Summary: God is not committed to maintaining a church just because it is there. His commitment is to maintain us if we show compassion, particularly on the young. Restoration of our church life in challenging times begins with repentance, self-examination.
Two or three weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I noticed several of you staring straight up here, right into the notch of this arch. I too looked up there, and what we all saw was a sizable piece of paint and plaster hanging there by a mere thread. It looked as though it was poised and ready just in case the Almighty might want to send us a special message in the middle of a service.
A quick calculation told me that if it were to fall, it would probably land on a sleeping choir member and wake her up. No matter how bad something may be, you see, it’ s not all bad!
Now a few days later one of our members scrambled up a long ladder and repaired the spot, and all is well. You can look back over this way now ... it’s all right!
But it set me to thinking – as have many things about this building set me to thinking –what do you do about a broken-down church building? What’s the remedy when plaster starts falling and paint starts chipping? What do you do when electrical circuits fail and air conditioning units don’t operate? How do you handle it when keys will no longer turn in locks and you can’t find the short circuit that prevents the chimes from operating?
Well, the answer to all of that is obvious. What do you do about a broken-down church building? You start a process of renovation, that’s what. You do just as we are doing: you engage an architect, you think through plans for improvement and expansion, you begin to dream a dream of asking the people of the church for as much as a million dollars worth of improvement (and yes, that’s a dream, that’s not a nightmare!). What do you do about a broken-down church building? The answer is very clear: you work toward repairing it, renovating it, and making it useful and beautiful.
But the real question is, "What do you do about a broken-down church?" That’s not precisely the same question as, "What do you do about a broken-down church building?" Do you catch the difference? This in which you sit is not the church; it’s a church building. These among whom you sit – these are the church. The church is the people of God gathered for worship and scattered for mission. It’s not the building.
Now, try my question again. ’’What do you do about a broken-down church?" It’s not as easy as patching plaster or drawing schematics or running new wiring. It’s a far deeper problem.
In the latter part of the sixth century before Christ, the nation of Judah … God’s people … found themselves in unspeakably distressing circumstances. The Babylonian emperor had completely overrun the nation; his armies had routed and slaughtered the army of Judah. The King had been deposed, and the best and the brightest of the people had been carried away into exile into Babylon. And left in the streets of Jerusalem were nothing but a skeleton crew of desolate, lonely, hungry, worn-out people, whose daily lot it was to look at the burned out ruins of the city’s once grand buildings and to pick their way through the rubble of the house which had been called by the name of the Lord: the Temple.
I can tell you that these were a terribly demoralized people. The depth of their sorrow and the anguish of their desperation is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the little Book of Lamentations. Their nation, their city, their Temple, their everything -- it was all broken down.
Listen to the bitterness in their voices:
Lamentations 1: 1-4; 2: 1-2a -- broken down
You see, nothing is more disconcerting, nothing is more distressing than discovering that something on which you’ve depended has fallen apart. If some institution or some person you’ve always depended on is taken away, you don’t know what to do. I know of a lady whose husband died, and she was utterly at sea, because she had never learned to drive a car, she had never learned even how to write a check or pay a bill! She was a mess because suddenly someone on whom she had always depended had been snatched away.
Now God’s people in the Sixth Century had lost their nation, their city, their Temple. It was all broken down. How would they get along? How would they survive? Worst of all, they saw that God Himself had done it; God who had built their nation had now broken it down. What do you do with that? What do you do when something you have always depended on breaks down, and you believe that God did it to you!?
You and I know something about what that feels like. We’ve seen some things we thought were dependable begin to erode. It makes us feel uneasy. How do you plan for your financial future when every week you read of banks failing? How do you secure our freedom when time and again our leaders prove to be defective in character? How do you trust the institution of family life when even the most stable of homes seem shaky?