Grandiose architecture

Pentecost +25b – Sunday 18th November 2012
Mark 13: 1-8

Michael PalinI enjoyed watching the first instalment of Brazil with Michael Palin the other night. I very much enjoy his quirky style, his outright enthusiasm for every single person he encounters, his eye for detail, his witty asides and the fact that he appears to have no sense of rhythm what-so-ever!

He started his journey in North-East Brazil and met some cowboys, a well known cook, a 66 year old DJ and had his fortune told by a priest. He went to the beach, to the inland sand dunes, to the shanty towns, the dance-floor and to a church.

Brazilian Sand DunesOf that list, I’m sure you’re probably thinking that I was most impressed by the Church. I wasn’t. (It was the sand dunes actually.) The church was a very striking building, shown because of its bold architectural qualities and its impressive use of gold – a very important local commodity. As I saw the detail of the church I thought, “What’s this got to do with faith?” When people were living in run down shanty towns in appalling poverty why is the church building and maintaining property like this? And this isn’t just a criticism of Brazil, it could equally be Oldham or Oslo.

And then this morning I read from Mark 13:

As he walked away from the Temple, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!” Jesus said, “You’re impressed by this grandiose architecture? There’s not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble.” (The Message)

The Minister who led me into the Christian Ministry once wrote a book entitled “No Walls Within”. I wondered if there’s ever been a book written entitled “No buildings within”, because we often seem obsessed with property and possessions. The very name “The Church” sort of implies a building of some sort, and yet all that Jesus spoke about – and was built upon by Paul and others – was about heart and soul and mind.

How do we manage our relationships? How do we care for others? What can we do to help others? How do we nurture the gift of love and peace and hope within our lives? How do we confront our prejudices and assumptions? How can we welcome, embrace and engage others? How do we understand God’s love for our lives? How do the creator and the created live side by side?

Those are the questions that I see arising out of the life and example of Jesus. Not how can we be hamstrung by buildings? Or how can I lord it over someone else?

It’s not possible to say how faith is formed or shaped, because God’s revelation is so mysterious as well as marvellous. Do you remember me saying how I was most impressed with the Brazilian sand dunes in Michael Palin’s programme? These sand dunes in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park are many miles from the sea, blown by on-shore breezes. You can swim and sunbathe there, you can even sand-surf! They stretch for mile after mile, and their impressive shapes and patterns change daily. One day lagoons appear, the next they disappear. One day there are sand cliffs 40 feet high, the next day they are flat as a pancake.

Isn’t faith something like that? Constantly evolving and shape-shifting.

Of all the conundrums that surround our faith I love to ponder the thought that God is unchangeable and immutable. And yet he responds to us and so is a changing and transforming God. Can you describe the shape of the wind? I guess trying to describe God is a similar exercise. And that is the God I love to discover, in the faces, lives, expressions and actions of those around me. I can change me. I can (hopefully) influence those around me. Wars, famines, floods, disasters I’m not so good with. So shouldn’t the essence of our faith be about you and me. Working and striving for the good, walking the way of peace, living a life of gentleness and compassion, worshipping a truly amazing and wonderful God.

Got to go. Changing into my trunks to go sand surfing. Yahoo!

Happy days


About Neil Chappell

Husband, father, Congregational Minister and football fan all rolled into one convenient package.
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