Friday, August 10, 2012

Living Between God’s House and God’s Acre

Dr. Bob Setzer

Knollwood Baptist in Winston-Salem is beginning a capital renovation, starting with the sanctuary. This newsletter article by Pastor Bob Setzer, Jr., sought to set that initiative in its proper context.

It is two miles from my new home to Bethabara Park, the site of the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina. Inside the park is a lovely trail that meanders for about a mile through a canopy of trees. A couple of times a week, I run to the park, complete that loop, and run home. It makes for good exercise for the body and the soul.

During one recent run through the park, I wandered off the running trail to follow a narrow foot path. Eventually, the path opened into a small, quaint cemetery nestled in the woods. Above the entrance was posted the signature Moravian title for a graveyard: “God’s Acre.”

I was familiar with this epitaph from the beautiful Moravian cemetery in Old Salem. I even knew the theological meaning of the phrase, namely, that these buried saints are “seeds” of the resurrection yet to come (a la 1 Corinthians 15:37). But after running through a mile or so of stunning wooded beauty, I found the phrase annoyed me. After all, wasn’t that glorious expanse of good earth I just ran through “God’s Acre” also?

The same criticism could be leveled at the expression, “God’s House.” What sort of God lives in a “house”? Surely not one worthy of our worship! A God who can be contained in such a flimsy construct, be it a storefront church or a soaring cathedral, is far too staid and stodgy to challenge and transform our lives. There is a strong prophetic tradition in the Bible that says as much (Acts 7:47-49). Yet Jesus delighted in worshiping and learning in his “Father’s house” (Luke 2:49) and longed and labored for the day Jerusalem’s temple would be a “house of prayer for all people” (Mark 11:17).

Perhaps the way beyond this seeming contradiction is to recognize that the phrase “God’s House” is not telling us something about God, but about us. This is that space made sacred by presence and prayer and practice where we go to be awakened to God’s presence in all the world. Similarly, “God’s Acre” is the place we go to confront the reality of death, both that of those we have lost and our own. Hence, in some measure, the Christian journey is lived out in the space between “God’s House” and “God’s Acre.” And at Knollwood, we are blessed to have both sacred spaces on our lovely, natural, tree-lined campus: not only a sanctuary, but also a quiet, serene Memorial Garden where we can go to reflect and remember.

This summer, God’s House on the wooded knoll where we gather, will be refurbished to enhace our church’s worship, service, and witness. So long as that remains our passion and focus, I believe God will be pleased and glorified by what we are about to do.

Bob Setzer is the pastor of Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, Expressions of Knollwod.

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