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Service - Rev. Iain D Campbell

 Service of Re-dedication

Reading: Ezra 3:10-13.

ADDRESS

I often try to imagine myself in this scene, one of the most evocative and emotional scenes in Old Testament history.

The people of God had been in captivity for two generations, and were now beginning to re-settle in the land of Judah. Jerusalem had been devastated by the Babylonians. Everything was in ruins. Now the work of re-building was beginning.

 

First of all the altar was repaired in Jerusalem, and now the foundation of the temple was laid. This was the holiest precinct in the world, where Solomon's temple had once stood, and where God's glory had been revealed. The story of Jerusalem, as one historian recently put it, is the story of the whole world; and for our benefit this narrative has been preserved in the Bible.

We must try to imagine the scene. There was an older generation present who could remember the former glory of the Temple which had once stood on this site. It was an emotional time for them; in one sense there was nothing left now but a foundation. They wept over the memory of what had once stood on that site, and shed tears over what had been lost.

Another generation had returned full of enthusiasm, seeing now a foundation once again laid in their holy city. That spoke to what the prophets had predicted, that God would return to Jerusalem, and fill the new temple with a greater glory than ever Solomon's temple had seen. The younger generation shouted for joy as they congregated around the site. And the Bible simply says that 'the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping'.

The different emotions reflected two different ways of looking at the foundation of the Temple. One group looked back, recollecting the past and the glory of former days. The other group looked forward, anticipating the future, and filled with hope that once again the worship of God would rise from this place.

Before I say any more, please do not get me wrong: I do not think there is anyone here today who remembers the former glory of this church at Ui in which we are gathered! But in a sense, we find ourselves in the same position.

We too, are looking back today. We can look at the roofless walls and the flooring and the cemetery and we can say that something glorious once stood on this present location. If these stones could talk! What, do you think, they would tell us of the worship that was once offered here? Of the praises sung? The prayers offered?

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan they were instructed to erect a cairn of stones, so that when the next generation would ask 'What do these stones mean?' The cairn would be an occasion for telling the story of the great work of redemption.

We too might ask the same question as we stand within the hollow carcass of this building. What do these stones mean? Silently, but eloquently, they tell us of an ancient faith once practised on this site, of our Christian heritage that stretches further back than any of us can remember.

In a sense, we are filled with sadness too, knowing that all we have left is a ruin. But, just as at the temple site in Ezra's day, we too can sing as they did of things that cannot change: 'they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever towards Israel"' (Ezra 3:11).

On the other hand, like the younger generation, we are also looking to the future today. The stones tell us that faith is living. The fact that worship is being offered on the site today is testimony to that. I count it a great privilege to be conducting an act of worship in a place I have known all my life as an important religious site in our island. And I hope it will not be the last service held here.

We gather to re-dedicate, and we do so with joy, knowing that the same faith, of the same God, and the same gospel, speaks into our modern world. Indeed, our gathering here challenges us as to whether we are living stones, built into God's spiritual temple, through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the greatest blessing of all.

Let us pray that this place, with its other-worldly atmosphere, and its testimony to the faith of our fathers, would inspire us to continue looking to Jesus, and to put our faith in God, for he is indeed good, and his mercy endures forever.

Amen.

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