140302 – The Holy House of God

Yr A ~ Transfiguration ~ 1 Cor 3:10-11, 15-23

Today is actually Transfiguration Sunday, and although I haven’t built the service around it I am going to start my message there. Transfiguration is one of my favourite gospel stories because it’s all about Jesus having an incredible mystical experience. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray and while there he is transfigured, transformed, his face is aglow, his clothes become a dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appear alongside him. It’s a movie special effects team’s dream! All that’s missing is the chorus of angels chanting and the fog machine chugging away.holy-house-of-god

You can imagine the three disciples falling to their knees in wonderment and awe trying to understand what they’re seeing. And you can sympathize with poor impulsive Peter who blurts out “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Mt 17:4)

That’s the piece I want us to think about. It seems to be hard wired into us that when we have a profound spiritual experience we want to build a church on the spot to commemorate it. Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all built altars where God appeared to them. Moses had a tent that they travelled with where God hung out. David wanted to build a temple but God told him no, and then David’s son Solomon came along and did it anyway.

We say that we can experience God anywhere, and that’s absolutely true, but we also have this instinct to build temples and churches for that specific purpose. There’s nothing wrong with building churches. I’m pro-church! I love churches. But I don’t love that too often the church building becomes the thing instead of the thing that helps us experience the real thing!Here’s where Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians really helps. 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” The ‘you’ here is plural. He’s saying that you the church, the gathered people, the community of individuals who together form the body of Christ, you collectively are God’s temple. God’s Spirit does not dwell in buildings, it dwells in you.

You are the church. If this church blew up or burned down tomorrow you would still be the church. We are church. God’s Spirit dwells in us! But it isn’t just us collectively, it’s also us individually. We cannot collectively be something we aren’t personally capable of being. You, individually, personally, are God’s temple. God’s Spirit dwells in you. So, we are church, but it’s also important to know that “I am church. I am God’s temple. God’s Spirit dwells in me!” Say that with me…

Now, think about what you just said.
Think about the reverence and respect you give to a church.
Think about how you treat the building as sacred space and how you think some things are appropriate in it and other things aren’t.
Think about how you regard it as holy ground.

Paul said, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” [1 Cor 3:17]

You are God’s temple. You, and you, and you, and you, and you. So ask yourself:

Do you give reverence and respect to your temple?
Do you treat yourself as sacred space?
Do you regard yourself as holy ground? God does! God loves your temple so much God lives in it! In you!

That ought to blow our minds!
That ought to stagger our imaginations!
That ought to give us pause for how we tend to treat God’s temple! [body]

How different would our churches be if we really understood ourselves as the embodied and incarnated church? How different would our faith journeys be if we really understood our own bodies as God’s holy dwelling place?

The hymn we’ve used as a theme for today speaks of building a house for God. Individually and collectively that is exactly what we’re trying to do. “Let us build a house where love can dwell.” We are the holy house of God. You are the holy house of God. I am the holy house of God. The business of this annual meeting, the reports of all the amazing ministries that emerge from here, the financial matters that keep this physical house of God afloat, all of these things work together to empower and energize the real holy house of God – you and me – and us together.

Like Peter, we’ve had a spiritual experience of Jesus that we probably can’t quite figure out but that’s produced in us a powerful desire to respond. So we build a church – not to confine the Spirit to a building but to give us a place to rally in, to gather in, to worship in. It’s good to have a church and it’s good to celebrate our work as the body of Christ in this place in this time.

You’ve heard our work celebrated today in our annual report.
You’re about to hear about some new initiatives to help us be more effective servants of God here.
You’re about to hear about all the people who are offering themselves in faithful ministry, not filling positions on committees, but engaging in meaningful ministries through our congregation.

And you’re about to hear how much the building, the staff, and the programs all cost and you’ll be invited to contribute your human and financial resources to our collective work. I’m not sure this is what Peter had in mind when he felt the urge to build a church on that mountainside, but it does serve as a place of spiritual nurture and faithful support and service, and that is a very good thing!

And then like Paul, we also understand that this church building is not the point, it’s not the focus, it’s just a tool, a means to an end. The point, the focus, the end, is to BE the church, to embody and incarnate the Spirit, to become living temples wherein the Holy Spirit dwells. If the shells of our church buildings aren’t serving to nurture the holy house of God within each one of us then we ought to get rid of them as soon as possible.

Thankfully, this one does nurture people of The Way, because of you all. This building serves us well in our journey of ever-deepening faith. Our holy house of God helps US to be holy houses of God!

And the best part of this kind of understanding is that you can never leave “this” [body] church behind. You don’t walk out of it after Sunday worship. God’s temple goes with you because it IS you.

What an incredible gift it is to gather in the holy house of God.
What an incredible blessing it is to BE the holy house of God.
What an incredible challenge it is to honour that high calling.

“Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true;
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”

Amen, and amen!