Sacred the Body 2-19-17

Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth is a letter to a congregation in inner conflict, threatening to split or come apart. He tried to bring them together through this appeal to their higher selves, their understanding that they were part of something bigger, based in the foundation of Jesus Christ. In fact, he insists that they are the very body of Christ, that their community is the temple of God. Note that the limitations of English are at work in this passage. When Paul uses the word “you” in this passage, the word is plural, “you all” or “youse.” I got confused by this when I titled my sermon “Your Body: God’s Temple.” I thought I was going to talk this morning about our bodies as vessels of God’s love. I’ve had a hard time shifting gears, but listen to the Word of God today from I Corinthians, and hear “you” as speaking to a whole community.

I Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23 By the grace God gave me, I acted as a wise architect and laid the foundation. Someone else is doing the building. But each of you doing the building must do it carefully. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already in place—Jesus Christ. 16-23 Aren’t you aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If you destroy God’s temple, God will destroy you—for the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple. Don’t delude yourselves. Any who think themselves wise in a worldly way had better become fools. In that way you will really be wise, for the wisdom of this world is absurdity with God—as scripture says, “God knows how empty are the thoughts of the wise, and again, “God is not convinced by the arguments of the wise.” So there is nothing to boast about in anything human, whether it be Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future all these are yours, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

February 19, 2017

Sacred the Body

Boy, I’m really having trouble letting go of my initial reaction to this passage – our bodies as God’s temple. You’ll notice that the responsive hymn goes in that direction too. I wanted to talk about the physical therapy that I received last month that felt almost miraculous and made me appreciate the healing powers of God in my body.

I wanted to talk about my mother’s body and how her pain stopped when she took what she thought was a powerful medication, which turned out to be nothing of the sort. I wanted to talk about taking care of our bodies as sacred gifts from God.

I went back to passage looking for support to talk about our bodies as God’s temple, but it just isn’t there. Maybe in some other passage. I’m not the only one who gets confused this way. Our culture constantly misses the emphasis on the whole in scripture as we follow the bias of modern society toward the individual. The body that Paul is talking about in I Corinthians here is the communal body, the body of Christ, the body of the people, not the body of the person.

Can you imagine what a difference it would make if we could shift our thinking in this way from our focus on the individual, to an appreciation of the community? Paul is taking the Corinthians to task for focusing on individual leaders within the congregation. There’s only one foundation to our churches, Paul says, the foundation of Jesus Christ. The church, in all of its manifestations, all its denominations, all its theological persuasions, all its locations, is built upon the activity of God in human history.

See, that’s a much more transformational thing to realize than that God is in our personal bodies. Because there is a divine element in the church, the church needs to act different than other human institutions. How do you think we are doing at that? Yeah, it doesn’t look very good.

Every Christian church, from the most liberal to the most conservative, makes the claim that it is based on the foundation of Jesus Christ, and often try to exclude or put down those who disagree with them as though they don’t have the same foundation. (See we really need to sing “the Church’s one Foundation” this morning, but I was focused on the body)

Some people today will argue that the most liberal have changed things too much and over the edge, while others argue that conservatives aren’t keeping up with today’s word of God. You might want to go there. But Paul is arguing that at least in the community of the church at Corinth, they have to stop all that, and recognize that this divine element that we call the body of Christ, transforms even newly created communities of faith, even 140 year old congregations into the new people of God.

 

A second point that Paul makes in this passage (vs. 16) is that God lives in you plural, the temple, the church as a whole(the first point was the foundation in Jesus Christ). He’s not saying that God lives in the church – unless by church you understand the people, the congregation – (we should be singing this morning, “The church is not a building, the church is not the steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”)

Ok, I admit I’m still struggling a bit with this individual vs. congregation thing. Because Western Christians really really like to emphasize individual responsibility, individual faith, individual calling. If we say that each person comes to faith in God on their own and grows in faith, and enjoys their faith walking in the woods, in what sense do we agree with Paul when he says God dwells in the people, in the congregation as a whole?

I take Paul’s words as a challenge – just as it was to the people in Corinth, a challenge to my/our self-centeredness, a challenge to my/our self-absorption, a challenge to my/our individualism. I take Paul’s words as a challenge to us to find a deeper spirituality, a deeper humility, a more real unity in this crazy polarized time.

 

So, here’s my last point this morning. when Paul says that God dwells in the temple and locates that temple in the community, in the people of God, he was writing in the first century, and he was making the same radical move that other Jews were making at that time. As they saw the Temple in Jerusalem under siege and being destroyed, they began to understand that God was not located in just one place, the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem. They began to sense God’s sacred presence in the synagogue and in the church, in the whole community of God, and in the local community of God.

Jews and Gentiles alike in the first century became clear that God is not a private God. People can have individual experiences of God, but God is not a private God. We can experience God’s presence in our own body, we can experience God’s presence in our own prayer and meditation, our own lives, but Paul and the early communities of faith still challenge us and goad us to be clear – there’s something special about what happens when we gather as a congregation. God dwells among the gathered community and that is a powerful reminder that God desires the wholeness and unity of God’s people.

So another time, we can talk about the sacredness of the body, about how God lives in us individually. We sing about it while we declare the message in the community, in the congregation. For today we want to follow Paul, in declaring the importance of knowing that the community is a sacred place that belongs definitively to God and not to any particular leader.

Responsive hymn  2228 Sacred the Body