Tuesday, February 21, 2017

You Are God's Temple; All Y'all

I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
February 19, 2017

            When I read the text from I Corinthians for today, I remembered vividly the first time I heard someone describe the body as a temple. It was Goldie Hawn who used this metaphor. She was a guest on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” My mother was a watcher of late night talk shows. She loved Jack Paar, Steve Allen, and she definitely watched Johnny Carson. I was a kid when Goldie made this statement on late night television, but I was sick, so I was curled up on the couch in our den, feeling miserable, watching The Tonight Show with my mom.
            I don’t remember the exact context that surrounded Goldie’s comment. I imagine she was referring to caring for one’s physical self. Your body is a temple, and how do you treat a temple? You put good, healthy, nutritious things into it. That way your body, your temple, will respond by becoming and remaining strong and healthy.
            Perhaps I have not been putting good things into this temple lately, or perhaps it was just a matter of time, but this past week I was sick, like I was when I watched that interview with Goldie Hawn. I fell victim to the plague that has been sweeping Shawnee and the nation, so it would seem. I have to admit that when my brain could focus, I spent some time thinking that my particular temple had been cursed. I vacillated between wishing for the apparent curse to be lifted, or just be over with already. It was a rough week.
            But I was reminded of an important fact – more important than Goldie Hawn on The Tonight Show – and that was that I am not solely responsible for everything working or everything failing. We had a Service for Wholeness on Friday. I could not have led it no matter what. But Alice could and she did, beautifully from what I understand. Yesterday, the session gathered at the big church to do another walk through concerning the contents. What stays? What goes? I arrived. I stayed long enough to walk through my office, and I left. And the work continued without me.
            I realize that I could be preaching myself out of a job here. You could be thinking to yourselves, “You are so right, Pastor Amy, our work continues whether you are here or not, so how about not?!” Obviously, I hope that my presence is still somewhat necessary to our life together, but I think a danger courted by those of us in leadership positions is thinking and believing that I am the church. If I am not there, everything will fall apart. If I am not present, the congregation will not know what to do. All services will have to be cancelled! All programs will have to be scrapped! All plans will be waylaid! Because I am the pastor and I am the church! I am God’s temple!
            No. When Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you,” I do not believe that he was charging individual leaders with the responsibility of being the foundation of the particular congregations for whom they were shepherds. And that’s a good thing. Yet, I also do not believe that Paul would have agreed with another popular interpretation of his words. You, individual believer, you are God’s temple.
            It isn’t that each of us does not bear the spark of the divine in our very being. But Paul was not referring to a privatized temple or a privatized faith. As one commentator wrote, our God is not a private God. No, Paul’s you was plural.
            So to avoid confusion, let’s insert “y’all” for “you.”
            “Do y’all not know that y’all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in y’all? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and y’all are that temple.”
            That’s right. Y’all! Plural. We are God’s temple. The temple is not a building. The temple is not a structure. It is us. It is a gathered community. It is in the relationship between God and us, and between us, all of us. According to N. T. Wright, God has been trying to dwell with us since the Garden. When God, through Moses, led the Israelites out of Egypt, God made his dwelling a tabernacle. In John’s gospel, when the Word became flesh and dwelled with us, what is really being said is that God tabernacled with us. The tabernacle was more than just a humble tent, set up in the midst of the people of God. It was God’s dwelling. When the temple was built in Jerusalem, it was believed that God dwelt there. With Christ, crucified and resurrected, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God’s dwelling was no longer fixed to a single place. One commentator put it this way, God’s Spirit was on the loose. God’s Spirit is on the loose, and that Spirit dwelled in the people in Corinth, making of their community a temple. God’s Spirit is on the loose here, making of us a temple as well.
            Y’all are God’s temple. We are God’s temple. But here’s the proverbial rub. If I understand Paul correctly, what he was trying to make the Corinthians understand was that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was not just in one group or one faction. The Holy Spirit did not dwell only in those who considered themselves to be Paul’s people. It did not dwell only in those who were well-educated or in those who were not. It did not dwell only in those who were professionals, or those who were day laborers. It did not dwell exclusively in those who were rich or in those who were poor. God’s Spirit dwelled in all of them. They were all God’s temple. You are God’s temple; all y’all.
            It seems to me that understanding all y’all is critical to understanding Paul’s words, not just in this particular chapter, but in his understanding of the Church. What is the Church? It is a community of believers, people who have recognized God’s indwelling Spirit. It is not reserved for one kind of believer over another. The Holy Spirit crosses every boundary and jumps every border we try to construct between us. God’s temple is not just a few, it is all y’all.
            Our other readings today seem to also highlight the crucial understanding of all y’all. Leviticus speaks of the treatment of the poor and the alien, the laborer, the neighbor. Matthew speaks of the evildoer, righteous and the unrighteous, tax collectors and Gentiles. In other words, even the Other is included in all y’all.  
            You are God’s temple; you and those who look like you.
            You are God’s temple; you and those who do not. All y’all.
            You are God’s temple; those who believe as you do, interpret the scriptures as you do.
            You are God’s temple; those who believe differently; those who disagree with your interpretations. All y’all.
            You are God’s temple; those who are conservative.
            You are God’s temple; those who are liberal. All y’all.
            You are God’s temple; those who want contemporary worship, with bands and words on the screen.
            You are God’s temple; those who want traditional worship, with an organ, a piano and a hymnal. All y’all.
            You are God’s temple; you Presbyterians.
            You are God’s temple; you Pentecostals. All y’all.
            You are God’s temple; you Lutherans, children of Luther.
            You are God’s temple; you Methodists, children of Wesley. All y’all.
            You are God’s temple; those who are rich. You are God’s temple; those who are poor. All y’all.
            You are God’s temple; those who benefit from society. You are God’s temple; those who are oppressed by it. All y’all.
            All y’all. We are God’s temple. Does this mean that we can do anything, say anything, even if it contradicts the way Jesus called us to live out our faith? Does this mean that we are God’s temple, even if we harm or oppress or ignore the least of these? No. I don’t think so. But once again, this is a reminder of God’s wisdom versus the world’s wisdom. The world’s wisdom says stick with your own kind. God’s wisdom says over and over and over again, all y’all.
            Thanks be to God.

            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

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