Monday, May 23, 2011
Installation Sermon for Rev Dr Linden De Bie, May 22, at the Community Church of Douglaston (RCA)
Texts for Easter 5, Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14
If I were to produce the Gospel of John as a stage play, I would make all the scenery to be temple scenery, for all three acts. The backdrops and furniture would suggest the temple for every scene of the play. I would suggest how every action of Jesus in this Gospel is a temple action, even when it happens out on a hillside, feeding five thousand; or at the cross, which is an altar of sacrifice, an altar outside the temple. I would suggest that Jesus himself is the temple, in whom God’s Glory dwells, wherever he is upon the stage; he is the tabernacle, he is the moving location where the living God is fully present to God’s people. Wherever he is, he is his Father’s House.
You know the temple of Solomon had twenty upper rooms built up against the walls of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. These were the chambers where the priests would go to eat their portions of the sacrifices, where they had their meals with God, where they were close to God. Well, I would use the scenery to suggest one of these rooms as the setting for our gospel for today. The upper room in which the disciples ate the Passover was a substitute temple room. On the backdrop I would mount some large painting of the visionary temple of Ezekiel, the temple of the future, which had many more such rooms, almost a hundred, all around the temple courts. That’s what Jesus refers to when he says, “In my Father’s House are many rooms, where I am going to prepare a place for you,” where you can commune with God as intimately as I do; you can be as close to God as a child with a Father.
But how shall we get there? He’s the way there. If you want to know the God of Israel as Father, he’s the way to the Father, and the truth of the Father, and the life of the Father. And you can know this now, and you’ll need to know it for your life hereon as my disciples. When he says that’s he’s the way, the truth, and the life, he’s not talking here about who gets to go to heaven when they die, he doesn’t say here, “no one gets to heaven but by me,” he’s not speaking of boundaries, he’s speaking of entrances, of access and intimacy, of opening the curtain and the outside going in and the inside going out, of getting close to God not by getting away from the world, but in the world in order to take on all the trouble and suffering and misery of the world. John 14:6 is certainly for mission, but not a mission of exclusivity, rather a mission of welcome and hospitality and healing the world.
In the chapters of John which follow, Jesus lays out how his disciples themselves will be the temple. How their community will succeed him as the location of God’s real and faithful presence in the world, how the community of believers will be a living temple in which God’s glory dwells for the salvation of the world. And for once, St. Peter paid attention, and in our epistle lesson he repeats the image which Jesus had given them that night in the upper room, and he makes it more concrete. Of necessity, because the early Christian congregations to which he wrote his epistle had no churches, no shrines, no temples, no altars, none of the ordinary places where ordinary people go to get close to the gods, to say their prayers, to make their sacrifices and enjoy them. The early Christians were considered to be atheists by their pagan neighbors. What kind of a strange religion is this gospel anyway, what can you offer us concretely where we can find your God? What locations do you offer for ordinary people to get close to God?
The location is the community of believers in its life together. Your congregation is the house of God. Your congregation is more than an association of like-minded people. In your congregations’ life together, God is really present, especially when you break bread. It is a humble sort of presence on God’s part, to be fully present in people like us who gather here, it is a humble sort of glory to be seated upon the singing of the children’s choir, and to accept the sacrifices that we make when we happen to be home on the weekend and have money to spare. But God has deemed it satisfactory to be present in the world through us. My goodness. Not only us, but certainly us, and faithfully us. Why aren’t we trembling when we come to church?
The Lord Jesus has deemed us so acceptable that he tells us, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” Now that’s the kind of thing we like to hear. That’s what people have always wanted from their gods. They visited their temples to ask their gods for rain and sun and health and wealth and victory in war. He says it again. “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” You like to hear it, but then you reflect how often he doesn’t seem to do what you ask him, even if you ask in his name. Does he really mean this? Or should you just stop asking so as not to be disappointed?
You have called your pastor here to lead you in prayers. Your pastor is required by the Reformed Church’s constitution “to call on the name of the Lord on behalf of the whole congregation.” This is the ministry of prayer, which is no less important than the ministries of preaching and teaching and counseling and visiting and governing the church. Prayer is what goes on inside a temple, and if you together as a congregation are a living temple, then what happens among you should be a lot of prayer, and he is installed among you as a leader of your prayers. He leads the prayers among you when you gather, and he prays for you in private when he is alone. When you don’t feel like praying, he leads you anyway. When you don’t know what to ask, he teaches you. When your answer doesn’t come and your hope flags and your faith fails, he counsels you and prays on your behalf. He is responsible to help you reconcile your not getting what you ask for with the promise of Jesus here that he will do it.
(If I’m honest I confess that for professional reasons, I wish Our Lord had not promised that. I wish he had said something like, I will do just about 22% of what you ask, depending on the wars and weather. But he ups the ante, he seems to mean 100%. So when you pastor reconciles you to that I wish one of you would call me up and repeat his explanation so that I could use it too.)
You have called your pastor to be an architect. An architect of the temple that you are called to build inside this structure called the Community Church of Douglaston. He is the architect who will instruct you and show you and help you construct the living temple of your congregation. The prophet Moses gave the plans for the Tabernacle at Mount Sinai, King Solomon gave the blueprint for the Temple in Jerusalem, and the priest Ezekiel had the vision of the Temple of the future. Your pastor, by his preaching and teaching, will give your congregation the plan and the blueprint and the vision. I ask you to be receptive to his vision, and do not stone him like they did to Stephen. Do not stumble over the stones he lays by disobeying the Word of God. Receive how he shows you your temple inside this sanctuary, and in the Sunday School rooms, in the church kitchen and the parlor and the parking lot, and outside in the village, wherever you walk upon the stage of Douglaston, even in your homes. Receive his ministry, and you will discover how close is God to you.
Nine years ago I said a few words at a dinner on Wall Street, and a lawyer came up to me and said, “You know, I am a Catholic, but I have great respect for your denomination. I’m from Douglaston, and some friends of ours, not church members, had a tragic accident, and it was the pastor of the Community Church who ministered to them.” Well, I know that’s what Dr. De Bie would do too. When I heard that he might come here, I knew right away that he was God’s choice to show you and help you become what God intends for you to be. Yes, in past years you have done great work here in Douglaston, but you will do greater works than these. Listen to verse 12 of our Gospel: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, because I am going to the Father, you will do greater works that these.”
Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.