Every now and then, Israel/Judah would find herself with a king who would undertake a series of reforms meant to bring the people back to God. Josiah was one such of those kings, and the first reform that he undertook was the rebuilding and restoration of God's Temple in Jerusalem.
What's interesting about this is that Josiah undertook this project before he really understood the depths of the Temple's importance. He did it before he understood what made this place incredible. He did it before he knew the full law of the Lord. He did it before he understood the details of worship.
How do we know? We know because it was in the process of rebuilding/restoring the Temple that servants in Josiah's time found the book of the Law in the Temple and brought it to him and read it for him.
It's impressive, really. Josiah knew this building was important to the God of Israel. He knew it was magnificent and majestic for some reason. He knew, somehow, there was glory there, even though he didn't have a foundation of knowledge for understanding it.
Maybe it was civics or politics. Maybe he was just trying to be a good ruler and restore some of the more dilapidated places in his kingdom. Maybe the Temple was an eyesore that he was just trying to clean up. Maybe someone came to him and whispered some things and convinced him it was important, someone with more understanding about these things. Maybe it was a favor he was doing for someone. There are all kinds of reasons that Josiah might have undertaken the Temple project without the knowledge of what he was really getting himself into....
And there are all kinds of reasons why someone might walk into our churches without knowing, either.
There's some renewed tension in the church about the importance of buildings or even of things like meeting together at all. We understand that collectively, we are the church, and so what matters most, it seems, is our willingness to love one another, to serve our communities, to read our Bibles, and to worship our God. It's less important, we think, where exactly we do that or whether we have enough building space or whether we even have our own building space. A lot of churches are now even meeting in rented spaces - schools, movie theaters, community centers - living out of trailers and thinking it entirely unnecessary and a waste of money to actually have a building.
All that upkeep...all those mortgage payments and utility bills and plumbing needs. It's all so...unnecessary.
Yet, a story like Josiah's reminds us why our buildings are so important.
Josiah didn't have to rebuild the Temple. He didn't know why it was so important. Maybe he suspected it, but it would have been just as easy to convince himself that the people of God already understood their rituals and requirements for sacrifice and prayer and community life, so the building? The building was moot. It was no longer necessary. He could have convinced himself of that and ordered his men to leave it alone, or maybe even tear it down. After all, those who had any real interest in it already knew what they needed to know.
But Josiah didn't know. He didn't have a real clue. And it was only by undertaking the work of the Temple that he discovered what he didn't know. It was only by going through room by room that he found something that gave him life. Not just him, but his people, also. A whole new generation of Israelites learned what they never knew because Josiah was willing to invest in a building he didn't fully understand.
It's an important reminder for our churches. People are going to come to our buildings. Our communities are going to come to our buildings. They may not understand much about them, may not know what exactly goes on there. Maybe they just get the sense that it's important, that it matters somehow. And it's in our buildings that they're going to find something life-giving.
Our missions, our outreach, our "hearts as temple, lives as worship" mentality is important, beautifully important. Holy, even. But it only works for those who already know.
Those who don't know...need buildings. They need a place to come and discover the book of the Lord. They need a place to gather together and learn how to do this thing called faith. They need doors to walk through, halls to explore, rooms to search. They need altars and pews and welcome centers. They need bricks and mortar. They need plaster and paint. They need buildings.
It is for this reason that we need them, too.