? As St. Paul expresses it from his letter we’ve just heard, ‘How are we becoming the ‘household’ of God? Are the living-stones of this church continuing to tell forth the salvation and re-echo the praise of the last 173 years in us? If they’re not doing so, then the church is ailing and the world it serves remains in want. There is still – more than ever – a Gospel to proclaim, a holy people to win for God, the God whose kingdom is evidenced here after one-hundred and seventy-three years; whose people (some of multiple generations) sit in front of me here and now. You are that people and yours is that history. In short, yours is the enduring wisdom of God in our time. Today is our paschal day for perceiving his gracious call again and choosing to persevere in it.
‘The Church of God,’ says the hymn, ‘a kingdom is, where Christ in power doth reign.’ Amen. We are nothing less than that kingdom, and surely the embodiment all its hope, as we follow after the one in whom all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell. The Father living in St. John’s, in Upper Hopton, in you and me and the saints who were here before us and who are to come. How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
One hundred and seventy-three years is amazing; it is a wonderful testimony to the work of God’s Spirit in the vocation and witness of this place and people; commendable stuff. We thank God today for all that is and all that has been here. And we ask in worshipfulness what is next? What is the Spirit saying to the church here for the weeks, months and years ahead as we seek to live, move and be where He wills? Where is the Spirit, the Christ firing in you? And what is it being kindled upon the altar of your heart as you create God’s household here and allow yourselves to be built into a living temple for him?
The turning of the tables from today’s gospel is a wind-change in the Judaeo-Roman world. Jesus’ zealous action recognises the need for that society’s repentance and transformation of mind and heart after the laws of the God who comes before them. He is urging them with righteous zeal to upturn the mean tables of their hearts as Wesley again might have it; to change and to build the economy of God; the house of prayer and centre of love.
The temple at Jerusalem is truly that house and gateway of the kingdom: the very centre of the world where injustice will be transcended and sin purged away in the refining fire of passion and resurrection: by the body and blood of Christ himself crucified.
Jesus wants the money-changers to change radically and become who they are truly made to be: doers who act and inhabit that Word which is in them that all may have life in abundance. He wants that for us too, in an age crying out so bitterly for it. Where on earth is heaven? Heaven is a place within us. Jesus calls the money-changers and commissions them to be game-changers. And that is exactly what he does for us, you and me. None other than the temple of the Lord and the gate of heaven made new in the fire of love.
That wind of change, that righteously zealous upturning of tables by the Lord Jesus Christ presents itself afresh in our own space and time, because this is always the way of love who is ever and again doing a new thing among his people within the world.
How are we being called in these days to clear out the clutter of that market-place of our own heart, which obfuscates the glory of God and frustrates the sanctity of life in our generation? Pray that we might ask God to kindle a flame of love upon a mean altar! Jesus in today’s gospel is angry – yes – but the action of the Lord in the temple remains ever righteous – filled as it is with the good zeal of one who may only do his Father’s perfect will; The good zeal which brings forth the fruit of the Spirit; the good zeal which makes the Father’s house here in St. John’s a temple still meet for his love and faithfulness to this generation. Thanks be to God. Happy 173rd! And may you continue, in the power of the cornerstone, to be built into His dwelling-place here; that many may continue to come in and go out and find pasture from their Christ who abides in you – Offer to love all that faith can do, while love is making all things new. How awesome is this place! You are none other than the house of God; and in your heart is the gate of heaven.
Let us pray: Enter, good Lord God, into this gate of your people again and dwell in this house which promises not an illusion of life renewed and hope restored, but a holy, sure foundation; a new creation begun, continued and ended in you. God grant that I have spoken to you in his name, † Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN