The first cathedrals were built as instruments of worship. They were intended to honor God through their excellence—as He deserves the best we can offer—and to inspire awe through their grandeur—reminding visitors of the greatness of God.*
Today we often view things like cathedrals as frivolous. It seems almost obscene to spend so much time, money, and effort on a building when there is such great need in the world. Shouldn't we rather care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and advocate for the voiceless?
Yes, we must do these. If there's one thing that my generation of Christ followers has done better than my parents' generation, it's just that.
But in Scripture we read the story of a woman who takes a bottle of perfume worth a year's wages and pours it over Jesus' head. When those around object that the money should rather have been used to help the poor, Jesus tells them to "Leave her alone" and asks "Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me."
"She has done a beautiful thing to me."
She met no tangible need, served no practical purpose.
And yet Scripture says:
She did a beautiful thing... to Jesus... the Son of God... Creator of all that exists.
God: big, mysterious, powerful, holy, faithful, wrathful, sovereign, merciful, beautiful, jealous, love...
...and because of all of those things, worthy. He is worthy of a jar of ointment worth a year's wages. He is worthy of grand monuments. He is worthy of being worshiped with extravagance and seeming frivolity.
I fear this may be something that my generation has forgotten. We've elevated our acts of service and unrooted them from a profound understanding of the magnitude of our Creator and our primary purpose in life: to glorify the Almighty.
We've made our God small enough that small acts of worship are sufficient.
NCC spent last summer exploring nine attributes of God's character. We preached sermons on them. We discussed them in our small groups. We sang original music about them.
When the summer was over we held a church-wide event (no small feat when you're one church with seven locations) where we worshiped in song with the pieces that our musicians had written, and we recorded the event in order to produce a live album.
It was a huge undertaking. The amount of staff time that went in to writing the songs and orchestrating the event was incredible. The amount of money that was spent renting facilities and equipment, hiring production staff, and paying music producers was significant.
There have been times when I've asked myself, "Was it really worth it? Was it really worth all of the time and money and headache to record some songs?"
But what I've come to realize is that these aren't just "some songs." This album is a modern day cathedral. It is an alabaster jar of ointment.
These songs were written by our worship leaders—people who are committed to excellence in their craft—assisted by our discipleship staff—people who are concerned that we speak truthfully and accurately about God. They were performed by our mostly volunteer musicians who gave up a great deal of their summer to practice. They were sung by our congregation who spent their summer learning about and reflecting on the attributes of God in light of the studies led by our small group leaders and the sermons delivered by our teachers.
People gave their best to create their best music, their best art, to glorify God as best as they could.
It was an extravagant act of worship, undertaken because God is worthy of extravagance.
The album releases next week. I'd encourage you to visit this modern day cathedral.
*I recognize that many cathedrals were built with mixed, if not outright wrong, motives. However, I believe that many cathedrals were built with the intention of bringing God glory.