I was sitting in a large urban congregation the other night listening to an organ concert. The historic organ is about to be removed for major rebuilding and restoration – a project costing many hundred of thousands of dollars. It was an excellent concert showing off the range of the instrument and its musical and historic uniqueness. I was glad we were there as we have a love for the musical heritage of the Christian church. It got me thinking about how attached we are to sacred space. There is something about humans that want sacred space.
As we enter upon Holy Week we recall Jesus appearing in the temple and over turning the tables of those who sold animals for sacrifice and those who exchanges tainted Roman currency for temple coins that could be offered without offense or breaking the commandments. Jesus in his life participated in the rituals at the temple. It was an intricate balance he lived respecting the tradition, yet in his teaching letting people know they did not need the temple or its sacrificial system to access God, to be heard by God, be loved by God.
Sitting in this large, warm, well maintained church I recall numbers of meetings, and hours & hours of discussion over my career about how to care for the sacred space, and how to pay for it. I cannot recall the similar numbers spent on planning ministry to God’s people. A very large percentage of church income is spent on maintaining our sacred spaces that are usually only used a few hours each week.
We need to take seriously Jesus teaching that directs his hearers (and us) away from a focus on the building (which we want and seem to need) to greater awareness of the needs around us and on God’s desire that we serve God’s people rather than our buildings.
While it would never pass any church convention I can envision, I would love to see a requirement that we spend as much on ministries of service to God’s people beyond the walls of our building, as we do to maintain our sacred space. Even in hard economic times (or perhaps especially in such times) we need to recapture that balance that we see in Jesus.