Where God Dwells – October 23, 2011
Psalm 26:1-12, Ephesians 3:7-21
October 23, 2011
In the Lord’s prayer, we remembered that God has the power in our world and in our lives! “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” And I asked, “Do we believe that?” I said how it’s hard to submit to God’s kingdom if we don’t believe in his power. So, as I asked then is God your king? And do you believe and live in his power?
That’s the question we asked last week. I hope you took it seriously. Well the next thing I hope you see is that God’s power in our lives is an every day thing. If it isn’t, if we can’t rely on his power at all times in our lives, we’ve missed the whole point! There’s a great verse from Philippians that’s been running through my head this week. In the fourth chapter the apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any situation I am in…” And the secret? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13)
We have the power of Christ in us! Every day! I should stop right there and let you ponder that for a few minutes – or maybe let that verse run around in your heads for a week or so! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” I was listening to a preacher recently who put it this way. “We can’t do anything God wants us to do unless we have his power in us.” Isn’t that true? Isn’t that what Paul meant? And while you’re thinking about that, remember what Jesus said in the Upper Room. Just before he was about to be arrested, he told his disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches… apart from me you can do (?) nothing?” (John 15:5) Of course that was an interesting statement, since at that very moment he was preparing his disciples for the time when they would be apart from him.
We have the power of God in us! We can do all things through him who gives us strength! And let me remind you, the power we have in us is no small power! It’s only small in our minds! Our New Testament reading comes from another of Paul’s letters, this one to the church in Ephesus. To them he wrote these words, which I love! “And now unto him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, (Ephesians 3:20) That one should be on our refrigerators! God can do far more abundantly than we can imagine, (How?) “according to the power at work within us!”
There’s that power again! We have the power of God in us! However, I’m sure we all have to admit that we don’t realize or take advantage of that power all that often, do we? We say we believe, but then we forget to trust that power. It’s a little scary to us to try, isn’t it?
So how do we do that? How is this power made manifest in us? Well, backtrack a couple of verses. There we find Paul praying for the Ephesian church. And in this written prayer, he asks “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…” That’s the source of our power! Does Christ dwell in your heart by faith? Have you asked him to? There’s great power in us when he does, power to live in contentment in all circumstances of our lives. But Christ only lives in our hearts if we ask. God doesn’t force himself on very many people. But if we do, then Paul says that we, “being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and breadth and depth and height, and to know the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:17-18)
God’s power at work in us, gives us the power to be his people. The great thing is, he doesn’t just call us, or commission us somehow, and then cut us loose to work by our own power. He knows that he is the vine and we are the branches and apart from him, we can do nothing! And lest you think that to be a New Testament thought only, listen to the words of the prophet Zechariah. He says that it’s “’Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit’, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6) That’s where the strength for our lives comes from!
Ok, so I want you to have those things in mind as we consider our Old Testament reading for today. It comes from Psalm 26, and it contains the verse we’ve used as we celebrate 125 years of this congregation, this body of Christ which has worshipped in this building for a century and a quarter. “I love the house in which you dwell. (Psalm 26:8)
They say the great Temple of Solomon was a beautiful building. One of the most beautiful places ever built. And I sometimes wonder how it compared to the great cathedrals of Europe. Those are beautiful places, too! Some day I want to take a cathedral tour of Europe! And I think there is something to worshipping God in a beautiful place – like this one. Do you love this “House of God?” It’s one of the most beautiful sanctuaries I’ve ever seen! It’s a great place to worship God. And it’s been standing here for 125 years!
Well, in the Old Testament and in the time of Jesus, the people loved their temple. They were proud of that amazing building. And at several places in the Gospels, we find the disciples talking about it’s beauty and majesty! And that’s a good thing! There was a certain pride they could take in that building that was part of their tradition. But the problem was that they had come to think of the Temple as the exclusive place where God dwells. That’s why it was so startling when Paul – the great Pharisee – began to talk about a God who dwelt in a “Temple not made with hands.” He learned, and he tried to teach the people, that God’s power was not in the building it was in the hearts of the people!
Then remember what Jesus said. During one of those times when the people were talking to him about the beauty of the temple, he angered them. Because he began to talk of himself as the temple. “Destroy this temple,” he said, “and in three days I will rebuild it.” Now, we know he was talking about his body and the resurrection and all. But that statement was shocking to people who thought of the temple the way they did.
What Jesus was trying to do, was to get the people out of that “temple way of thinking.” I’m sure the Temple was a beautiful place. And it had become a meaningful place for them, too! But that “temple mentality” had become for the people the epitome of their religion. Just think of it! Ever since they were on the journey from Egypt, even when they were living for years in tents, they had come to believe that God dwelt in a certain special place.
Now, Jesus, and later Paul, was trying to tell them that they were the temple! It was God’s spirit in them that made all the difference in their lives of faith – just like Zechariah said, too. It wasn’t just a matter of going to a certain place. Paul told the Colossians that this was “the secret hidden for ages and generations that was now revealed to us – Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27)
The power of God is his spirit in the hearts of his people, not in a building. And yes, we love this place! Yes, we make this a place that honors God. We make this a place that is conducive for us to worship God. We make this a place that points us to God. And we make this a welcoming place for others to find God in their lives. There’s something about a church steeple rising above the landscape or the skyline that calls to people in a special way!
We can love this place! And that’s good!! But we need to be careful that we don’t think of this place as the only place where God dwells. We need to be careful that we don’t make this the only place where we meet with God. If we do, we’ve fallen into that “temple mentality.” And we might find ourselves practicing our faith only when we are here. We might find ourselves thinking that God’s spirit is here, and then forget that we are “temples of the holy spirit.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20) Those words are from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. And when he wrote those words he was being very specific, and he was drawing deliberately on their temple traditions!
We are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” And because of that, we have the power within us. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. And when we’re sure of that we then know that we “can do all things through him who strengthens us.” And when we know that, then we will start to see that he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
Yes, let us celebrate 125 years of this building standing in this place. Let us love this wonderful place which is dedicated to his God’s kingdom. But let us know that we are the temples of his spirit, and that his is the power working within us. We can do what he calls us to do when we live in his power. For our power is “Christ in us, the hope of Glory!”
Eternal God, you and your kingdom are far beyond our comprehension. Yet you have chosen to dwell within each of us. Help us to know that. Help us to live in your joy, and to know your power within us, no matter what the circumstances of our lives. For we pray in the name and the power of Christ our Lord, Amen.