My sermon on May 17, 2020:
“God Was Never in the Building”
- In 1956 Elvis Presley had a show in Louisiana which drew a huge crowd of teenagers. The show announcer, when Elvis left and the teens started getting up, wanted them to stay seated, so he said – “Elvis has left the building.” … Later on, when Elvis had left a concert and the crowd was energized and not wanting to leave, the phrase was used in an opposite way to say you might as well leave because “He has left the building.”
- I’ve often heard the phrase used in a more general way – that someone “has left the building” to say there’s no point in staying here. … I thought of this when I read today’s scripture, in the context of our stay-at-home situation so that we are not able to come to the building – to the church sanctuary – where we have always felt we were meeting God in this place.
- We give an invocation – inviting God to be with us. We speak of it as “the house of God.” People joke about the ceiling falling in if some people “dared” to “come to church” – with the idea of this being a holy place because God is here.
- Well, in Paul’s sermon to the people of Athens that day – none of whom who were Christian except his little group – Paul clearly says that God does not live in [sanctuaries] built by human hands. – Perhaps this is a message we need to hear today. – God is not in the building.
- The Aeropagus was a place where the men of Athens came to argue – well, to discuss the latest ideas. Paul acknowledged how religious they were and then went on to talk about the one true God. (vv.24-28)
- “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.
- We do not serve God by maintaining temples or buildings which we say “contain God.” God created all that is and God is in all that God has created. We are never beyond God’s presence, nor beyond God’s love and generosity. God gives everyone life and breath and everything else.And in God we live and move and have our being. – Paul is speaking to non-Christians, so these words are true of every human being.
- This is one of the most inclusive statements of the gospel in scripture. It leaves no one out. – He goes on to say God did this so that we would seek God and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. – This is the invitation for us to seek God, to reach out, and to find God who is always there.
- Paul does move on to a call for repentance – saying that God wants all people everywhere to repent.For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice and has given proof of this to everyone by raising Jesus from the dead. – I understand this to be a call to turn around in our lives from following the ways of this world to following Jesus – to live as God intended everyone to live, in compassion, justice, freedom, and wholeness, and to love both God and people – always. God demonstrated his power to change lives and heal and transform the world through resurrection.
- Our mission statement says that all we do together is for the purpose of transformation in our world. In a sense, God was never in this building – in the sense that somehow this alone is where we meet with God. Before this time – and beyond this time – we come to this sanctuary, this holy place set apart for the worship and praise of God. We will come together to pray and sing and preach and learn and be a community together in one place.
- We are, however, always a community, wherever we are in isolation or apart from one another. We are an inclusive community of hope. We keep on serving, caring, and learning together in our homes, as well as in the church. And we continue to pray for and seek transformation in our world through all we do. Remember this – “In God we live and move and have our being – in our homes, as we begin to go out again, and when once again we have returned to worship in this place.”