As I blog about Notre Dame I feel a bit like I’m jumping on the bandwagon with people saying “how much?” -noting that the money could feed, clothe, educate and provide clean drinking water for millions of people.
I often find it ironic that the followers of a nomadic rabbi who had “no where to lay his head” have erected immoveable, grand mausoleums in stone.
Jesus whose only item of worth is was the cloak that was mockingly placed on his shoulders by jeering guards for which the soldiers rolled dice for.
Jesus cares more about the hungry, thirsty, homeless, lonely, cold, frightened, disposed, marginalised, disenfranchised and ostracised. The man who lived on the margins glorified by religious castles of imperialism.
Also doing the rounds on Facebook are the ‘green memes’ with pictures of our destructions of wonderful habitats asking: “What about these ‘Cathedrals?’” -these places of natural-beauty that declare the glory of God?
Which begs the question why we care about our history rather than the future of our planet?
The ancient vast cathedrals were built as an act of worship to celebrate the wonder and the vastness of God, yet God has already done this with the wonder of his world “that mankind is without excuse”, and we know that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands” (Acts 7:48) but inhabits all of creation and is uncontainable in his splendour and glory.
I have worked in several Churches over the last 20 years, a couple of which were genuinely architecturally beautiful -and also places that have some of my precious memories for held there too, but aesthetics and nostalgia should not stand in the way with the plans and purposes of God.
I wonder if at times our buildings have become idols? Even with the newer churches that have been birthed creatively in wonderful indigenous locations seem to have an abnormal hankering for their own building -Interestingly Hillsongs one of the largest Churches in the UK has chosen not to own any buildings because they believe it would hamper what they feel called to do! Churches are often undertaking expensive building projects, and so much of our thinking is building centric. Ironically many Churches remove pews only to replace them with chairs which are barely ever moved!
Churchill said: “we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us!”
For some the building and God become synonymous in people’s minds; even the disciples were praising the temple in the presence of Jesus and he reminds them that was ultimately matters is not the temporary bricks and mortar of a building (as if God lives in buildings built by men?) but rather the death and resurrection of Jesus which is soon about to occur (Mark 13).
We have forgotten why we exist! I preached a Christmas day sermon using the example of how my baby daughter was more interested in the wrapping paper than the present, which has become the mindset of many in our nation. We glorify something that is simply a tool of the gospel and the Kingdom.
I worry that for some the allegiance to a building and perhaps a small group of insiders has surpassed their allegiance to the crucified and risen Christ?
Whilst I worked in my last parish people spoke of my role to “bring people into Church” -meaning the building (and the type of service that they themselves liked!). Yet, if the point was to ‘fill the Church’ then if we dish out free beer and burgers then we could pack the place out, but instead of being ‘in Church’ we called to be ‘in Christ’; engaging in the bigger call of seeing ordinary people encountering the extraordinary living God and being supported by the Christian community.
The Church as described in scripture is not the building but rather the people. The phrase “going to Church” is an oxymoron because we ARE the Church, we are called to BE the Church, the body and bride of Christ -his hands and his feet- living under his Lordship as the head of the body.
This confusion caught St. Francis of Assisi who had a vision of Christ at San Damiano telling him to “rebuild his Church” and started to repair the walls before realising that the call was to make disciples. Perhaps, the burning cathedral is a call not to restore a building but to realise that the body and bride of Christ is sick and suffering in Europe, which has become the darkest continent, and France was of the most secular and religiously intolerant of nations. The call is not to repair building but transform lives, speaking the truth in love, bringing hope and living out ‘salt and light’ existences under-pinned by prayer.
So, as we mourn the tragedy of a grand building in need of renovation perhaps we need to allow our hearts to be broken over those who do not know Jesus, those who go to bed hungry, those who do not believe they are loved or valuable and are desperately lonely or those with material wealth but spiritual poverty.
Yet, this is not just a call to re-see things, but a call to action, grasping the priority of partnering with Christ who promises that he will build his Church and even the gates of hell will not prevail against us.