July 5, 2020 – This House We Have Built

[Solomon prayed,] “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built!” – 1 Kings 8:27


On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Indepen-dence was adopted.  On the same day in 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died.  Another former President, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831.  On that day, but one year later, Dr. Samuel Francis Smith hastily wrote the song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” on a scrap of paper to be sung by school children at the Park Street Church in Boston.     

   On Independence Day in 1859 a group of German immigrants officially organized as a congregation.  They did not yet have a building in which to worship.  They did not yet have a name for their congregation.  (The building and the name would come in February of 1860.)  What they did have were visiting pastors from Chicago, Wunder and Mueller, who came to Elgin to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them and to administer the Sacraments for them.  What they did have was Christ in their midst as they gathered in His name.  Solomon asked, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?”  Our congregational foreparents answered, “Ja!”   

   Their first church building was a wooden structure on the corner of Spring and Division, purchased for $550 from a Baptist congregation.  It was a far cry from Solomon’s magnificent temple, but God never dwelled in any man-made house because it was magnificent.  He dwells among us because of His grace, love and mercy.  He listens for our cries of repentance and faith and when He hears, He forgives. 

   The first man-made place of worship God sanctioned was a tent.  The Tabernacle was a nice tent, but it was a tent nonetheless.  It was portable, so that God’s presence among the children of Israel would be with them as they wandered through the wilderness.  Solomon would be the first human being given permission to build a “permanent” structure as a special place where God promised to be among His people to hear them and forgive them.  But God would never limit His gracious presence to a pinpoint on a map.  As Solomon prayed, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built!”

   That is good news.  Without diminishing the value of having houses of worship in which to gather, it is good news that God is not contained solely in them.  When the Word of God became flesh and dwelt (“tabernacled”) among us (John 1:14), He regularly attended Temple and synagogue.  Jesus must have thought the physical House of God important when He cleansed it of moneychangers.  These were not people fundraising for Temple activities and organizations.  They were taking advantage of the worshippers for personal gain.  Jesus overturned their tables and poured out their coins, saying, “Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.”  “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house will consume Me.’” (John 2:16-17; Psalm 69:9)

   So, the Temple was important.  The synagogues where Jesus and the apostles often taught were important.  The houses of worship where Christians gather around the Gospel proclaimed in Word and Sacraments, from the dinkiest structures to the most spectacular cathedrals are important.  God is found in them, but is not limited to them.  A wealthy tax collector named Zacchaeus was forbidden to worship in synagogues or the Temple because, working for the Romans, he was considered a traitor to his people.  Jesus astounded him (and annoyed many others) when He looked at the little fellow in the sycamore tree and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  What, what?!  Zacchaeus’ house would become a place where the Son of God would seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:5, 10)

   Jesus’ opponents were so steeped in their self-righteousness that they forgot God’s house and God’s presence was ultimately about forgiveness.  Have you seen the movie Ratatouille?  If you haven’t, you should—it is a great story about a rat who knows how to cook.  Near the beginning of the movie, Ratatouille is scrounging for food in the house of an old lady.  When the old lady sees him she uses a shotgun to try to kill him—destroying her own house in the process. 

   Jesus’ opponents (whether in Bible times or current times) are like that old lady.  They will destroy God’s House in an effort to rid it of those they deem unfit and unrighteous.  Not once do they realize that they are unfit and unrighteous.  (“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8) Jesus’ opponents (then and now) forget that the Temple was built as a place of forgiveness for all sinners.  (“If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteous-ness.” 1 John 1:9)   “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” will be with us always.  (2 Corinthians 13:14)  

   Heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God, much less this house that we have built.  What cannot be destroyed, however, is the building of friendship, knowledge and faith through the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament. “For we know if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)

   The Elgin Germans who founded this congregation bore the marks of the Church when they became part “of the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is purely preached and the holy Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” [Augsburg Confession, Article VII] We, their descendants, are building friendship, knowledge and faith while praying, “We praise You for Your presence in this place of worship…Dwell continually among us with Your holy Word and Sacraments, strengthen our fellowship in the bonds of live and peace, and increase our faithful witness to Your salvation…” [Collect for the Day]

© 2020 St Johns Evangelical Elgin
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