SERMON PREACHED AT THE
CHURCH OF St FRANCIS, BATCHELOR (NT)
SUNDAY, July 22nd 2012
(ORDINARY SUNDAY 16 / EIGHTH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST)
Readings: 2 Samuel 7.1-14a
Mark 6.30-34, 53-56
To read the story of the Hebrew people and of their Temple, edited as the story was over hundreds of years, is to read the story of a people both open to the new and tenacious in their adherence to that which is valuable in their past. The tricky bit, of course, is to know what is worth holding to, and what is worthy only to be jettisoned. The great and sometimes bitter arguments of church history and theology are, I suggest (and suggest retrospectively, for hindsight is a wonderful thing!) the brutal outworkings of God’s Spirit, that unsettling, disturbing third Person of the Trinity. Which is always very easy to say after the event, but less easy when we are caught in the midst. When no less a figure than David has the bright idea of building a Temple for his God to dwell in, but is chastised by a God who will not – yet – be even symbolically restrained by walls, when no less a figure than David gets it radically wrong (as he so often did!) it should only serve to encourage us in our blunderings.
Of course if we were to step outside of today’s text we would know that the Temple continued and continues to have a troubled story. Visible only as ruins today, it has twice been built and twice destroyed. Some millennialist groups insist on seeing any completion of a Third temple as a prelude to the end of time. While that may be right – though I personally doubt it – I abhor, and so should we all – the fact that such a belief leads them to blind support of anything and everything the modern State of Israel does to oppress its admittedly recalcitrant neighbours, the Palestinian and other Arab States. Confronted by millennialist preaching that permits such atrocity (yet privately affirms that believing Jews are condemned to hell for their rejection of the messiah-hood of Jesus) we must ask over and again what would, what did Jesus do? Did he preach hate, or love, oppression or liberation, division or reconciliation?
Indeed we might even remember the New Testament teaching, alluded to in our Ephesians reading and powerfully stated in 1 Cor. 6, that it is the believer’s body, the believer’s ‘selfhood’ we might say, that becomes the dwelling place of the Shekinah, the holiness of God. This teaching may not have been entirely unique to the Christian community, but it was a powerful hallmark of the Christians’ self-understanding, and drove their attitudes to sexuality (reflected in Paul’s teaching on prostitution) in particular. Jesus himself had become the walking, talking locus of God – which is why Peter was not permitted to build tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration – and the New Testament People of God were, by the indwelling of the Spirit, likewise the dwelling place of God’s holiness, God’s shekinah. The implications of this for debates about sexuality in today’s context are complex, and more complex than they at first sight appear; there is no doubt this sense of personal in-dwelling of God’s holiness has shaped Christians’ attitudes to all aspects of what we might call ‘bodiliness’, also apparent in Paul’s slightly self-conscious diversion on the many members of one body in 1 Cor. 12.
If we though, are as it were mini-temples, what other implications are there for the way in which we live our lives? There is a sense in which we are called to live our lives as reminders to ourselves and those around us of the values of the eternities of God. At the very least this means we are called to raise ourselves above the ephemeral eternal present of the society around us. This isn’t easy: almost all the values of the market-place in which we live are based on ephemera. In the baptism service we are asked to turn to Christ and to ‘reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust’. I doubt any of us can claim to have fulfilled that promise – one of the reasons I reject a ‘rigorist’ approach to baptising children. The shoes I wear were made in an Asian sweat shop, the fossil fuels I burn in my car are destroying God’s earth, the food thrown out at the end of each day in the cafés I frequent could feed a third world family. Have I rejected selfish living?
And yet the author of Ephesians calls us to be the peace of Christ. The liturgical sharing of the peace is no trivial moment: we are saying to one another may you be, and may I be an embodiment of God’s peace that is, as Paul put it, beyond human comprehension. Martin Luther King was not the first to remind God’s people that God’s peace is not a warm and fuzzy feeling, but the absence of all injustice: I for one am far from an embodiment or walking advertisement of the perfect justice and righteousness that Jesus embodied.
These are of course no more than meandering thoughts, random thoughts triggered by stories about temples, about dividing walls of injustice, about gaps between haves and have-nots materially and spiritually. I can ultimately look only at my own life and know that it – that I – fall far short of what Paul calls the glory of God, far short of the dwelling place of God’s shekinah, God’s holiness that I am called to be. Yet that is what God calls us to be – calls us to be, and despite our inadequacies, simply calls us as being. We are not yet what we are called to be, but we are called to become what we already are in Christ.