Saturday, January 17, 2009

Taking Care of the Temple

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

I don’t like to meddle in people’s lives, that is, unless, of course, they’re family members. That’s a whole different story! The reason I don’t like meddling from the pulpit is that when you start pointing fingers at the moral and ethical lapses of your church members, they’ve been known to point fingers back at you. So, when it comes to things like sex and food and drink – I try to leave things well enough alone. Of course, Paul doesn’t have any of my qualms. He’s quite happy to point fingers, and he isn’t afraid of having them pointed back at him. Alas, he’s braver than me!

1. The Personal: Sex, food, and Other Addictions

The Corinthian letters, one of which we’re dealing with today, deal with a lot of moral and ethical issues. It seems that this church had more than its share of problems, with and sex and food right at the top of their list of concerns. It shouldn’t be surprising to us that this congregation struggled with what we would call addictive behaviors. That’s because Corinth was the Vegas of its day. As they said back then: “What happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth.” Like Vegas, its “temples” specialized in prostitution. So maybe it’s not surprising that Paul’s message of grace and freedom was misunderstood and misapplied.

The Corinthians were well known for their slogans. “All things are lawful” and “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” But Paul said: “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.” He also told them, “I will not be dominated by anything.” Paul’s point, I think, is that even good things can be misused and abused.

Paul’s instructions to this church suggested that they focus on moderation and remember that the physical body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. That body of ours, he says, is holy and sacred, and worthy of being treated with honor and respect. Be careful about what you put in and how you treat it, because it is a gift of God.

2. The Church – Taking Care of the Body of Christ

What Paul says about our physical bodies has implications for another body. Remember that Paul believed that the church is the body of Christ. It is, like the physical body, a Temple of God. I am reading Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians, where he talks about God looking for a body. The reason God doesn’t need images or idols to represent him, is that God has us. God chose Israel to be his people so that the:
“world will know who this God is. God’s reputation is going to depend on them and how they ‘carry’ God’s name.”1

This body of God is sacred, holy, and worthy of honor. Unfortunately, it’s possible that we might abuse this body, even as we abuse our own physical bodies. Bell points out that the Ten Commandments were designed to teach the people how to be a new kind of human being. Like us, they didn’t always do a good job of living out their calling.

Later on in the Corinthian letter, Paul talks about the connectedness of the body. Each of us, he says, has a gift to be used to build up the body and minister to the community (1 Cor. 12:12ff). In the body of Christ, there is great freedom, but while all things might be lawful, not all things are beneficial. The church isn’t, Paul reminds us, a disembodied spirit. Because it has flesh and blood, it can be hurt. So, take care of it and nurture it, so that it will fulfill its purpose.

3. The World – Tending to the Temple of Creation

I want to extend this image just a bit further, so that we can think beyond our own individual lives and beyond the walls of this congregation. Rob Bell talks about living in covenant with a “God who hears the cry of the oppressed and liberates them.” Every commandment, speaks, he says, “to this new found liberation.”
“God is inviting, God is looking, God is searching for a body, a group of people to be the body of God in the world.”2
As the body of God in the world, we listen to the cries of the oppressed and the marginalized, and as God’s missional people we seek to respond.

The week that is ahead of us is full of historic implications for us as individuals, as the people of God, and as citizens of this nation.

On Tuesday the world will watch as a new President takes the oath of office. Whether or not you voted for him, it is an historic event in the history of our nation. A man of African descent will become our leader. It is historic because within Barack Obama’s own lifetime, the struggle for dignity, civil rights, and voting rights has occurred. When he was born, in a number of states it was illegal for his own parents to be married. Theaters, restaurants, schools, and yes churches were segregated. People of color were prevented from voting. So, much has changed, though even with this historic moment, the struggle is not yet over.

Barack Obama takes office at an ominous moment. There are great expectations and many pitfalls in front of him. There is an economy that’s experiencing great distress, while international conflicts swirl around him. There is little time to relax and very little room for error. Whatever our politics, it’s appropriate that we should pray for him and for our nation. In doing so, we serve as priests and provide care for that Temple which is God’s creation.

It seems fitting that this historic inauguration would take place while the nation is celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of us remember him for a dream – though his ministry was much more than a dream – about a day when our nation would be free of racism, poverty, and war. This inauguration is partial fulfillment of that dream, but much remains to be done. As we saw during the election cycle, racism still lives. And Dr. King was concerned not only with racism, he was also concerned about poverty, oppression, and war – things God is also concerned about. His life gave direction to the church and to the world. He helped us understand what it means to take care of the body – which is God’s creation. He prophetically pointed out that the way we treat the body expresses our understanding of that body. It was his calling to remind us that too often we as a people have prostituted ourselves to a culture of violence, bigotry, hatred, and conceit.

And so at this historic moment, I am both hopeful and concerned. I’m hopeful because we as a nation did choose a man of African descent to be our president. I think Dr. King would be pleased.

While I’m hopeful, I’m also concerned because I see in our land a growing intolerance and incivility – especially toward the immigrant and the “alien.” I’m concerned because in difficult economic times the poor often get left further behind and communities set themselves up against each other. I’m worried as well about a war that has many fronts and that could continue on without an end.

The good news is that God has a body – and we are that body. Prophets, like Dr. King and Jeremiah and Amos and Isaiah, continually remind us that it’s important to take care of the Temple – which is the body.

As God’s missional body, we’ve been called on to be Jesus’ holy presence in the world. That calling begins with our very persons – that is, the way we treat the Temple, which is our body. It extends further into the community of faith that gathers together to live out God’s promises. Finally, it extends out further into the community, the nation, and the world, which is the Temple of God’s creation. This isn’t just a dream. It’s a calling from God.

1. Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Zondervan, 2008), p. 34.

2. Bell and Golden, p. 34-35.

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
January 18, 2009

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great article!