Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘A dwelling place for God’
In the Old Testament passage, God asks the people to create a home for the Ark of the Covenant, which was the symbol of God’s presence with them and held within it the commandments and other documents relating to the history of their relationship with God. They kept carrying it around with them, a holy and untouchable symbol -
When you think about it, all the major religions of the world have “a home” for their God/s a sacred place where people can come and feel a connection with their God and those who worship and follow that God. It doesn’t mean that God is confined to that place, but that it is somewhere where people can hope to find a special focus on that God.
What would lie within this home, the place where God dwells? Obviously, initially, the people of Israel had a strong focus on the ten commandments. Obeying the rules of our God can be a journey towards creating a dwelling place for God. However, if that is the total focus, it can also produce a place where those who don’t obey the rules in their human vulnerability, might feel judged or excluded.
If we put the Gospel passages and the Epistle together with the word for us in the book of Samuel, we may see a wider vision.
In the Gospel, Jesus seems to be training the disciples to be his true followers. They go away and come back and report on what they have done and he is obviously pleased with them and feels they are due for a rest.
In the home of God, we learn what the friends of Jesus are called to offer into the world. However, this is not a relentless God, but one who gives us permission to rest, to go off into a place where we are not pursued by those in need and to renew ourselves. Some of us do that anyway, but in my experience in the church, there are many who do not, or do it very rarely.
For much of my own life, I have been like that. Then someone would convince me to stop, to go away into a silent place and to wait for the gifts of God which would lie there. There was never a time when I did not receive those gifts new insights into who I was and who I could be, what was important and what I could lay down. I would go away and tell myself that I must do that silent retreating more often and then find myself caught up again in busyness.
When we live like that, we bring to others a view of our God which may well make them believe that they could never live up to this God’s and the church’s expectations. We forget that the home of God is full of understanding and kindness and that it is a place where all our efforts come together, rather than a person endlessly working as though God is not merciful.
On the other hand, we read in the Gospel story that Jesus wasn’t successful in getting a rest for either himself or his followers at that moment. He had to put it off because so many longing people followed them around, hoping for healing and nourishment. Between the two passages in Mark which we heard today is the only miracle of Jesus which is recorded in all four Gospels the feeding of the five thousand.
When Jesus sends the crowd home, the disciples managed to get away on a boat for a while. Jesus went away by himself to pray and then walked across the water and joined them on the boat.
When they landed, there are all the longing people again hoping for healing from Jesus. I think that the hope for healing is one of the strongest needs of people when they look for a God of love and a dwelling place where they may meet this God. There are, of course, many forms of healing.
It can be healing from various forms of physical and mental afflictions, where we bring together the professional skills with which God has blessed the world alongside support and love for that person and sometimes unexpected gifts of healing.
It can be forgiveness or comfort in the face of grief or love in the face of rejection or exclusion.
It can be helping people to discover that they are capable of a fuller life than they might have imagined, rather than dependency.
We could look even more broadly and even contemplate healing for the world from injustices and violence and oppressions.
To claim to be a dwelling place for God is a grave responsibility. If there is one thing that violates the dwelling place for God, it is the abuse of vulnerable people. Especially if this abuse is given by one who has been given the authority of ordination, I believe it is the ultimate betrayal.
I was talking to a woman who is at present doing lots of good work for our church and community. She is only just finding that she can step inside our buildings without panicking, after being abused in a church earlier in her life. The dwelling place of God had been desecrated for her.
In the Ephesians passage, which we didn’t read, we have a dwelling place for Christ formed by the uniting of the Jews and Gentiles a very significant joining of two alien peoples. They come together when they put aside the old rules and commandments and, looking at the Christ, see each other differently as they receive the gift of peace. This is what the home of God would look like the place where people discover ways of moving past barriers of race, culture, history and religious differences and become part of a new and holy peace.
This is a hard one, even within our own wider church. I don’t think it means that we have to lay aside beliefs which are important to us, but maybe in the dwelling place of God, we could admit that we do not “know” we just believe. We could listen respectfully to each other and, even if we don’t agree, we could see that we all still journeying towards the truth and discover the things of God in each other?
Today, we will be naming little Luke Higgins. As we do that, we dare to gather this little child into the dwelling place of God which we have formed here. Hopefully, it will be one which embraces that child with love, as does God, and offers to him and all children, a safe and loving place to explore the hopes and dreams of life and the visions of a world transformed into a safe place for all children.
To be a dwelling place for God is both a magnificent hope and, as I said, a grave responsibility. In the silence, today, I invite us to reflect on what we value most and hope to find in this dwelling place for God. Then, if you wish, come and place a small golden circle of hope and faith within the image of a dwelling place on the Table either in silence, or as you share.
Rev. Dorothy McRae-