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The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
February 23, 2014
The Epistle: I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Sermon: "Body Building"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
"He catches the wise in their craftiness,"
"The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile."
So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-- all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Sometime back I read a “Top Ten” list of the Bible’s all-time hits. It included great verses for memorizing. Among them was one from our Epistle lesson this morning. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them. For God’s temple in holy, and that temple you are.” (I Cor. 16-17)
I think it’s a great verse too, but for a different reason than the one I grew up with. If you grew up in a good Temperance home, as I did, then you know the interpretation that has always been associated with this verse. “Don’t ever drink or smoke or chew, or go out with the girls that do.” In my Sister’s case it was “the boys that do” that she was to avoid.
It reminds me of that televangelist who, after delivering a sermon on this interpretation, invited folks to send in letters sharing their Christian witness about this verse. One man wrote, “I’m glad to write to you about my Christian life. I don’t smoke. I don’t touch alcohol. I don’t gamble. I am faithful to my wife and never even look at another woman. I work hard. I never go to the movies. I go to bed early every night, and I rise with the dawn every morning. I’ve been living this way for three years now, and I can’t wait until they let me out.”
There is, however, another way of interpreting this text. It’s actually more in keeping with its context. Here, Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about their conflicts. Some are claiming to be followers of Paul. Others are claiming to be followers of Apollos, a skilled preacher much admired in the early church. In other words, some are still linked to one former pastor while others are linked to another. Paul counsels them, as we heard in our Epistle lesson last week, this way. “Who is Paul?” Who is Apollos?” Paul, he says of himself, plants and Apollos waters, but it is God alone who gives the growth. Then Paul changes the metaphor. Paul laid the foundation at Corinth, he says, then Apollos built upon it even as still another is building on that foundation now. The foundation, of course, is Christ as we talked about a couple of weeks ago; and the foundation is all that really matters.
It is in this context then that Paul writes this amazing verse. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?” In this context we now see that Paul is not just talking about them as individual believers , about their personal morality, but about who they are all together as a body of believers. They are, together, God’s temple, and together they are body-builders; building the body. So what does this verse now say to you and me? Let me share three important things it says to us.
The first important thing is this: The Church is a living body. “This is the Church,” goes the old Sunday School rhyme, “This is the steeple; open the door and see all the nice people.” Of course, when we got to be teenagers, we turned that around. “This is the Church. This is the steeple; open the doors and…hey! Where’d everybody go?” Despite its lack of reverence, the teenage version is nearer the truth of the matter. Without the people, there is no church. That’s because the church is the people. And because it is the people, it is alive; a living organism. The building itself is no more the church than your house is your family. But when your family is there, your house becomes a home. And when the church is here, this building becomes a sanctuary. That’s how the church is its people; a living, breathing, growing, influencing body infused with the Spirit of the Living God. It is vibrant and alive. At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.
A father came upon his son as the young boy was constructing an intricate structure with his blocks. “What is that?” the father asked. “I am building a church,” the boy answered in an almost reverent whisper. “And we must be very quiet,” he added. The father, wanting to encourage this unexpected act of reverence, asked, “And why are we to be quiet in church?” “Because,” the boy replied, “people are sleeping.” Heaven help us if that is how we perceive the church or if that is the way others perceive us. The church of Jesus Christ is to be the most alive, most dynamic, most awake gathering on this planet.
When young St. Francis knelt before the life-sized crucifix in the little tumble-down chapel of St. Damien in Assisi, he heard God’s voice: “Renew my church.” Francis was not sure what that summons meant. Taking it literally, he set about restoring the badly decayed chapel itself. But as others began to join him in the work, forming a community focused on Christ, and as they together began to reach out to the poor and hungry, Francis began to understand that something far more costly was being asked of him. The renewal of the chapel building was only a symbol of what was supposed to be going on in them and around them. God’s call was for the renewal of the interior life of the people, and through that renewal the reaching out to heal the world. That is our summons today as well. We have been blessed with a beautiful building; truly a sanctuary. From time to time there is a need to renew its structure and furnishing. But any such material renewal, as important as it is, as needed as it may be, must always be understood as a reflection, a symbol, of the interior renewal of our lives, and the exterior renewal of our mission and outreach. Together, in this place, we are God’s temple; a living body.
That leads us to the second important thing this morning: the foundation of our temple is Christ Jesus. Jesus is the foundation because it is in him, and in him alone that you and I find forgiveness for our sins. In him we find a new relationship with God. In him we discover that God is a friend and not an enemy. We discover what it means to be at home with God. We discover that God is like Jesus. Where once we expected only rejection, we now know love. Where once we thought there would only be infinite remoteness, we now receive beckoning intimacy.
And, Jesus is the foundation of our temple as well, because, in him we find strength for the present moment. Through the presence and the help of Jesus we find strength and courage to cope with life. We are no longer isolated units fighting a lonely battle with an adverse universe. We now live a life in which nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. He walks the ways of life and fights the battles of life with us. As his temple, we all go together.
Jesus is the foundation, because, in him we find hope. We no longer live in a world in which we are afraid to look forward. We live in a world where God goes with us, where God is working all things toward a good end, where our times are ultimately and finally in God’s hands. In Jesus, we live in a world where death is no longer the unbeatable enemy, but only the prelude to a new and greater glory. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our temple.
That leads us to the third important thing this morning: you and I are Christ’s building blocks. We build on a foundation that others have laid. You’re all familiar with the Clydesdales, of course, those huge horses. Just one of those draft horses can move two tons of weight. But, two of those horses, working together in harness, can move twenty-three tons of weight. That is the strength of the Church. When we work together, we can perform miracles. Literally! That is why Jesus said, “Whenever two or three of you ask for anything in my name, it will be granted.” Not one person asking alone, but two or three agreeing and then asking, and then working together.
In one of the great seminaries of our land, in the dining hall, there is a seemingly insignificant picture prominently displayed. It is a small pen and ink drawing given a large wall all to itself for display. From a distance it is clearly a sketch of an ordinary church building. But as you get closer, and really look at the detail, there is an amazing discovery to make. The little church building is actually made up entirely of the names of the members of its congregation. The artist had written them in such a way as to form the walls, windows and other important parts of the structure. The church, that drawing was saying to all of us, its innate components, is you and me. We are individually its building blocks, and collectively its construction.
For us, the central event in human history is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are inspired by his example. But much more than that, we are empowered by his presence in our lives. Our perspective on history is unique. We focus on our interior life with him, and we focus on the needs of the world outside. But we always view it all from the foot of the cross. In everything we do we pray that we do it in the love and spirit of Christ.
Jesus’ last words to his disciples were, “Go make disciples…” In other words, as God called to St. Francis, and has called to saints in every age, “Renew my church.” Be a building block, a body builder. Let us work toward the goal that Christ has set before us; building on the foundation that Paul laid, and Apollos watered, and millions of saints through the ages, including many we have personally known and loved, added to that. God’s temple is still happening, still growing, still changing. And you and I are part of it. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?” God’s temple: together, that’s who you and I are.