So, today has had the title Laughing With God for some time. It comes from that Psalm of Ascent 126 :
When the Lord restored the fortunes of[a] Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.[b]
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
I think we have been feeling that in recent weeks. Renovated, extended halls feels like a restoration. Our mouths are filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Life here on a daily basis has been transformed, energised. Every day is vibrant with people and Fitzroy as a Church is alive. Laughing with God, indeed.
And then Friday night. What terror! What horror! What pain, hurt, heartache. Paris in panic and mourning. How can we laugh in our new buildings in Belfast while others weep in such devastation in Paris. It didn’t seem right.
And yet, the acts of evil in Paris shouldn’t prevent us from giving thanks to God for all the blessings we have been hearing about today. The Psalms are the hymns and prayers and laments of a people who dealt with all of the crisis and dilemmas of life in the context of worship and a worshipping community.
When I shifted my focus from a light morning of thanksgiving and laughter to ask how to bring in the Paris tragedy to this short sermon I came to see that actually those events are an urgent reminder of what this opening is all about.
These buildings are a sanctuary in the midst of a dark world. This is a place where within the community of living stones we can find solace, healing, forgiveness, restoration and redemption.
These buildings are a sanctuary where we can come together and in find our place in the universe as people created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus life, death and resurrection. In finding our vertical connection with God redeemed in Jesus we can then make some sense of the horizontal relationships with each other, with neighbours and even with enemies. We gather together after nights like Friday and in worship we somehow find in Psalm 46:
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
These buildings are a sanctuary but not a passive one. These are not halls to come into as some escape from the horrors of our world. Yes we can see them as a place for retreat, a soul space in the tragedy to breathe deep the breath of God but ultimately these buildings are a grace driven sanctuary that propel us out from them into the neighbourhood. It’s what the power of their new windows does, opening our connections with community. These halls are not an alternative to the world out there. They are a mission station to transform the world out there.
May these buildings never be a place for our self indulgence or our self righteousness. May these buildings always be about God’s Spirit infusing us to feed the world’s needs… for food, water, shelter, well being, peace, justice and salvation.
May these buildings be the Word moving into the neighbourhood, as John described Jesus in the prologue of his Gospel.
May these buildings be the salt of the earth like Jesus called his followers to be in the sermon on the mount. Into a world that throws us Paris may we be what David Gray sang… “into lies, ruin, disease… into wounds like these… let the truth sting…” may we be salt in the city of Belfast to bring the salt of healing.
May these buildings be the light of the world that jesus called his followers to be in the Sermon On The Mount. May we shine light into this city. May we be particles of light in our vocations and neighbourhoods right across Belfast. May we be a cluster of light in a university area, a commercial thoroughfare, a residential area.
John’s prologue also declare that “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…”
John reminds us about this overcoming a world of Parises later in his Gospel. he records how Jesus told the disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Brent van Der Linde Facebooked yesterday those great words of Martin Luther King - Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”
May these halls be beacons of light and love driving out darkness and hate.
In and from these halls may we hold this belief but carry it gently and without arrogance. May we shine and scatter grace with servant like humility.
As we thank God for his goodness to us I am reminded of Psalm 116
What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
So today we thank God for these new halls…
their artistic beauty…
their ambience of grace…
their near luxurious comfort…
their ability to boil two kettles at once…
the morale lift that it has given us as a community of Jesus followers.
For me the thanksgiving is not that we have new halls that gives me a lovely new office or a lovely new Welcome Area where we can chat and sip coffee and eat Blythman Bread or Trinder Traybakes.
These halls is our gift to offer back to God. So we ask…
What does this area need?
What artistic beauty?
What ambience of grace?
What deep comfort?
What is equivalent in the community around us to us needing to be able to boil two kettles?
What can we do in this community to lift morale of a city?
Another social media message yesterday said, “We need to have a life giving presence in our cities.”
May these halls… and Onialeku Primary School in my beloved West Nile… and us the living stones within them… and our pouring back out from them be that life giving presence… and we are back to John’s prologue…
Through these new halls Lord… may we, Fitzroy, be… The Word becoming flesh and moving into this city and across the world…
Lord, Let It Be!