10 May 2017

Acts 7:44-50

“Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands.” (v. 48)

Psalm: Psalm 1


Hardly a week passes but a chapel closes. If you have spent most, if not all, of your life worshipping there, there is bound to be a sense of grief and bereavement. I have moved around a lot in my life. There is no single place of worship that I'm attached to. But I am held by memories and one in particular. I can see my Dad's hand as he holds the pitch-pine pew in front of him to steady himself, his multiple sclerosis nudging his sense of balance. I see fingers gripping the wood. And if that had been in one place at one time, where generations of hands had held then it becomes easy for me to recognise the attachment of place through the association with people. No wonder, as Estelle White put it, God needs us to be a "wandering, vagabond race" (from 'Moses I know you're the man', Singing the Faith 473). Without that restlessness, Christianity would have died when women with spices met by an empty tomb outside Jerusalem (Luke 24:1-12). It might not even have reached Emmaus, seven miles hence. Christianity was born on the move (Luke 24:13-35).

But the essence of the divine, the God of mountains, the Spirit that moved over the face of the waters, the Word that breathed life into all that is, is something that can neither be held nor constrained. The Spirit blows where it will and that is the essence of God, not dwelling in houses made by human hands.

I remember early in my ministry having a conversation with a member of a church about the possibility of it becoming a drop-in centre for people who were unemployed. One person said, "But they wouldn't use our new chairs would they?" They didn't, at least not for long. They moved on to the Labour club, more welcome there. And I sense God moved with them. There is no congregation worshipping in that church now. Even they have gone, God not seen in their midst. Perhaps our song should have been, 'Let us build a house where love can dwell' (Singing the Faith 409), sung with our lives as well as our voices. That's what we need to build with, love.

To Ponder

  • What would a house built with love be like?
  • How can we make sure that we are attentive to God's spirit and not simply tied to a building?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.