Scripture: Hebrews 9:24-28 There is something to be said about artistic expresions of worship. They help us imagine the greatness and beauty of God. One of my favorite stories to hear is how the Russian Orthodox Church came about. Now if you know the actual story and I do not tell it correctly then please feel free to correct it in a comment below. But the leader of Russia began to see people coming into his lands with different faiths and he was concerned. He wanted a unified people, a united nation, under one leader and one faith. So he interviewed leaders within these faiths: Jewish, Islam, and Christian. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also interviewed Hindu and Buddists as well since all of these faiths in some form are in the current lands that were once and still are Russia. During the interviews he like what many of these faiths had to say, but there were several rules involved that the Russian people would not be so fond of, I guess they liked meat and bacon. So he investigated one group further sending three men to visit Constantinople to learn more about the Christian faith. When they returned they said that they had seen heaven! Shortly after that all of Russia became Christian and remains the largest Christian nation in the world (contrary to what many people believe.). These men saw heaven! This is not literally true, what they saw was the great churches of the Eastern Roman Empire, churches that were awe inspiring. They also saw and heard great men leading these people as well as serving them. They saw the greatness and beauty, as well as the humility and service. These men quickly became Christian and were ordained and sent back to Russia as priests. To these men the church was heaven on earth. It was where God met man in a very real sense. Do you feel this way when you enter a place of worship? As a Quaker, I grew up in a very plain Meeting House. I love the simplicity of it, but I also understand that in our simplicity sometimes it is harder for many people to be lead into that state of awe. When I first entered into ministry I was involved in a ministerial alliance that would have a community Thanksgiving worship service. Since I was the new guy in town I was asked to present the message, and like an excited new pastor I jumped at the chance. The service was going to be held for the first time in the Catholic Church. The Quaker minister was about to preach in the Catholic Church, simplicity was about to meet ornate. I requested a time of open worship, or silent worship after I presented the message presenting to them that communal corporate prayer was a form of Communion that all faith traditions could unite under, they agreed that that would be great. So for the first time there was an Evangelical Friends Meeting for Worship in a Catholic Church. I will admit that it was one of the most powerful Meetings for Worship I had ever participated in. I stood before the group and spoke my maybe ten minute sermon, and we began to reflect and pray together as a comunity of Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, Penticostals, and Methodists. We looked at the statues of Mary and Jesus, the stations of the Cross surrounding us, the various Saints of old, and, the saints of contemporary times. I find it hard to say but in that beautifully decorated worship space I felt more like a Quaker than I have ever felt, I felt the presence of God in a way that I had not felt so strongly before. In that Catholic Church I felt like I had seen and sat in heaven. Art has a way of facilitating the spiritual senses. As a Quaker I believe that we should not go crazy in investng in art but I also do not want to say that God cannot and does not speak through art. My wife is an artist and I know that God speaks powerfully through her work, at least to me. But as a Quaker I know that te beauty of that Catholic Church, and the beauty of the Icons and the pottery of my wife are not the reality, they are empty without God. They are copies of the reality, not the real thing. Can you imagine that? The beauty of the worship space is just a cheap copy of the real deal! Even the most beautifully clad church, is a cheap copy. And this passage was written to a group of people that understood beautiful worship spaces. The temple of the Hebrew people was considered the greatest and most beautiful place of worship in the empire! the worship inside was scared it could cleanse your life of all wrong and put you right with God again. It was said that in the inner most room God actually sat on the mercy seat. But even that was a mere copy of the reality of what Christ has done for each of us when He took on His role as our highest of high priests and sacrificed His life so that we could be reconciled with God. Imagine that image, imagine the sights and smells temple sacrifices and also the disgust and beauty of it all. The most disgusting sight within the most beautiful place on earth. The greatest and most beautiful work of human artistic talent is a cheap copy. The greatness of the tallest building on earth, or the engineering marvel of th Hoover Dam are both just cheap copies. God’s kingdom is greater than al that, heaven is so great that to even come close to describing it John in his Revalation had to say that what we find important and valuable, no better than the sand and rocks used to make roads. Gold being used as asphalt. I cannot imagine it though I try. But what is even greater than that is that Jesus walked out of that place to come to earth, to be born as a baby, to grow up through the awkard age of puberty, to work in the family business, to teach and to serve. He experience a totally normal every day human life yet He was of heaven. He did all that for one reason, to bring God to mankind and to bring mankind to God. To complete this He willingly went to the cross. Done to once for all redeem and restore all of creation. Imagine that. The greatest temple ever built was just a cheap copy of the reality. It makes no sense but it inspires me. I still sit and wonder why did it have to happen, but in the end I accept the grace. You see that is life the digusting and the beauty. We can only see one or the other right now but on the other side of the vail we will see things differently through the grace and redemption, through Jesus for all people, the digusting and the beautiful will be seen in the reality of what they are works of art created by the hand of God. As you pray let us remember this.