Friday, September 11, 2009

Slow to Unlearn

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (1 Cor. 3:16).

I learned at a very early age that God had a house and that God’s house was called “church.” And somehow I also came to love that house.

I know this isn’t true for everyone. Some people grow up in houses that they can’t wait to get out of. Once out of the house they return only on holidays, an obligatory visit that is more endured than enjoyed, more tolerated than treasured.

The same happens with God’s house. For whatever reason, there are many who know its rooms and corridors but are only too glad to be done with it. They make it back a couple of times a year, but it’s not home for them in any meaningful way.

For reasons I can’t explain, that’s not my story. I don’t make that claim as a boast – just a fact. The first house I ever lived in was on a small lot right next door to God’s house. The same is true of my daughter Anna. When she was born we brought her home to a house that sat across the street from the house of God. In days that lie beyond the reach of my memory and in days that I will never forget, God’s habitation and my own habitation have been closely connected.

I learned what kinds of behavior are fitting for God’s house, “don’t run in church” being at the top of the list. I grew comfortable with the furniture: little wooden chairs for children, metal folding chairs for grown ups, and pews for everyone. Even now I can detect a scent that seems to linger in churches all over the country. Yes, to me God’s house has a smell that evokes recognition, a recognition of home.

I learned all of that at a very early age. And now, quite a bit older, I am trying to unlearn it. This doesn’t mean that I’m rejecting my love for the place or practice of weekly worship. It doesn’t mean that I hold in derision that which I have always cherished. What I am having to unlearn is the connection between the presence of God and a building.

Of course, I’ve understood for a long time that God doesn’t live in a house the way I live in a house. But deeply ingrained in me is a way of thinking that connects the activity in the building with the activity of God. This means that God is confined to church programs, church services, church meetings. That’s what must be unlearned.

Paul told the Corinthians that they themselves were God’s temple. This is a staggering claim. God does not take up residence in a building or a shrine or a structure. God inhabits a people. God’s very life dwells in you.

This simple truth could revolutionize your life. The reality of God’s very life dwelling in yours changes this day without changing anything you’ve planned to do. Suddenly what you’ve planned to do takes on an entirely new meaning. You are God’s plan for loving and changing the world.

It’s a good thing to invite the world to God’s house. Some will come. Plenty of others will not. But God inhabits a people and every week those people take God to the world.

You are God’s temple, God’s habitation. The Spirit of God takes up residence in your life.

How might this change your day? How might it change you?

Gracious God, you loved the world so much that you sent your son. You continue to love the world by sending us. Empower us today by your Spirit that we may be your very presence in this world. Make your home in us, changing us and transforming our days, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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