Some of you may remember that there was no light in the porch when we were here last time. Last Tuesday I made a detour on my way home in order to replace the bulb, as I didn’t want to put any of you at risk by walking in darkness. Pleased with myself, I switched on the light – and nothing happened. But I found that the switch was a bit dodgy, and I wasn’t sure it was the switch anyway. So I switched on all the lights and only two globes in the centre went on; the rest stayed off. I deemed it impossible that all the bulbs had blown. Yesterday Dougie and George made an investigation, and they found out that switching on the globes at the back was tripping the fuses. They required my assistance to check the lights – only because I’m tall: no other skills were required! After spending most of the morning here, the conclusion we came to was that the services of a qualified electrician were needed. An appointment was arranged for this morning, and the problem was sorted out eventually after a good few hours. So we don’t have to risk our lives by feeling our way round in the dark. And all the people involved in sorting things out (including myself) can congratulate themselves, and rightly so.
It seems that, by taking care of this beautiful and historically significant church, we were following the instructions given in today’s first reading. It was a strong rebuke addressed to the Jewish people who returned from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem. They were taking care of their own wellbeing, decorating and panelling their houses, while leaving the Temple abandoned and in disrepair. The suggestion put forward by the prophet is that their efforts to enrich themselves are in vain because of their negligence towards the Temple. But this whole story isn’t about repairing and restoring an actual building. The Israelites had had a beautifully decorated Temple built by King Solomon. Its physical existence hadn’t given them any protection against the Babylonian Empire. The city of Jerusalem had been taken over and destroyed, the Temple included. So today’s reading’s story is about what the Temple represents by its presence.
The Temple was a visible sign of God living among his people; it represented the covenant between God and Israel. The core of that covenant was obedience to the Law given by God. When the people of Israel abandoned that Law, or breached it, the Temple became just an empty sign. The amount of animals sacrificed there counted for nothing, as those who were offering the sacrifices retained the ritual but neglected its essence. A few thousand years down the line we can be in similar danger, sticking to and keeping the religious rituals and congratulating ourselves for that, while neglecting or missing their essence: self-sacrifice, understanding, forgiveness, empathy and so on… It’s not about a nagging moralising, but about learning from Jesus and applying his attitude to our everyday challenges. Looking after the fabric of our churches makes sense only as long as we look after the fabric of our lives and the fabric of our relationships. This is the way to build the Church – the perfect community of imperfect people trying to be the living Body of Christ.