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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


12th October 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Dedication Festival

'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.' Gen.28.v17

Look East and you will see our window showing Christ the Good Shepherd, flanked by the four evangelists, including a rather stern St. Matthew. What you won't be able to see unless you stand very close is that the Good Shepherd window marks the dedication of this church 123 years ago to this very day. Today is our Dedication Festival when we give thanks both for our church building and for the life of our church.

It has to be said that the Biblical tradition is somewhat ambivalent about buildings to house God, as can be seen from our readings. If the royal tradition, represented by David's Psalm 122 'I was glad when they said unto me let us go unto the house of the Lord', valued the Temple in Jerusalem, there was even then a recognition that God the creator, who accompanied his people on their journey of faith could not be contained in a house built with stones.

Jacob, with whose words I began, met God in a particular place but it was very much in the context of his pilgrimage and his call as a Patriarch of Israel. God was present in his dream, Jacob's ladder, rather than the place. The place was marked so that he could remember.

The New Testament has even less time for consecrated buildings. Jesus loved the Temple but he is the house of God, the dwelling of God. For St. Peter, Christians are the living stones from which the new Temple is built, with Christ as the chief corner stone.

It is important not to lose sight of this Biblical ambivalence less we come to learn to love the building more than Our Lord who it points. As Anglicans, as reformed Catholics we embrace that ambivalence in a creative way, neither exaggerating the traditional Catholic emphasis on the church as a shrine nor adopting the radical reformed view of the church as a mere building to keep the rain off the congregation of the elect.

Having sounded that note of Biblical caution and traditional encouragement, I would like to close with three words that express what I value about our church in particular. They are place, space and presence.

On our Dedication Festival we give thanks to God for these three things, place, space and presence. Our church is a place where we find the space to enter into the presence of God. In so doing we are equipped to live out our Christian lives of worship, witness and service.

Amen

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Last updated 14/10/2003 09:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd