Summary: Let us commit to building a church building with room for personal response to Christ and not business as usual; with room for spontaneity and not control; with room for those who need healing and not for exploitation.
When our children were small, we often took them to the Smithsonian museums, to try and cram a little culture into heads usually preoccupied with cartoons or sports.
The best place to go was the Museum of American History, because there were so many different kinds of exhibits and so many interests to be indulged. But after two or three such visits, we found that our daughter was developing a bargaining position.
She would bargain with us, negotiate with us. She would say, I’ll go with you to the Smithsonian, if we can to go to the Doll’s House. If we don’t go to the Doll’s House, we aren’t going anywhere.
Maybe some of you remember that exhibit. I think it’s been removed for refurbishing. But the Doll’s House is a wonderfully elaborate cutaway model of a Victorian home, with miniature rooms and miniature furniture, everything to scale, right down to the books on the shelves and the food on the table and Grandpa’s glasses on the nightstand. My daughter could have stood in front of that thing for hours.
I would try to lure her away. Hey, come over here and see the giant steam engine. Come over to the main lobby and we’ll watch the long slow swing of the pendulum and we’ll stare up at the three-story height of the original Star Spangled Banner. Child, come down here, surely you want to see a larger-than-life statue of a half-naked George Washington, wielding an eight-foot broadsword!
But those things were too big, too overpowering, too intimidating. What she wanted to see was a child-sized house!
Children do need child-sized houses. I would expect that most of you can remember as children creating your own child-sized house in one way or another. Maybe you found an old packing crate, and you punched a hole in it for a door, and then you crawled in and played house. It was your house. It was your size. It was a child-sized house.
Did you know that children want and need the house of God to be child-sized too? Today we are focusing on children and we are focusing on the task of rebuilding this house of God in which we worship. I want to bring these together and ask you to think about the house of God as a child-sized house.
Over at Washington Cathedral, which is the largest church building in the city, with everything on a grand scale -- a six-foot cross on the altar and pillars some thirty feet around at the base -- this grand church includes a Children’s Chapel. In the Children’s Chapel, everything is child-sized. The chairs, the altar, the paintings, even a tiny pipe organ, everything is scaled down to child-sized, as if to say that even in the face of all of this splendor and grandeur, the church of Jesus Christ has not forgotten that it also needs to be child-sized.
That’s what I’d hope we will remember as we make some decisions about what we will do in the coming days.
Let me show you what I mean. I am not referring to the physical size of our building but to something else.
We all know the Hew Testament story of the cleansing of the Temple. Every one of the four Gospels has some version of that occasion when Jesus strode angrily into the midst of the moneychangers and the merchants plying their trade within the Temple precincts. We are well aware of the fire in His eyes and the reprimand in His voice as He turned over their tables and cried out, "It is written, ’My house shall be a house of prayer for all people,’ but you have made it a den of robbers". We know that story.
But Matthew’s Gospel includes one nuance that is not present in the other versions of this story. Matthew not only tells us how Jesus drove out of the temple courtyard those who violated its purpose; but Matthew also puts children into the story. Matthew hears the voices of children there. And Matthew sees that what Jesus did at the temple as has something to do with building a child-sized house. Listen to the story.
Clearly there are two ways here to use the temple. There are two very different ways of using the house of God. One of them is too much an adult-sized way of using the house of God. One way was the way of the official religious leadership, going about the business of church.
The other way was a child-sized way of using the house of God. The other way was a way of responding to the personal, lively, authentic presence of Christ. And in this child-sized house there is no room for other things. They have to be driven out of a child-sized house of God.