The Old Testament describes two very different places of worship for God’s people. The first was the tabernacle in Exodus, which was a mobile temple that moved around with the people, and the second was the temple in Jerusalem, which was an immovable colossus made of stone. Both of these images are helpful for us as the New Testament church. The tabernacle reminds us that we are a people on the move; that we haven’t yet arrived home; and that God is leading us, and is present with us, on this journey. And the temple reminds us that, although we journey towards our ultimate home, this is not a far-off place. The temple reminds us that the New Jerusalem will be here on earth, as heaven comes down and joins a renewed creation once and for all. (Revelation 21)

Although we are a people ‘on the move’ like the tabernacle, we are also blessed at St Paul’s to have a ‘permanent’ place of worship, which resonates with the temple imagery. This weekend, we’re celebrating our stained glass, seeking to care for it, and using it as our inspiration for the future. The power of this glass, is that it connects us to God’s faithfulness in the past, which gives us hope for the future. These beautiful windows, along with the other carvings, tell the story of the gospel, as well as its unfolding in our own local context over the last 177 years, since the founding of St Paul’s and the city itself in 1841.

Above all else, our church is consecrated ground, meaning that it has been dedicated to the worship of God, as a connecting point between heaven and earth. It’s that legacy that we’re called to take forward in our own times today. As we do that, we carry a mixture of both ambition (this is nothing less than serving the one living God), and humble awe (this is God’s project that we have been invited to participate in). King Solomon takes this dual posture in his prayer of dedication of the ancient temple. He prays: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” (1 Kings 8:27-30)

Incredibly, the apostle Paul says that, now, we the church are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We, together, are consecrated as the place where God dwells. And so, it’s with that stunning revelation in our minds, that we celebrate God’s faithfulness to his people at St Paul’s through the generations, as well as our great hope for the future. We are on the move, but we shall not be moved!

Blessings, Rev Jonny Grant