Lessons for the 3rd Sunday in Lent: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Why was this church building built? If everyone who is here wrote down their answer and I read them all back to you, you might be surprised at some of the answers. The answer that is obvious to me might not be so obvious to some of you.
Well, why then was this building built?
My answer is that it was built to be a temple. It was not built just to be a meeting place, or an auditorium, or a theater where we go to experience a drama. A temple is a building that is purpose-built. Our church building here has one chief purpose, namely to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. Note that I said “our” relationship with God, not “my relationship with God.” While we may come here for private prayer, the main reason is because this where we as God’s family play out our roles in the great drama of God coming to us and our going back to God our Father.
A temple is certainly a building dedicated to God. But it is more than that. It is a dedicated space, a sacred space, a space unlike all others in which we enter in order to be with God. A temple is God’s house, not a theater, a lecture hall, an auditorium, or a place where we go to have churchy sorts of assemblies. It is a holy place where you and God and I can be together with each other in Christ who takes us back to the Father.
God is present here. This is God’s house, not just our house. That flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One, the risen Christ dwells in this space. We therefore ought to conduct ourselves reverently in this space. We genuflect to the Real Presence of Christ dwelling here in this tabernacle. Out of respect, men do not wear hats. We respect those who are praying, and we conduct ourselves in ways that are not ordinary. This is extra-ordinary space in an extra-ordinary building that is God’s house, a temple of the Lord.
All of this helps to explain the angry and violent reaction of Jesus when He entered the Temple in Jerusalem and found it being treated more like a shopping mall, or a bank building. Any time what is sacred, what is God’s, is desecrated it’s a slap in God’s face. To corrupt that which is holy is a terrible and personal insult to God. The corruption of the Temple’s sanctity caused Jesus to blaze out in anger.
But the reality of God’s temple is more than being simply a church building.
Each one of us here is a temple that is purpose-made. Because of our baptisms each one of us here is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for a purpose, namely the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they enter into who we are. Each one of us here is a walking, living temple in which God is made present and available to others.
What sort of trafficking goes on inside your temple, inside the temple that you are? What sorts of activities are being carried on inside you? Your answer to that fundamental and radical question is the substance of Lent. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine, change and clean up what’s happening inside of us.
God’s expression of Himself, God’s Eternal Word, is made flesh and blood in each one of us here. We receive the living Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion in order that He might not only dwell within us but also become actually who and what we are as persons. We constitute the living stones of God’s temple here on earth.
On the night before He died, during His Last Supper with His disciples, St. Jude asked Jesus if He was going to reveal Himself to the whole world. Christ’s answer to St. Jude is instructive. He said:
If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.John 14:23
Moments later, when Jesus was speaking out loud to His Father, He prayed:
They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth. I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realize that it was you who sent me.John 17:16-23
There are quite a few passages in the Bible in which we are told that we are, each one of us, “temples of the Holy Spirit.” If that is so, if that is the mind of God, if that is why you are walking the face of the earth, then what goes on inside the temple that you are is of immense importance, not only to you but to God Himself.
Lent comes to us in the springtime, a time when we all get into what we call “spring house cleaning.” We open up the windows and let the warm spring breezes blow through our house to clean away all of the stale winter air. We blow out all of the germs and viral bugs that bring winter’s sicknesses to us. We plant flowers, we paint the walls, and we fix up and clean up so that our dwelling places can be healthy places in which to live, and inviting places for others to enter.
Shouldn’t we at the very least do the same for God? Or do we allow who and what we are to be nothing more than sleaze that insults God and we carry on like the money changers in God’s temple? If we simply don’t care, then the fate of those money changers there in God’s temple may be ours.
You are a temple of the Holy Spirit, a temple baptized into Christ so that God’s Holy Spirit dwells in you not just for your sake but for the sake of others too.
You are here to be sent.