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Sunday Message for 18 July 2021: “Constructing God?”

Today’s message weaves two thematically connected lectionary texts, 2 Samuel 7:1-14a and Ephesians 2:11-22. The topic is representing God as the solid foundation of both the Jewish and Christian religions.

Through the millennia people have created much art with religious themes and purposes. It’s not that God is literally being created but certain objects suggest a divine presence. This is common in all religions and yet it poses a problem in that there are, for instance, prohibitions in Judaism and Islam against making images of divine beings such as God.

Christianity has a very mixed history on the issue of making images. There are ongoing debates about the line between making art and encouraging idol worship. Even today people argue against sculpture and illustrations of Jesus on a cross, angels, and any alluring imagery that some folks claim walks a thin line with idol worship and that certainly distracts people from God’s invisible reality.

Consider the Old Testament and how God migrated from being present in a mobile tent traveling through the Sinai wilderness to being built a home temple in the ancient capital of Jerusalem. The Bible describes King David of Israel and his desire to build a magnificent temple for his God, named Yahweh. The Almighty replies by saying that he had never asked for a house, but that he would allow one to be built by David’s son and heir King Solomon.

Did God live in a house? The great Jerusalem Temple was God’s earthly focal point, much like an earthly king might have a palace. Ideally, the Temple was meant to be symbolically identified with God and it was the place where at least some significant aspect of God’s presence resided.

What about making images of divine creatures and beings? Ancient Judaism supplies a split personality in this regard. One the one hand, there are strict commands against idols and other images that try to capture God’s likeness. On the other hand, the single most revered object in all Judaism was the Ark of the Covenant, a chest-sized box covered with gold containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. On the Ark were carved mini-statues known as the winged cherubim, angelic-like beings. There’s no direct picture of God on the Ark but God’s presence was variously thought to be there amid the cherished, ornate decorations.

A problem with the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant and other sacred items is that people are prone to confusing God with artsy representations. God was cultivating a sense of holiness in the Temple. Yet even marble, pillared columns and other decorations were poor substitutes and could confuse the unwary by suggesting that God was a projection of grand architecture and sacred relics.

The issue of making images, idols and similar artistic representations is treated in a different manner in some of Paul’s New Testament writings. Consider the book of Ephesians, wherein Jesus is referred to as the Christ, the cornerstone of God’s household of faith (Ephesians 2:19-21). In comparing Jesus to a building’s cornerstone, Paul highlights the importance of having a stable, rock solid base. Obviously Jesus is not a literal stone but he is nonetheless an architect of our spirituality, constructing for us not only a heavenly home but also encouraging believers to forge a close-knit community.

Paul further teaches that followers of God are the living temples of God’s spirit. Rather than just flesh and bone, the bodies of God’s faithful are like structures housing the essence of God. The sense is that love binds all this together and connects each person with the Almighty, spirit-to-spirit.

Paul builds on his analogy of Jesus as the solid foundation by suggesting that the faithful must not separate themselves based on racial, ethnic or cultural differences. For Paul, those who were once alienated from God are now joined in one body, Jew and Christian, and sharing a common spiritual foundation.

The concept and presence of God is certainly more profound than can be made evident through any temple made by human hands. Art is great, but there is always a risk that observers will focus more on an object than on what an object symbolizes. The great news is that each person of faith can be a sign and symbol of the otherwise invisible Almighty God.

As a member of God’s family you are like a walking temple filled with God’s presence. No longer a stranger or alien, you are built on a shared faith foundation. Let’s celebrate our spiritual dwelling place in the Almighty’s kingdom. No matter how you picture it, God’s spirit is within each believer.

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