On April 15, 2019 the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France, burned. I have never been to Paris, but most people in highly developed countries, like ours, have seen pictures of this iconic structure. Although hundreds of millions of dollars have already been pledged, it is possible that I will never again see it as it was before. The news reported that 12 to 13 Million people visit this site each year. The people of France call Notre Dame the heart of Paris and the heart of France. This is going to have an impact on the people of Paris and all of France for a long time.
Enough for the world’s view. Let’s look at this event from two other perspectives. First, that of the congregation. We need to start with the truth on this part; I have no knowledge of the congregation. However, if they are like most congregations meeting in cathedrals in Europe, they only have a handful of people in the congregation. I would imagine that the day-to-day operation of managing so many people is handled completely independently of the congregation. I’m sure the congregation is given time and space for worship and their expenses are covered by the tourists. How many new members came in last year from the tourists? It is unlikely that anyone came to the congregation as a result of such a visit. And yet, the stained glass windows may still tell the story of Christ and His glory. Again, this is all just in my estimation. Although people around the world flock to this building I’m not so sure that it is bring very many people to Christ and His Kingdom.
Our third and final perspective is that from God. Maybe we should look at a familiar hymn to start that part of our discussion.
Built on the Rock LSB 645
1 Built on the Rock the Church shall stand (The Rock is Christ)
Even when steeples are falling.
(The steeple has burned and fallen)
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land;
(Consider the 3 churches that burned in the USA and our sister congregation in Paradise)
Bells still are chiming and calling,
(The bell towers still stand)
Calling the young and old to rest, But above all the souls distressed,
(Pray for the congregation)
Longing for rest everlasting.
Isn’t it interesting that these words are so profound today? You may ask, “But isn’t God concerned about the building?” Not really, consider that He had His Temple in Jerusalem destroyed and looted in 586 B.C. when the Children of Israel were taken into Babylonian Captivity and again in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Of course He cares about His people, but the building isn’t people.
“Listen” to a couple more verses.
2 Surely in temples made with hands God, the Most High, is not dwelling;
High above Earth His temple stands, All earthly temples excelling.
Yet He who dwells in Heav’n above Chooses to live with us in love,
Making our bodies His temple.
3 We are God’s house of living stones, Built for His own habitation.
He through Baptismal grace us owns Heirs of His wondrous salvation.
Were we but two His Name to tell, Yet He would deign with us to dwell
With all His grace and His favor.
You see, God’s dwelling is with YOU. The buildings are great for our worship, but they matter little compared to God’s children. Perhaps we will be blessed with continued use of the structures made with hands, but you can’t stop the Church of God which is the Body of Christ. An NBC reporter asked, “Didn’t [God] say something about ‘where two or three as assembled in My Name I will be with them?” Yes, Jesus did say that! No matter where we meet, in a church building, (Note the lowercase ‘c’) or in a home or a cave, the Church (Capital ‘C’) the true Body of Christ, is the people.
So, as we see ‘steeples are falling,’ our own congregations dwindling and many of our structures in dire need to substantial repairs, we don’t need to lose heart, because what is truly important to God is you.
We can let go of the buildings—the millstones and idols they can become in our lives. We can put our time and effort into the care of our own people and the even greater number who don’t yet put their faith in Jesus and we will find that our efforts will be multiplied through the power of God’s utter delight.
May we rejoice this Season of Easter that our Lord Jesus died for us and all those who will come to faith and have a dwelling with Christ in Heaven forever.