The Church is not a building
Mark 13: 1-8 (NRSVA)
1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2 Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
As part of a small group discussion, I once answered the question, “where is the strangest place you have shared communion?” My immediate response was, “in the northern Arabian Gulf, on the upper deck of a British warship, underneath anti-ship missile launchers”. Sadly, that served only to stall the conversation! Yet, that experience continues to have a profound impact on me, my faith, and my understanding of ‘Church’. As the Church of Scotland—and many other denominations—wrestle with burdensome buildings, we need to keep reading these words from Jesus. We need to keep remembering that God is not contained in a building. We need to not be surprised by this but encouraged by it: we are experiencing the birth pangs of a new thing. Thanks be to God.
Why is it so hard? Why do we cling so tightly to physical structures and stones of old? Is it pride or fear? Perhaps status or melancholy? Help us to see what it is that captivates us about buildings, large or small, and stones, large and small. Help us to explore that motivation so that we might see it for what it is. And, most of all, help us to choose a different motivation: one that is centred on your will, Holy God, and your vision for your kingdom on earth, AMEN.