Thursday, February 19, 2009

omega talk: you are god's temple


Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?

Samson. According to the Book of Judges, he brought the house down.

Actually, it was the temple of the Philistines. But that’s not as a good of a punch line.

But on a more serious note, I need to begin by saying that since December of 2008 I’ve been in an abusive relationship.

And it’s with my personal trainer at 24 hour fitness.

It all started out so innocently. I joined the gym hoping to tone up a bit for 2009 and was offered a special “one-time” deal to meet with a personal trainer at a discount. I was matched with Jerod. And I’ll never forget the first time we met. I extended a hand and said, “Hey man, how’s it going, I’m John.” And Jerod responded not with his name but with a question. “I need to know right now,” Jerod said quite intently, “on a scale between 1 and 10 – how bad do you want it?” Well, you know how your parents would always tell you to think before speaking? Yea, I didn’t do that. Because I told Jerod I was at a 6.5. And looking back, that’s really where the abuse began. Because Jerod was really disappointed with my answer. And so shaking his head in disappointment, he asked a follow-up question. “What are you on?” I didn’t want to embarrass myself again and so I asked for clarification. “Supplements” he said. “What are you on for your body? You know, creatine, protein bars, omega 3’s, fat burners, muscle rebuilders? What fuels your body,” he said, “What are you on?” My answer was “Claritin.”

Jerod then gave me a list of supplements that he expected me to take. Half of them were available at the 24-hour fitness vitamin shop, but to get the other half I had to go to some dude’s van in the alley behind the gym. “Why do I need all these” I asked. And this is what Jerod said. “Because your body is a machine.” I then made some weird, awkward joke about being a “micro-machine” and that didn’t really go over too well, and so I fired off a second joke about the movie Terminator, which also bombed. But - I do find Jerod’s perspective intriguing. “Your body is a machine.”

Is that true? Your body is … How would you fill in the blank? For example, according to Jerod, your body is a machine. According to some biologists, your body is a planet. According to most 6th grade teachers, your body is changing. According to John Mayer, your body is a wonderland. But how would you fill in the blank?

Well, tonight we look at how another personal trainer filled in that blank. Because the apostle Paul, for a while now, has been training the Corinthians in the ways of Christian discipleship. And in two different parts of the letter, Paul makes the following statement. “Your body is a temple.” And so for tonight, I want to look at how Paul fills in the blank and examine not only what his words meant to the Corinthians, but also what Paul’s words mean to you and to me. And so if someone could please read the first passage:

1 Corinthians 3: 16-17

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Now, in order to understand how radical Paul’s statement is, we need a little crash course on “the temple.” Historically speaking, the Temple, located in Jerusalem, was planned by King David around 1,000 BC and then assembled and supervised by his son and successor Solomon. That’s a lot of S’s. And the Temple was the central sanctuary for Israel. There was nothing holier than the temple – nothing more pure than God’s temple. And this was the case for two primary reasons.

First, the temple was literally God’s home. The temple was where heaven and earth met – the primary place on this earth where God was believed to dwell. Psalm 123 speaks of God as “enthroned in the heavens.” Well, people in Jesus’ day believed that God stepped down from His heavenly throne and descended into the Temple. And so the Temple was God’s home.

Second, the temple was the place where sacrifices were offered and accepted. How many of you have read the book of Leviticus cover to cover? Well, your loss – it’s a real page turner. Because Leviticus lays out a highly detailed written code on what sacrifices one should offer to God and the suitable manner in which they should be offered. And so the idea of sacrifice has deep, deep Biblical roots. But the Temple was where they were offered.

Now with that in mind, listen to Paul’s words again.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

When we examine the Greek, the pronoun “you” is plural. And so Paul’s talking to the entire Christian community. Remember C1?

The Christian community is where an explosive Christian spirituality begins. And the reason, according to Paul, is that the collective body of Christian believers - or “the Body of Christ” – is God’s new Temple. Now, think about how radical this is – how controversial Paul’s statement would have been to his original audience. Because when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the temple Solomon built was still standing. Think about what you and I, as Christians, believe to be holy and pure. For me, it’s the Bible and the Eucharist. Well, what if someone snatched the Bible right out of your hands and was like, “you don’t need this anymore. Because you are God’s Bible.” What would you say? Or what if next Sunday you came to the communion rail and reverently reached out your hands hoping to find fresh grace and forgiveness and instead of giving you bread I slapped you a high five and told you that the Eucharist was out of date. Well, that’s kind of how radical Paul’s statement was. To the entire Christian church, Paul says – “The physical temple, the one made of stones, the one stationed in Jerusalem, is no longer where God lives. The physical temple, the one made of stones, the one stationed in Jerusalem, is no longer where sacrifices are offered to God.” “And the reason for this,” Paul says, “is because you are God’s temple. God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Now listen to our second passage:

1 Corinthians 6: 19-20

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore honor God in your body.

In the first passage that was read, Paul says that the whole church – the Body of Christ – is God’s new Temple. But when we examine both the Greek and context of this second passage, Paul is now speaking to -- the individual Christian believer. He’s no longer addressing the community. He’s talking to individual Christians and telling each of them that their body is God’s Temple.

Now remember, the point of the Temple was that God lived there. And what Paul is saying now is that being a Christian is about God living inside of you through the person of the Holy Spirit. And so for Paul, Christians don’t just encounter the Spirit sporadically – like when they pray, or read the Bible, or do some other fun religious activity – like, I don’t know, playing laser tag - which we just happen to be doing tomorrow night around 8 PM at the Blazer Tag Adventure Center located at 1701 West Ben White Boulevard – you know, if you happen to be free. But for Paul, the Spirit of God takes up permanent residence in the person who believes. According to Ephesians we can grieve the spirit (4:30), but there’s no such thing as telling the Spirit to take a vacation while we go off on our own. Because the gift of the Spirit is permanent. The old Biblical adage “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” doesn’t apply here. And that’s why the gift of the Spirit, according to Paul, is both precious and costly. In Paul’s own words, “you were bought with a price.” And of course Paul is referring to C2, which is _______ ? The cross. In other words, Jesus paid the price of his own life, the price of his own blood, for you and for me. And so the question is why? Why were we bought at a price?

Well, typically speaking, people only pay a high price for things they love – for things they intend to cherish and nurture and guard and keep and take care of. For example, imagine paying a lot of money for a rare, antique book and then tearing out a few of its pages to blow your nose. Or imagine paying a lot of money for a tangerine crocodile Birkin and then tossing it to a drunken friend in need of a barf bag. It’s a ridiculous thought. For that book was bought with a price, therefore you’d honor that book. For that Birkin was bought with a price, therefore you’d honor that tangerine crocodile designer handbag. Because we tend to honor things that pay a high price for.

But here’s the thing. We’re not a book. And we’re not a handbag. Building off last week’s theme, we’re humans made in the image of a Trinitarian God. And the price that God paid for you and for me is far greater than anything that we could ever pay for a book – or a designer purse. And that’s kind of what Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians. Paul is trying to tell each one of them that God, in His perfect providence, has hand-picked each and every one of them to be His new temple. He’s trying to get them to understand that each one of them has been “bought” at a tremendous price. “For you were bought with a price,” Paul says, “therefore honor God in your body.” Because Jesus didn’t die for us just so that we wouldn’t be punished for our sins. Being saved from death is only a part of our salvation. But Jesus died for us so that God could cherish and nurture and guard and keep and take care of each one of us. He died to take up permanent residence in all who believe. He died so that each of our bodies would become God’s new Temple.

And here’s the question I’d like us to consider. If the Body of Christ is God’s new Temple, and if each of our bodies is a temple for the Holy Spirit, what does that mean for us who are training in the ways of Christian discipleship?

First, if the Body of Christ is God’s new temple and each of us is God’s new temple - that means that we, as a church, are to be the place on this earth where the Living God chooses to dwell – the place where heaven and earth come together. If a friend were to ask you, where can I encounter God? You should be able to confidently point them to this community and to say “right here.” Because we are God’s Temple. And the same is true at the individual level. Our primary goal in life should be to say with Paul, “it is no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Or to say with John the Baptist, “Jesus must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). And so our primary vocation – as a church and as individuals – is to be God’s home. That’s first and foremost what it means for us to be a temple.

And so the question is, how do we do that?

Sacrifice. Remember, the temple is where sacrifices are offered and accepted by God. To quote Paul in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Someone once said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they’re always trying to crawl off the altar. But part of our vocation – as a church and as individuals – is to offer our lives as a sacrifice to others. Just as Jesus laid down his life in love for us, we too are to lay our lives down in love for one another and for the world. And so sacrifice is also at the heart of what it means to be a temple.

Before I send us off to small groups, I want to go back to Jerod for a second. Whenever we workout and I’m about to start a set, Jerod always gets in my face and abusively screams at me and this is what he says: “get your mind right.” I don’t think our body is a machine, but because I do think it’s a temple, I like Jerod’s advice. Get your mind right. Or to quote Paul again, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Because it takes a lot of faith and courage and reminding to believe that God, in His perfect providence, has hand-picked each and every one of us to be His new temple. It takes a lot of faith and courage and reminding to believe that each one of us has been “bought” at a tremendous price. And it takes a lot of faith and courage and reminding to believe that we – as a church and as individuals – are God’s new Temple.

And so to return to Jerod’s question – what are you on? What fuels your body? Because in the Christian life, as we train in the ways of Christian discipleship, we should strive to live lives – as a church and as individuals – that are fueled by the Spirit of God. And far from being an abusive relationship, the Spirit intends to cherish and nurture and guard and keep and take care of each one of us, so that we can go and do the same for the world.

But it takes work on our part. We who train in the ways of Christian discipleship always have to “get our mind right.” And it takes prayer and diligence and commitment. And so the question I leave us with is, on a scale between 1 and 10, how bad do we want it?


Sister Emily said...

Thanks for the blog, John. I often send links to friends which typically spark interesting conversations that may have been difficult to initiate without the blog. And its great for all your congregation that lives in Beautiful Mountain. Et rapellez, j'ai bonnes oreilles.

KAM said...

An astonishlingly poor effort. I expect so much more from you, Leblanc. Très, très triste.