One Friday afternoon, as I arrived at St Matthew’s for ‘Praise and Play’ (our group for pre-school children and their parents or carers), I noticed that the west end doors of the church, and the screen doors, were wide open. The P&P leaders and helpers were spread around the church in a bit of a flap… “There’s a bird in church!”, I was told. And indeed there was. A little blue tit was hopping around the place. He or she (I’m not a twitcher so I wouldn’t know) had made a bit of a mess, here and there, but other than that the only problem was that, with a group of children about to arrive, it was going to be difficult commanding their attention with a bird flying over the tops of their heads. Of course, being a resourceful fellow, it was up to me to save the day. I positioned myself strategically behind the communion table and took a photograph. Having done the most important thing, I then proceeded to organise a plan of campaign. We cleared the bird’s exit and I started clapping. The bird flew halfway down the nave. And then halfway back. This went on for a little while and then, eventually, he or she spotted the exit and went out to enjoy the fresh air. Success!
One of the children who was there (the child of one of the helpers) told me that it was she who had encouraged the bird out of church. Of course, I didn’t disabuse her of the notion, but I knew that it was my efforts that played the major part.
The next most important thing was to make sure that my picture of the bird appeared on Facebook, so I quickly uploaded it. It wasn’t long before my picture was ‘Liked’ and commented on. One of my Facebook friends added a bible reference: Psalm 84. Of course, as a vicar I have the bible pretty much memorised, but I looked it up, just to be sure.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
But of course, you knew that too!
I like to think that the author of these verses, had seen those birds nesting in the temple and reflected that, while the temple was the place in which God’s glory was to dwell, it was, at the same time, a place that offered welcome and shelter to the humblest of God’s creatures.
If the temple is the place where God meets with us, then, it makes sense that in the gospels, Jesus refers to his own body as ‘the temple’ (John 2:19). Jesus is the ‘place’ where God and humanity meet. Then the New Testament tells us that our bodies are also the place where we meet with God. Your body is a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)! It is the place where God dwells, by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
This, of course, means that our church buildings are not ‘the house of God’, although people sometimes use that phrase. The place where you meet with God is within you and you don’t need a fancy building to do that! At the same time, we have some wonderful buildings at St Matthew’s and St Cross. But they are not the temple. What they are is places where the church meets for prayer and worship, and from which we reach out in love and service to our communities. We are doing our best to take care of the buildings we have inherited, with the hope that we will leave something even better for future generations. At St Cross we are making good progress with underfloor heating to make the place more comfortable. At St Matthew’s we have made a start on a major refurbishment to give us a building that is more welcoming and from which we can better serve our parish.
Our buildings are not the temple, but, like the temple, they need to enable us to proclaim the glory of God and welcome the humble.