On Creating a Place for God to Dwell
July 18, 2021
Ephesians 2: 19-22
…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Today’s sermon is titled On Creating a Place for God to Dwell; it is adapted from a sermon I offered in July of 2018 on the Sunday when both churches voted to approve the call for me to serve as your minister. I am grateful to be one among you, Friends. And now, the sermon.
On Saturdays, for most of my childhood, I would either be spending the day delivering flowers for our family florist business, or I’d be answering the phone and washing hairbrushes at my mother’s hair salon. When out delivering flowers with my Grandfather, we would sometimes stop by houses that were under construction. He would pull over and we would get out and walk all around the site; no one else would be there on a Saturday, but my Grandfather would tell me who was the bricklayer, the framer, the roofer, the electrician, and the plumber. These were no ordinary houses with basic floor plans, either, these were big projects.
My favorite houses were the ones that were just framed, so you could look right through all the walls. My Grandfather and I would walk around and try to guess which room would be used for what purpose and imagine what the finished house might look like. We would wonder aloud, “Could this be a bedroom? Or maybe a den? There’s plumbing for a bathroom here. Look at this! I bet there will be some kind of sliding door here.” I don’t think I can adequately convey just how much fun this was for me. I guess it was all the creative imagining combined with the thrill of trespassing and the pregnant presence of so much possibility. All I know is that these are some of my favorite memories from childhood.
Revisiting old memories is like visiting old friends, isn’t it? The 23rd Psalm is like one of these old friends. There are times when I read it and it’s difficult to let it speak to me anew because I have memories of hearing it at funerals, memorizing it in Sunday School, and all the various bookmarks I’ve seen with the verses printed over some pastoral scene of green meadows. When I can read it with an open mind, there are different parts that stand out, some meaning that meets my awareness in a new way.
In my experience, written words are almost magical in that sense; re-reading is most often an entirely new experience if I can set aside what I think I already know. In re-reading the 23rd Psalm over and over this past week, it was the last verse that resounded in my mind…“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The word dwell, in particular, catches my eye and ear. Like so many words, this one has multiple meanings. The two most familiar definitions of the word “dwell” are as verbs; “Dwell” can mean “to keep the attention directed” like in this quote from Johnny Cash; he says “Don’t try to forget the mistakes, but don’t dwell on them, either.” “Dwell” can also refer to living “in or at a specified place” as in the quote from Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in possibility.” It seems to me that dwelling in the house of the Lord is, in a sense, dwelling in possibility.
Our reading from the book of Ephesians today also speaks in beautiful detail of the same kind of phenomenon; please, listen again to the boldness and the action in this passages. “You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets…joined together, (you) grow into a holy temple…you are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” This is reminiscent of a verse in the book of Acts, chapter 7 that says, “The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” This metaphor of our bodies being the temple of God recurs throughout the bible, and the concept is so abstract and so loaded with implied responsibility, it’s easier not to dwell there. If our bodies are the temple of God, that puts an extra emphasis on how we choose to care, or to not care, for ourselves.
In our verses from Mark, Jesus speaks of taking care when he reunites with his disciples after he had sent out, two-by-two, to teach and heal with only their sandals, staff and one tunic each. They return and meet Jesus by the shores of the sea of Galilee. They are mobbed by people pressing in and Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile.” That was easier said than done, for Jesus had no temple with doors to close. Surely, he could have asked for one to be built and perhaps in his three-year ministry it might have even been completed, but Jesus did not ask for a temple…Jesus became the temple of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, his followers joined together, growing into a holy temple, a dwelling place for the Most High.
The effectiveness of Jesus’s ministry was compounded by the very fact that he was a vessel through which God could reach the people and he lived among them, not on a dais above the masses, not on a throne, not behind the temple curtain or behind a pulpit; Jesus was among the people, present and accessible.
Jesus took time to rest and restore, and he ordered his disciples to do the same. Rev. Francis Beare says, “The watchful care of health and strength is a primary religious duty. If we are too busy to allow strength to be renewed by withdrawal and rest, we are too busy to serve God with our best.” After all, the third commandment concerns keeping the sabbath holy; take time to rest, it’s OK.
This seems like the perfect time to share something else I learned about the word “dwell.” “Dwell” can also be used as a noun, a thing. According to the dictionary, a dwell is “a slight, regular pause in the motion of a machine.” A slight, regular pause in motion; a little rest, if you will. With this one, small, 5-letter word “dwell” we can refer to residing in a place, keeping our attention focused, and even the small pauses in the machinations of our daily lives.
In closing, I remind us that we are offered invitations today in these scriptures. First, an invitation to “dwell in the house of the Lord.” This is not a house made with human hands and 2x4s, like those houses I walked through with my Grandfather, but some place within us where all there is is the goodness of God and the promise of possibility. Secondly, we are invited to “join together spiritually, into a dwelling place for God.” And here we are. Welcome to church; welcome to a community of faith and a way of life that is rarely easy, but ultimately rewarding beyond measure. And lastly, let’s not forget the sacred necessity of the dwell, the slight but regular pause, the moments of rest that offer us the chance to turn our attention back from where we have come, back home to God.
Pastoral Prayer: God of wholeness, I thank you for the power of love that dissolves the boundaries between us. I thank you for sending Jesus and all the divine wisdom he embodies as a radical example of a higher love, a deeper acceptance, and a commitment to service that we can always find ways to more fully emulate. Free us from our tendencies to limit, to judge, to exclude. Remind us, Lord, of the ways of Christ and help us to not be discouraged by the limited awareness that surrounds us in humanity, but rather empower us to look for the best in ourselves and the best in others. Help us to create within our hearts a place for love, a place for God, to dwell. In Jesus’s name, we pray this prayer that he gave to us…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Benediction: I leave you with these words from Kalil Gibran’s book titled The Prophet; this is from the chapter “On Houses”
“Your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing. For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.”