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Handmade Is Not God Made
Preparing for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Two Days before Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Old Testament: Genesis 29:9-14
Epistle: Acts 7:44-53
Psalter: Psalm 119:129-136
Old Testament: 1 Kings 1:38-48
Epistle: Acts 7:44-53
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God[a] directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the peoples whom God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’ (Acts 7:44-53).
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
The people of Israel had a strange relationship with the temple in Jerusalem. It reflected a theological tension. Temples in the ancient world were common. Deities in the ancient world were tribal. The god of the Canaanites was for the Canaanites. The god of the Philistines was for the Philistines; and while it was true that Yahweh was the God of the Israelites, Israelite religion reflected a more universal understanding of divine presence. While the Temple was the center of Israel’s worship, ritual, and sacrifice, it was also understood that Yahweh could not be contained within the confines of the temple.
The Temple was an accommodation that God made to his people. If Israel’s neighbors had temples to their deity, so Israel had a temple for Yahweh. While the Temple in Jerusalem came to occupy a central place in Israel’s faith it always reflected a theological uneasiness. If heaven and earth could not contain God, neither could a Temple.
That is what Stephen is getting at in his speech in the book of Acts. In the Jewish world, to say something was made with hands was not to say it was handcrafted, homemade, and special, which is the way we would hear the term today. Rather to say something was made by human hands was to cheapen it, to diminish it. It was not made by God. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman in John 4 that there is coming a day when all who worship God will worship him in spirit and in truth—that the center of worship will not be in a specific place or in a specific building. Stephen’s point is that time has now come in Jesus Christ. God is worshiped wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Christ. It no longer must happen at the Temple or in the synagogue or in any other so designated structure; for the Temple is not a structure but a people.
The church as Paul says is the body of Christ. And that body is not in need of a building. Where two or three are gathered, there God is and there is worship.
PRAYER: Life-giving God, heal our lives, that we may acknowledge your wonderful deeds and offer you thanks from generation to generation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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