Christ, Our Temple
Based on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
I was watching an archeology show on the television the other day. Scientists had discovered a long-buried kingdom in the desert of Peru that had been quite spectacular in its day. It housed as many as 300,000 persons and had an ingenious aqueduct system to supply water to the city and to irrigate the crops – the mainstay being cotton. The city buildings were fronted with a silica substance that made them sparkle, and there were all the necessary diversions for the populace to be quite content. However, like all ancient empires, it too went by the way of time and had been abandoned and covered by the sands of the desert.
Indeed, all of the ancient empires which once ruled the world have now all been ground into dust and lost to the ages, especially those which did not have a written language to record that they ever existed. The same will be true for us as it has been for empires since the dawn of time. Each begins, grows and flourishes, decays and dies – the life cycle of an empire. Yet for the past 2000 years, and for at least a thousand before that, the empire of the One True God has lasted. Human empires have come and gone – too many to name here, yet the kingdom of God continues to grow and develop with each generation of believers. Two Temples in Jerusalem have been built and destroyed, countless cathedrals and basilicas are primarily empty, many small churches close every year, yet the God of Abraham continues to be worshipped – and today by more people than at any other time in history. It must not be about all the buildings themselves then…it must be something else altogether. Let’s say a prayer to the God that is bigger than anything we can build to house God.
It strikes King David one day that he is living in a grand house of cedar in the “City of David” and yet the Ark of God is still being kept in a tent out back. The tabernacle in a tent made sense when the House of Israel was on the move all the time and wandering all around in the wilderness. It made sense when they crossed over the Jordan and were warring with all the people they found that stood between them and the land God had promised. Now things were more settled and it just seemed fair to David that God might have somewhere to call home as well. Nathan, his counselor, told the King that he was in good with God and to move forward with the plan for a Temple.
That night, however, Nathan was visited by God and God said in no uncertain terms that David was not to be the one that built God a home – rather it was to be his offspring. God still had house building to do for David, and David wasn’t going to be living in peace long enough to take on such a building project (just fast forward to 1 Kings to see how long and at what expense Solomon spent to make the Temple).
Paul is teaching the church folk in Ephesus that they are no longer wandering about divorced from those who were circumcised. Rather they have been united by Christ breaking down the barriers of rules and laws that once separated them (Paul would have to win over the circumcised several times with this line of reasoning). Because of the mystery of the Cross and through the power of the Holy Spirit both Jew and Gentile now are members of the household of God – with no outstanding hostility allowed. Christ has thus used the foundation of the apostles and prophets with himself as the cornerstone to create a holy temple of flesh IN the Lord, which in turn creates a dwelling place FOR the Lord. Thus, all who believe in Jesus are part of the same holy structure which allows God to find a place to settle down. Not just one building (as in the Temple in Jerusalem), rather the whole Body of Christ where God can live and reign. This is what the second coming will entail when God once again comes to earth and walks with all those who believe and there will be no more need for church buildings and separate understandings or dogmas of faith – all will walk with the LORD.
After the killing of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, Jesus took the 12 and went away to rest and recover. They had been very busy in ministry and they needed to find some peace and quiet for a bit. However, the people following Him saw them go and went ahead that they might be near him and bring those who were suffering to be healed. Jesus saw them, and our text today says, “…that he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things….” In this way he began to create the Temple that Paul was just talking about. The temple of the believers who came near enough to touch his robe, or who believed enough in the first place to bring all who were ill to see him. He broke down the barriers and created in their place an understanding of how the kingdom of God operates and how God sees every one of us.
This is the genius of Jesus. He started a movement that was based on love, compassion (meaning to suffer with), and healing. He brought to life all of the teachings of the Patriarchs and Prophets and embodied a God whose image was in each person he met. He came to fulfill all of the scripture and to set the teachers of the Law and overseers of the Temple structure back on the right path. To show everyone how they were supposed to live in community, in right relationship to each other and not to set apart the Temple from the people…because the Temple WAS the people!! This was what Paul was reminding the early Church – it was not about barriers between folks, whether circumcised or not, rather it was about learning to live in community with each other. Jesus healed all and had compassion for all – so do we need to emulate that worldview.
Jesus showed people that he loved them from his heart without condition. He modeled through his behavior that no matter what social status someone had, they were all in the new movement together – bringing their talents and gifts and sharing those with everyone else. Through that unconditional love, he also modeled the ability to welcome the stranger – a very traditional Abrahamic value that had been lost over time. He gave his Disciples the opportunity to go out in the name of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit to do more than any of them thought that they could. Finally, his love for them showed them how to create and maintain community – especially in the face of the persecutions to come.
This is how the temple of Christ has continued for 2000 years – why it hasn’t fallen into disuse or been covered up by the sands of time. It continues to renew itself through its egalitarian ways and because enough of the adherents follow the unconditional love policies of its founder and head. Think about it…there are few places in the world that one can walk into and be accepted for who they are, other than the church of Jesus. They can find community and a place to use their gifts to the betterment of all. They can find hope, support and healing in an environment that, at its best, is non-judgmental and compassionate. People find a way to belong that fits their life and their views.
The temple of Jesus brought peace between Jews and Gentiles. In this peace a new creation was birthed that transformed the world. Now, that’s not to say that things haven’t been done in the name of Christ that should never have been done, or that the Church today doesn’t have much to repent and to renew – but the reality is that the Church still exists because of who Jesus is and what he showed us while he was here. When people see how it is that we can be followers of Christ at our best – they still come to be part of the temple, hoping that the promises can be true.
They come for the compassion of Jesus – they come to be befriended and to discover what it might feel like to be treated as a whole human with great worth and gifts to share. They come to discover how to live in community and in right relationship with each other and how to be healed through that discovery. They come to discover that they are a necessary part of the Temple of God and that the image of God that they embody is a necessary building block for the Temple to be completed. They continue to come because they believe that Jesus’ call to “Follow me” is all it takes to discover the kingdom of God here on earth. Thanks be to God whose love created the one place where all can be welcomed, loved and part of the resting place of God. Amen!