Sermon for Lent 3 – Year B – 2015
Sunday March 8th
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
‘THIS is the Temple of the Lord’
One of my churches in England was a little older than the other, 800 years older – roughly. Actually we have no idea how old Gisburn Church was, we only had the date of the first recorded Vicar in 1124. When we were considering some building alterations to the other church in my care including the possible removal of some pews, someone remarked – ‘why can’t we keep it the same, just like Gisburn has been over the years’ I wanted to laugh, but instead tried gently to point out that the original form of the building was unknown, buried under many many changes over the years. Not least the arrival of pews in the 17th Century – following the reformation.
Over the years it had seen many things, many changes. It’s tower was castellated as it was built in an era when the Scots were wont to roam that far South and so it provided a place of refuge and defence. Oliver Cromwell had stabled his horses in it prior to the battle of Foulridge in the English Civil War, and as most medieval churches it had served as a place for storing what passed for the local fire engine, and of course hosting the market. An imaginative Vicar would have had little difficulty summoning up the scene which confronts us in our gospel, as Jesus went into the Jerusalem temple, confronted by sheep, cows, doves and all the mechanisms of financial exchange . . . the Temple was the commercial hub of Jerusalem – although it hadn’t been around nearly so long as Gisburn Parish Church 🙂 The Jerusalem temple that is, this great Edifice of Herod the Great, under construction these mere forty six years – it hadn’t even been around as long as this church 🙂 500 years previously, the Jewish people had returned from exile and set about the task of rebuilding on the site of Solomon’s Temple, but Herod decided on a huge rebuild programme. It was Vast and said to be coated in Gold Leaf – such that it was almost impossible to look at as the suns light reflected from it.
It was visible from Joppa on the sea coast and it was from there that all the many many goods associated with the life of the Temple made their way to Jerusalem. Its expense and upkeep led to what we may remember was called the Temple Tax. And we read in Matthew’s gospel how the tax collectors came to Peter to ask if Jesus did or didn’t pay the temple tax – and how Jesus instructed Peter to go and fish and find the two drachma coin in the fish’s mouth 🙂
Keeping up the Temple was literally life draining from the people of God – indeed it was said that slaves were also bought and sold there. The Temple was in many respects a vast idol – which enslaved the people. As the Church in Gisburn was seen as in many ways central to the village, even by those who only darkened its doors for funerals, and many people helped pay for a new roof – so far far more so Jewish identity was inextricably linked to the Temple – this was why they had gone to So much trouble after the exile to rebuild it, and why those in authority thought nothing of the tax, or the other burdens of upkeep to the vitality of the people.
Jesus in his appearing is like a laser guided missile, aimed right at the very heart of this Identity. In every gospel THE confrontation with the Pharisees and the rest which provokes calls for his death is the Identity forming Day, the Sabbath. And second, the identity forming place the Temple. We might say that the Jewish sense of who they were rested on these two pillars one in time and one in Space, Sabbath and Temple.
The Temple’s significance of course was clear – it was the place where the God of Israel dwelt with his people. And it was understood literally as the Centre of the World – the Creation narrative from Genesis echoing in its six days the arrangement of the various courts of Solomons Temple. The Sea being figured by the great basin for the purification rites, the Lights in the Sky – the great Menorah, the great Lampstand in the Temple and in its heart, the Seventh Day, the Sabbath, the One who dwelt in the Holy of holies – the one in whom we are to find our hearts Rest (as St Augustine puts it)
From the beginning of the story of the forming of Israel, by God’s majestic act of rescue from Slavery in Egypt – He had dwelt in their midst. In the wilderness – which we travel through in Lent. No trappings of luxury. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Words on the two tablets of stone – overshadowed by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night – there in the Tabernacle in their midst. But Israel did not listen to the Word, that the God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt and thus entreated them – you shall have no gods before me, was not a God who dwelt in houses built by human hands. The God who frees from slavery is a God who is radically Free, and commands the true freedom which is found in obedience to His Life Giving Word made flesh. Each of those Ten commandments was about Freedom. Do not be enslaved to other Gods, do not be enslaved to Idols, Do not try to enslave me by using my name to back up your plans, do not be enslaved to work, know who you are honour your father and mother, do not be enslaved to other identities, do not be enslaved by the passions and deisres that are murder, adultery, theft, stealing, false witness – and do not be enslaved by things in covetousness. God is Freedom and His people should be, but in beuilding a house of stone, they themselves have once more become enslaved to the project of its upkeep . . .
St Stephen in his eloquent witness which will lead to His martyrdom again points to the Temple “Our ancestors in turn brought [the tabernacle containing the ark] in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was [in Jerusalem] until the time of David, who found favour with God and asked that he might find a dwelling-place for the house of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”
And the significance of the Temple conflict is brought into sharpest focus in John’s gospel. John moves the clearance of the Temple from Jesus last week, to the beginning of His ministry, his first truly public appearance – the first place where he makes himself known amongst the crowds. After a quiet appearance at the Wedding in Cana, he Erupts onto the public stage, In the Temple. Consumed by zeal as Psalm 69 recounted ‘it is zeal for your house has consumed me’ – the prayer of a righteous man suffering untold persecution, the prayer of one who loves God with heart and soul and mind and strength and thus cannot bear to see what has become of the dwelling place of his Father. John is saying – THIS is what he has come for – the Sign? Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days . . .
You, in the slavery of your minds can only envisage death and destruction, but I am the Light and the Life of the World. Standing up in the midst of the Temple, upon the feast of tabernacles, when the poeple are celebrating their time in the wilderness – Jesus stands up in their midst and ‘cried out with a loud voice – bawling from the centre of his gut – Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures say – out of his heart shall flow life giving waters
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
And again from the end of the Book of Revelation – that great picture of the presence of God where there is no Temple – Only the throne of God and the Lamb – ‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it again in three days – Jesus Christ. The place where we meet God. The word became flesh and Tabernacled amongst us. For all the brilliance of Herod’s Temple, it is as nothing to the brilliance of God made known to us in Jesus Christ and we have seen his glory . . . say John. Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father says Jesus as he tells of a house with many mansions . . . many many mansions – we dwell in Him and he in us.
And he comes with a refining fire. He Cleanses the Temple – drives from it all that keeps us from him. Through Lent we participate in that refining, that cleansing as we consent to have all that hinders us, we lay aside all that keeps us from Him and his nearer presence, we consent to have it stripped away, in our individual lives and our Life together. No longer slaves but finding our true freedom in obedience to the Word that frees, the Word that Lives for Ever, the Word made flesh – that we might be a fit place for the dwelling place of God, as the Body of Christ in This place.