The 40th Anniversary of the Dedication of the St. Mark’s Church
A Reading from the Book of Genesis (28:10-17)
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Hymn 517 in The Hymnal 1982
“How Lovely is Thy
1 How lovely is thy dwelling-place,
O Lord of hosts, to me!
My thirsty soul desires and longs
within thy courts to be;
my very heart and flesh cry out,
O living God, for thee.
2 Beside thine altars, gracious Lord,
the swallows find a nest;
how happy they who dwell with thee
and praise thee without rest,
and happy they whose hearts are set
upon the pilgrim’s quest.
3 They who go through the desert vale
will find it filled with springs,
and they shall climb from height to height
till Zion’s temple rings
with praise to thee, in glory throned,
Lord God, great King of kings.
4 One day within thy courts excels
a thousand spent away;
how happy they who keep thy laws
nor from thy precepts stray,
for thou shalt surely bless all those
who live they words they pray.
A Reading from the First Letter of Peter (2:1-5, 9-10)
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (21:12-16)
Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
All mainline churches keep records of all their worship services. Here, in one volume of St. Mark’s Register of Church Services, under the date of November 5, 1972, is an entry that says simply, “First Sunday in New Church.” Two weeks later, as another entry notes, Bishop John Krumm presided here at a service of “Festival Evensong and Dedication.”
Today, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the dedication of this place of worship, we are putting aside our regular Sunday readings and using instead those appointed for such a special occasion. Those scripture selections direct our attention both toward this physical structure that people often call “a church,” and toward us, the people of God, who are, in a deeper sense, the real church of God. And they explore the significance of both of these meanings of “church.”
The story from the book of Genesis that served as our first reading takes place at a time when Jacob is fleeing for his life. He is in the middle of what is pictured as a wilderness: in between his father’s and mother’s, that is Isaac’s and Rebekah’s, home in Canaan and his family’s ancestral home in Syria. And it is while he sleeps there, alone and frightened, that God reveals to him that this is in fact a place where God dwells in a special way. This is a sacred place. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” he declares in amazement — even here in this place-in-between.
But the place where Jacob finds himself turns out to be a “place-in-between” in more than just a physical sense. When God stands beside him and speaks to him on that fateful night, God directs his attention first to the past: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” But God then quickly refocuses on the future: “the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.“ The sacred place in which Jacob finds himself is not just a place between Canaan and Mesopotamia. It is also a place in between the past and the future. More than that, the God who is present in that place takes the past and the future and makes them one. And that union of past and future makes the present sacred.
In a similar way, a church building, this church building, and a community of faith, this community of faith, which is the true church of God, are also in a sense places-in-between. Together, they are places in the middle of that wilderness that is comprised of human joys and sorrows, of struggles and needs, of uncertainties and sufferings, and of hopes and aspirations. But neither this building nor this community of believers stands here to serve merely as a refuge from all that turmoil and all those needs, but rather as a place from which we, as the people of God, are sent out by God to face that turmoil and to confront those needs and to pursue those God-given opportunities.
Like Jacob, we are assured that we are not facing those challenges alone for “Surely the Lord is in this place” though sometimes we do not know it any more than Jacob did at first. But in fact, it is the God of Jacob, the God of all creation, who enables us to complete the tasks for which God has chosen us and for which God has sent us. It is the God of the sacred past and of the even more sacred future who makes the present holy and filled with power and life and grace.
But that power and life and grace are not directed ultimately toward us. Instead, the life that God gives us is entrusted to us so that we might be what the prophet Isaiah (42:6) calls “a light to the nations” so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
When God solemnly promised Jacob the gift of the land on which he was lying and offspring “like the dust of the earth,” God did not do so for Jacob’s sake alone, nor even for the sake of Jacob’s ancestors and his descendants. Instead, God concluded God’s solemn pledge with the ultimate goal of those blessings: “all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring.”
Our second reading, taken from the First Letter of Peter, reaffirms that purpose. It reminds its hearers that the very reason for their call from God is so that “you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light.” They have received the gift of faith and of new life from God for the sake of others. They have received that light and life so that they might bring them to the world.
And in our gospel reading, Jesus demonstrates his passion, his zeal for protecting the sacredness of the temple: that place that was intended to be a house of prayer for all people and a sign of God’s presence and of God’s love and compassion in the lives of all people. It was from that temple and from Jesus’ prophetic action in that place that Jesus went forth to give his life in response to the Father’s call and for the sake of the world that God loves.
The temple once stood as the place where God was joined with humanity, and humanity with God. That temple does not stand in the world today, and so it cannot fulfill that purpose in the world today. But we do, and we can, and we must. We, as the church of God that gathers each week in this place, have been called by God and commissioned by God to be God’s temple in the world
That ancient temple stood on a hill in Jerusalem, inviting the world to come to it and to its God. But we, as God’s living temple in this time and place, cannot simply stand here, within these four walls, waiting for the world to come to us. Instead, we have been called by God and commissioned by God to do what Jesus did: to go out to the world, bringing God’s presence and love and compassion to all God’s people and caring actively for all God’s creation in God’s name.
Today as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the dedication of this place of worship, we, like Jacob, recognize that we are in a place-in-between. We gather here each week in this place that stands in between the world’s longings and needs, on the one hand, and God’s extravagant, self-giving generosity and love and promise, on the other. And we gather as well in a place that stands in between the past and the future, giving thanks for all that God has accomplished in and from this place over these past four decades and recommitting ourselves to the work that God has for us to do in this community and in the world in all the years to come.