The Conundrums of Corinth
(And their legacy in the Church)
Readings; Psalm 119:33-40, Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18, Matthew 5:38-48, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, February 19 2017
I was on a youth retreat in West Virginia, and as sometimes happens, the kids were making comments about my accent being a little different to theirs. They took great amusement at the way I pronounced certain words and would say 'Say it again'. Then one of the guys looked me straight in the eye and asked “What's it like... being you?”
I have to say that I really wasn't sure how to answer. Never been asked that before, never been asked it since! 'What's it like being you?' The strange thing is, sometimes on a Sunday morning when we're here in church, it seems to be the sort of probing question that God would ask us, both as individuals and as a community. 'What's it like being you?'
I'm sure, given time for reflection, we could all come up with some kind of answer. 'Actually' one may say, 'Not to good being me right now, got a lot on my mind'. Another may say 'Couldn't be better, can't complain'. There would be as many different answers as we are different people. Maybe as a church community we'd respond; “Well weare going through some changes right now!”
'That's how you are,' God may reply, 'But do you know what you are?' “Do I know what I am?” 'Yes' says God , “Tell them what they are Paul!” At which point somebody could read for us from 1 Corinthians 3:10, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?” Or as it appears in the Message bible “You realize, don't you, that you are the temple of God, and God Himself is present in you?”
And that's what I want to talk about today. The temple of you. Because if we are temples, then there are implications to be faced. Temples need maintaining. Temples have a mission. The temple was the place for meeting with God, a sacred place, set apart and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
1. Temples Need Maintaining
Temples, be they a small pagan temple in Corinth, the grandest of temples in Jerusalem or your local Presbyterian Churches have one thing in common. They always need taking care of. I know I could invite any of our deacons or our treasurer to come up this morning and tell you what a time consuming and expensive job that can be. You have to care for a building.
This text reminds us that we also have to care for ourselves. 'You realize, don't you. That you are a temple...' Historically Christianity has often created a divide between spirit and body, as though somehow the body was profane, and only our spiritual needs were sacred.
We are beginning to re-learn that body, soul and spirit are intimately related. That not all our diseases can be treated by administering a tablet. That prevention is better than a cure, that a healthy diet and physical life results in health benefits all round.
As I was doing some reading for this sermon I came across this, which though it is written primarily for an African-American context, I'm sure you'll see applies to other contexts.
“For African-American youth, re-imagining themselves as 'sacred' would mean praying for God's wisdom to avoid the kinds of risky behaviors which leave the temple vulnerable to all manners of sickness, disease, violence and other forms of physical harm; such as (but not limited to) unprotected sexual activity, illegal drug and alcohol abuse and gun-play. Also adults need to see our youth as 'sacred bodies' and not as 'Gangstas', thugs, lost causes, future prison inmates and absentee baby-daddies. If we begin to see them as young princes and princesses, future presidents, engineers, teachers, parents, preachers and more, then they will more likely see themselves and treat themselves in the same way”
One can apply such an illustration to almost any group of people. To recognize our bodies as scared means cherishing them. It means not being taken in by the lies the media tells us that certain body types and age groups are so much more significant then others. It means recognizing that God has made you 'you', and being thankful for that unique physical creation that you are!
If God says we are temples then we need to ask ourselves, how well are we doing in the area of personal buildings and grounds! Not so we can compare ourselves with others, or compete with people different from us, but so that we can have the physical well-being God desires for our lives. Temples need maintaining.
2. Temples have a mission.
When He was 12 years old Jesus took a trip with His family to Jerusalem and we find Him in the temple debating with the teachers. (Luke 3:41-50). The temple was a place of learning. The body may well be a temple but the person who lives inside it needs more than just the physical. God gives us a body and a mind.
Presbyterians have always been strong promoters of education. There are 65 colleges and universities nationwide related to the PC(USA), 10 seminaries and 2 further seminaries in a covenant relationship. For a denomination of our size, that's a lot! And the majority have a reputation for holding to high academic standards.
There remains an emphasis within our theology that all truth is God's truth. That the sciences and the arts are just as important as the theology and philosophy one traditionally associates with religious institutions. We believe that one of our callings in life is to grow in knowledge and wisdom. We are not happy with simplistic answers, easy solutions or simply offering the comment “Well, I think it says in the bible.”
We believe God has given us a mind and expects us to exercise it. That's why in many of our churches we host nursery schools or after school programs. That's why we have adult classes and bible studies. We recognize that we all have a lot to learn!
It also means we often hold to different positions on a whole variety of issues. This led to somebody quipping; “What do you get if you put two Presbyterians in a room together?” Answer? 'A disagreement!' Our Presbytery meetings can become quite volatile when opinions are strongly and deeply held.
Yet, for much of our history we have agreed that although we differ, we can still travel together. That the truth is so much greater than any of us can ever fully discern, and that sometimes we are the ones that need to listen, rather than those who have the answers. Sadly, there are times when peoples differences cause them to separate, but often when historically those situations are viewed retrospectively, we wonder why they were such a big deal!
Where I'm going with this is to say 'Keep asking Questions'. Keep your mind in gear. Never be afraid to think outside of the box or look beyond the confines of ones own comfort zone. Having said that I would also encourage you to make that journey of inquiry in tandem with God, and make the best use of the insights Scripture can offer. Bear in mind of course that in order to know what they are... you are going to have study the scriptures!
I like the way the Message Bible transliterates verses 18 and 19. “Don't fool yourself. Don't think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God's fool—that's the path to true wisdom.” Temples have an educative component to their mission.
3. The Temple was THE place for meeting with God.
a. The temple was the dwelling place of God. The Jews believed that God dwelt in the temple, took possession of it and resided in it. “Don't you know” asks Paul in verse 16 of our reading today “That you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?”
I remember as a young person being invited to “Ask Jesus into my heart.” A little confusing if you take that image literally! What is actually meant by such a phrase is that we invite the Holy Spirit to be a central force in our lives, invite the power of resurrection to invade our time constrained existence, invite God to make a kingdom perspective the lens through which we view everything else around our lives.
Notice as well that this verse is both individual and corporate. “God's Spirit dwells in your midst”. Our lives individually and the life we share together as a church community are an arena for the activity of the living God. In Matthew 18:20 teaches His disciples “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.". The temple is a dwelling place of God.
b. The temple was set apart from common use for a holy purpose. Our call as Christians is not to be the same as everyone else and go along with the crowd. Jesus invites us to be in the world, but not of the world. (John 17:14) We are set apart for God's service, to live for God's glory and bring glory to God's name. How that works in our life and within our experience is something we work at with God!
c. The temple was a sacred place. This brings us around full circle to where we began talking about looking after our bodies and nurturing our minds. Just as the temple was sacred to God, so our lives are sacred to God. Sacred enough to send His son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for us. Sacred enough to be a place in which God wants to accomplish the work of the Kingdom, within and through and all around us.
Returning to the question I was asked at a youth camp. 'What's it like being you?' Let's rephrase it and ask ourselves “How are we doing at being a temple?”
Being a temple requires a number of things. It takes maintenance. We need take care of ourselves physically. Exercise, diet, health, these are important. Being a temple means we have a mission and a mind to discern what that mission is. Being a temple means that our lives are a meeting place with God. We welcome the Spirit's presence and activity. We recognize that the call to be a disciple is a high call and a great privilege. We see our life in it's totality, body, soul and spirit as a sacred trust.
“Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?”
May God help us to live into our calling!
And to God's name be all glory. Amen.