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The Feast of the Dedication
8 February 2009

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

O Almighty God, to whose glory we celebrate the dedication of this house of prayer: We give thee thanks for the fellowship of those who have worshipped in this place; and we pray that all who seek thee here may find thee, and be filled with thy joy and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 Kings 8:22-30 or Genesis 28:10-17
1 Peter 2:1-5, 9-10
Matthew 21:12-16

For as long as there have been Christians, we have wrestled with the question of “attachment.” How connected, how attached, how committed are we to be to the material things we find, build, and use here on earth? In John’s Gospel, Jesus in his prayer to the Father, says that we, his people, like him “are not of the world,” and yet he sends us into the world not praying “that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-18). There have been libraries worth of books written on this question, this paradox. For my part, I have come to a place where I feel that the Incarnation, God’s choice to unite himself with humanity and with the physical world that he made, says something profound on this subject. God in Christ came into creation so that his creatures may be reconciled with him, might be at one with him, might share in the kingdom that he is enacting and will bring to fulfilment in his own time.

The Incarnation shows that God can and does work through the material world and that it is in and through material objects, human endeavours, music, art, and architecture, that we can perceive, know, and experience the divine. Jesus shows us that if we value the “thing” for what it shows us about God, how it puts us into relationship with him and with each other, how it creates and builds-up the body, that there is nothing wrong with such items, such achievements. Indeed, they become worthy as bearers of God’s love and God’s presence into the here and now.

Indeed, the Eucharist itself is a supreme example of this. In and through the accidents of bread and wine God in Christ becomes present with us, physically as well as spiritually, and we become united with him and with one another. Bread and wine become the occasions for increased relationship, increased love, and the spread of God’s rule. Furthermore, the Eucharistic action and our participation therein changes for ever how we see all other instances of bread and wine. No longer are these merely grain and grapes transformed by skilled artisans, but they are always elements that point us towards God and the ways in which he nourishes us both in body and in soul.

God uses his creation to show forth his glory and to inspire us to action. Much the same can be said of Church buildings. A beautiful, well-cared-for, loved church can be a reflection of God’s presence in the world. It can stand as a symbol, a foretaste, and a beacon of the City of God in the midst of our city. It can reflect the beauty of God and the steadfastness of his purpose. The church building can only be these things when it is the home of a living, breathing, community. It can only be these things if the People of God—you and I—regularly gather to break the bread and share the cup. It can be these things if this pile of bricks and mortar and wood and glass, through the life of its community, becomes a focus for the creation of relationships, a catalyst for the spreading of God’s love, an inspiration to worship and action.

Today, Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church, a neo-gothic building designed and constructed on a limited and difficult site in 1901 by Charles Cooledge Haight, a church beautified with fine late Victorian stained glass windows imported from England and an unique collection of polychrome wood sculptures from the workshop of Ralph Adams Cram, is pulsing with life. Today our church building is alive with a community—built up since the early 1970s—committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, committed to sharing the love that they have found here with those who have yet to experience it, committed to our work of reaching out to our community through service and music, all the while equally committed to worshipping according to the ancient traditions of the Catholic Church in the West.

This building, this awe-inspiring place, shows forth the love of God, the might of God, the power of God, the beauty of God not because of its material value or its own beauty. It achieves all these things because God has acted and allowed us to see him and his work, his purpose, his mission in and through it. It achieves all these things because it has created relationships that have endured, created bonds of love and affection among neighbours, bonds of love that show us the love of God. It achieves all these things because of you and because of the generations of people who have made this Church their parish home, made it a living community, and given so much of their life and labour, their time and treasure.

We pray this day that God will look with favour upon this Church and upon its people, that God will fill this place and us with his life-giving Spirit, and that God will lead us in ministry and mission to his City of which this building is a foretaste. We also pray this day for all those who have gone before us and all those, quick and dead, who have worshipped here and have been benefactors of this place and of this community, to the praise and glory of God, to whom be honour, power, and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.


Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
Feria, 6 February 2009

 

©2009 Andrew Charles Blume