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.
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.
In his commentary on 1 Cor 3 Prof Brian Peterson reminds us Paul is speaking to the Church as a whole, not individuals within the Church.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
Paul is not, at this point, discussing God’s presence with each individual believer. Rather, Paul’s focus is communal. It is the community of faith, “you together,” that is the holy place of God’s presence and glory. This is the third image that Paul has used in chapter 3 to describe the community of the church forming a single reality: field, building, and now temple. This is a reminder that authentically Christian spirituality is rooted in life together as the community of God’s people, and rooted in the working of God within those very real human relationships.
Of course we are all familiar with the later image in chapter 12 of the Church being a body. The Church together is a temple, a body. I have a growing and deep feeling that we need to work at seeing our selves as a Christian Community, a covenant community. I believe Peterson’s sentence is powerful, Authentic Christian Spirituality is rooted in life together as the community of God’s people. It is grounded in God working within real human relationships.
In September as we explored Matthew’s Gospel, I was keen that we took on board a powerful image of Christian Community. It is a community where we forgive each other, a community where we hold each other with deep respect, with reverence. And it is a community where we make a point of encouraging one another rather than grumbling. All of these aspects of Christian Community are grounded in humility. It is much easier to forgive when we acknowledge that we hurt others too. We can respect others not because they are somehow perfect, but because like us they are ordinary people who are loved by God. And it is much much easier not to grumble when we know we have not always done everything perfectly ourselves.
Perhaps today we can draw into this mix another couple of aspects of Christian Community. The first aspect is the importance of unity itself, a unity in very real diversity. And the second aspect we will explore is the centripetal and centrifugal nature of the Church. Don’t worry I will explain what I mean by that later.
While people may still experience some sense of holy awe about the spaces and material objects at the center of the church’s worship, we often treat the unity and peace of the church as something disposable and easily sacrificed. It would not be difficult for most pastors to think of a long list of ways in which that web of love and unity can be frayed and broken.
When we are part of the Church we are not here to advance our individual agendas. That includes the Christians in Corinth who were fighting with each other and it even includes the leaders they were fighting over, Paul and Apollos. In the Corinthian Church then, just as here now, we come to be recipients of God’s redeeming love. That love is the shape of the temple we are called to be, established on the foundation stone that is Jesus himself.
It is good for us to hear the story of Jesus “cleansing the temple” as we celebrate 39 years of this building. First of all we need to keep in our minds that we are the temple. This building as important as it is, is just a place to gather. The temple that needs cleansing is not the physical building it self but the temple made up of all of us.
One of the reasons we as Anglicans pray the confession each week is because we know that we fall for short of the glory of God. But the main focus is not our individual sin. Have you noticed we pray:
we have sinned against you
we have not loved you…
we have not loved our neighbours…
We are asking God to cleanse the temple once again, to cleanse this community of faith gathered here. Now, I like to do that normally at the beginning of our worship. We have the first hymn and a few introductory greetings and prayers and then we are called to fall to our knees to confess our sin.
In my mind we are with Isaiah in the temple. (Isaiah 6) Isaiah sees the procession of priests and Levites and musicians coming into the temple and already at the beginning of worship he knows he is in the presence of God. He is overwhelmed becoming conscious of his own sin. Yet he prays, I am a man of unclean lips and from a people of unclean lips. Yes it is his prayer but it is equally a corporate prayer for all the people. And just as in our liturgy, I stand to announce the forgiveness of sin, Isaiah sees the angel bringing a coal from the altar to cleans him for his sin. After the confession and absolution we joyfully say/sing the Gloria and are able to hear the word of God in the readings and the sermon. Isaiah hears and says, here am I send me. Hopefully we too are responding to the word of God and are keen to be sent out into mission. We’ll come back to that.
The other place we can use the confession is just prior to the greeting of peace which comes just before Communion. The beauty of praying the confession at that point is that we can then move around the Church and greet those people who have sinned against us and the ones we have injured and we can greet them in peace. That’s powerful isn’t it. One moment we are on our knees asking for forgiveness for our sins: the sins others have done to me and the ones I have done to others. Then we go to greet each other. I trust you make a bee line to the people you have injured first and then go to the people who have injured you second.
We are a temple, yet we sin, and so we need to be cleansed. At that moment we experience again the peace of God. As I said last we also know the Kingdom of God has come near.
So the gathering in this place week by week is so that we can receive forgiveness and healing. We can soak up the grace of God again. Then like Isaiah saying here am I send me we too respond; I am keen to go out. Having received the words of forgiveness, the words of healing and the grace of God’s love we desire to share them with others.
As I said gathering as the community of faith each week is both a centripetal force and a centrifugal force. Centripetal force is like when you are holding a bucket with water in. You can swing it around and as long as you hold on the water and the bucket will stay together. Centrifugal is the force applied to the water in the bucket or the person in the ride at the Ekka. As the ride goes around you are pushed into the wall of the ride. You hope to goodness the wall doesn’t break or you will fly off crashing into something. Centripetal is that force drawing us into the centre. We have a sense hopefully of coming week by week drawn by the love of God to seek and to deepen our relationship, to hear again the words of forgiveness and healing. The centrifugal force is the one sending us out, with Isaiah saying here am I send me.
In the three Gospels Matthew Mark and Luke the story of the cleansing of the temple takes place at the end of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is sent flying, careering into Pilot’s court and landing up on the cross. In John’s Gospel the story takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, yet never-the-less Jesus is sent out into the world where he gets on with the work of God. For most of us the centrifugal force we experience when gathering for worship each week will be a gentle shove out into the world where we can be about God’s work.
David Lose in his commentary on John’s telling of the Cleansing of the Temple says:
many of us, I suspect, tend to think of church as a destination. It’s a place you go to receive. But, taking a cue from John, I wonder if we’ve got things a little backwards.
Rather than imagine it’s a place we go to for some experience of God, I wonder if we shouldn’t imagine it as a place we’re sent from in order to meet, and partner with, God in everyday life.
However lets rejoice in both forces acting on us. Lets rejoice that we are drawn into the presence of God and our community of faith in this place of worship. And lets also rejoice that we are shoved out in order to meet God and to partner with God in everyday life.
So here is my prayer as we celebrate 39 years of gathering in this place. I pray that we will gather week by week to be in the presence of God and to experience God’s forgiveness and healing power. In this place we will build each other up as a loving and gracious community. Then with the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit we will go joyfully into our wider community, to our family, friends, and neighbours and we will meet God there. We will partner with God in the work God is doing in the broader community.