During my recent break at Durham, we visited Chester’s Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Although now obviously in ruins, it gave a feel for the era which saw its construction. Of course, we cannot think ourselves back 2000 years. It is impossible to feel the emotions of a local native approaching what would have appeared as a high-tech and impenetrable bastion in the hope of passing through. Possibly the Berlin wall might be a more recent experience we can relate too. Yet what lay beyond was an empire that stretched southward to the Sahara Desert and eastwards to modern day Iraq. The wall gave access or not to the largest economic, legal and military zone that the world had seen. Its grandeur must therefore have been overwhelming.
Well, in a lesser way, David might have felt the same about his achievements. Now he was as the euphemism goes – he was of humble origins. Yet he had risen through military prowess and shear political ruthlessness to create a mini empire that controlled the crucial land bridge around the Arabian deserts from Mesopotamia to Egypt. He was, in a fashion, the keeper of this trade wall. He was the wielder of who may pass and for how much. And so, he was in danger of being overcome of his own sense of magnificence.
Therefore, when we thought up the idea of building a Temple to God, we need to be a tad suspicious. For it might have been for genuinely devout reasons. More likely, it was for his own personal aggrandisement and the deepening of his grasp on power.
Whatever, God was having none of it and put his metaphorical foot down.
Nevertheless, he still promised David that his legacy was assured. God made clear his Kingdom was certain and his people were established for all time. And that is quite a legacy; certainly, far better than imperial ruins and fading memories in moulding textbooks.
It was particularly interesting to note the various postings of my Northumbrian fort’s commanders after their two-year stint on the Roman Empire’s most northerly frontier. Some went back to Spain, others to southern Germany and one went to a very obscure place. For one went to a real hick state in the middle east called Judea. Yes, that self-same dusty strip that had once been the home of David’s wee empire.
And it was there that our newly arrived Roman officer would have seen the ruins of the temple that was Solomon’s gift to the Israelite people. He may even have seen the recently destroyed building put up on the same site by Herod. But he may also have heard of David’s true legacy. Since might have become aware of David’s royal successor and God’s own Son who died maybe less than 200 years earlier. He may have encountered a people passionate in their faith in God’s historical promise. Indeed, he may have even been invited into God’s global people who were being insulted by a newly coined name – that of Christians. Put directly he may have been a first builder of the greatest temple ever – the temple we call the church.
The day I visited Chester’s Fort was a very pleasant sunny one. But we can just imagine what the Roman troops who mostly came from southern Europe must have felt in the depth of a British winter. Now they had their central heating and bath houses for comfort. Yet they also brought their gods and alters with them. Reminders doubtless of their homelands and own people’s beliefs. These would have adorned their barracks and been the objects of personal and communal worship. In fact, many of these religious symbols can be seen in the fort’s small museum. There they lie lifeless, forgotten and almost of unintelligible significance.
Will then when visitors far in the future come here to Broughty Ferry find no more than meaningless artifices of our long past belief system? Will they indeed see a kingdom promised to David and his ancestors in utter ruin? Moreover, will they see the people of Christ – his body the church – as nothing but some strangely quaint relic of a less sophisticated age. Put directly, will God’s temple once more be a wreck on a bleak and gloomy hillside.
No – this need not happen if we don’t’ want it. Not if we maintain the temple of faith so that it can be passed on. Not if we defend the kingdom so that it is worth passing on. Not if we remain diligent to being the loyal people of God so that our deeds deserve not to be forgotten.
And how do we do that?
Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marvelled at the beauty of the new church. Everything had been thought of and included. It was a masterpiece.
But then someone said, “Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is quite dark in here. How will the church be lighted?” The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship.
“Each time you are here'” the nobleman said, “the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark”
Let us then this day maintain the true house of God by coming together to build in his son’s name. Let us keep the flame of God’s kingdom alive by recommitting to the Church as the only foundation of better ages to come. Let us rebuild the temple for God by beaconing back those stones that have fallen away and in fear of loss. Moreover, let us fearlessly foray out from this citadel to capture wayward hearts and minds and souls in the wilderness. Since then alone, will future generations keep safe within our faith’s eternal battlements and say with Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Caesar – by this sign you shall conquer.