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Saturday, 22 February 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48 We Are God's Temple

The passage from 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 is a continuation of Paul’s discussion with the church at Corinth, but the focus is now on the necessity of unity among believers. When Paul refers to the body as a temple, he was referring to the Corinthian church as a whole, and as the temple of God the Holy Spirit rested on each and every member.

There is a parallel in our lives. We are also God’s temple in that we are to be God’s agents in our world. In order for us to do that work, we need the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. When it does, we will have a happy and fulfilling life provided that we follow God’s instructions. As one small child told his father, the word Bible stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”

Before we can build that temple in our lives, we need to build a firm foundation. That foundation is faith in Jesus. Next, we have to use only good building material. This material is our testimonies-not only in speaking to others, but also in how we live our lives. If we build our lives out of the good things we will be better able to lead others to Christ. Our faith must be built on the solid foundation of God’s Word. God is our refuge and strength, especially in times of trouble. He gives us wisdom, especially when we don’t expect to receive it. His love keeps our hearts alive. God lives in our hearts and minds.  

When God lives in us, we know who we are. The Holy Spirit gives us a sense of identity. He will be with us all the time and in every situation. He guides and comforts us. We belong to him. We know who we are. In order for God to live in us, we are called to the radical life called discipleship. It is just beyond our grasp and yet it is powerful enough to pull us away from our earthly, contented life.

We are called to build a life of faith that is based on the foundation we have in Jesus Christ. If we do, we will be rewarded with a good life-a life that God will give us. The benefits of this life will be a church and a world that live up to the highest purposes. We will also be able to withstand life’s challenges. If a crisis takes something from us, it can still work for our salvation. It will show us what is important in our lives. As the old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.

The foundation of the temple is to be united. Christ is not to be divided, and neither is his church. The foundation is not built around individual leaders. We need to work together. After all, if we can’t get along with each other, how can we draw people to Christ? We need to build bridges so we can preach the Gospel not only with our words but with our deeds. We need to build bridges within our own culture and community. We need to work together and use our individual gifts to build up the church. We must use God’s gifts, but not hoard them. We are to embrace them and share them. When we work together, we can hold each other accountable for our actions, and we can also work miracles. Human wisdom is foolish because it divides the church. God’s wisdom unites the church’s foundation. If we follow God’s wisdom, we will be foolish in the eyes of the world, but we will be wise in the eyes of God.  

The building of God’s temple within ourselves is an ongoing process. God is the builder. As part of the process, we must remember that we are still children of God. We have to do our part in the building process by doing things such as praying and attending Bible study and worship. We also need to work with other members of the body of Christ. We can’t do it alone. We must also continue making moral and ethical decisions in light of our Christian faith. These decisions can never be separated from our spiritual life. We need to keep on doing what is right even though we are still “under construction.” We need to look forward to the experiences and full life that God will give us.

The Holy Spirit can’t enter us unless we see ourselves as sinners and God as a God who saves. He wants people who say “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” and who believe that He is merciful because of Christ’s death and resurrection. God needs people who know that they need him and who are willing to share him. God’s house of faith is built when we follow God’s plan by serving others.

The cornerstone of the foundation that is God’s temple within us is the Apostle’s Creed. We can stand behind the beliefs it states because on the road of life there is a need to know that our sins are forgiven, to have our faith affirmed and to bury our deceased loved ones in the sure and certain hope that we will rise to be with Christ in another world.  

When God’s temple is built within us, boundaries between neighbours and non-neighbours are removed. There are no limits on those we are to love. For example, a small rural church with an average attendance of only thirty people received a visitor one Sunday-a mother with a young child. The child had special needs that required round-the-clock medical care. At first some of the members were upset by the depth of this family’s need. Others found the situation disruptive to their worship experience.

Slowly church members were trained to help care for the child. The mother was grateful for the help and could run errands or get some much needed rest. The few children in the church would talk to the mother and child. The men made the family’s home more accessible. The caring congregation changed the mother’s life, and the acts of kindness also changed the congregation. Worship attendance began to increase, the spirit of the congregation became more positive, and soon other families with young children began attending that church. Congregations that learn to treat others with the love of Christ attract people who are searching for a genuine sense of community.

This is a good lesson for all of us who attend this church to learn. For example, I recently spoke to one person who used to attend the 8:00 AM Service on Sunday morning before it was stopped last fall. This person is looking forward to the resumption of the 8:00 AM service next month because this particular person is bothered when the children’s talk at our 11:00 AM service is too long! To me, this clearly states that we as a church have more work to do to build the temple of God within each one of us.  

The church in Corinth lost its first love—love for Jesus. They kept up their spiritual activities, but the key ingredient of love was missing. They were consumed by loyalty to different leaders. The same problem exists in churches today. Many members are so obsessed with rules, committees, programs and personal agendas that they do not serve Christ in love. As a result, they have lost their mission and vision-to show God’s love to people in a hurting, sin-filled world. Instead, we are to celebrate a unity beyond uniformity and a diversity beyond divisions.

Jesus doesn’t call on us to manufacture love for someone we don’t like or may even hate. Instead, we are to do good for a person, even if that person is our enemy. We are also to do more than what is required by law or tradition. We are to “go the extra mile”. We are to treat everyone equally. This standard is not easy to live up to, and when we fail to live up to it, we must fall back on God’s grace. We are not called on to be perfect or holy like God is. We are called on to imitate God’s love and reject the world’s ways and standards of living. God loves everyone-the good and the bad, sinners, the poor and so on-and so should we. The readings for today remind us that we have work to do in our relationships with our fellow human beings before we can truly prepare ourselves for worship. We are called by Christ to be better than we are because we have fallen short of what we can be because of our sinful, human nature. Sometimes he asks us to do the impossible, but when he does, he makes the impossible possible.

We are to do more than what is required by law or traditions or everyone else. We must share with the world more than what the others share. We must show more compassion for the needy than others do. We need to be more committed to the causes of peace and justice than others are. These are not requirements that we have to find the will to meet. They are the desires we have to fulfill that come from God’s love. That love comes from surrendering our lives to God.

The key to God’s temple is our faith. It keeps us close to God because the Holy Spirit will live in us just like God lived in the temple in ancient Israel. The Holy Spirit assures us that in our relationship with Jesus we can do what he did and now tells us to do-be generous to the needy, do not retaliate when hurt or offended, pray for those who persecute us and forgive our enemies. The only way we can do this is by making sure that God’s temple within us is filled with love, especially the love Christ showed here on earth.

Thanks be to God, AMEN

Bibliography

1.      Abingdon Commentary. Retrieved from www.esermons.com

2.      Dr. J. Howard Olds, “Work.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

3.      James Merritt, “Foundation for the Future.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

4.      Dr. J. Howard Olds, “Embracing an Endless Life of Servants.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

5.      King Duncan, “You are God’s Temple.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

6.      Maxie Dunnam, “Magnificent Fools.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

7.      James L. Killen, Jr., “The Record.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

8.      Richard A. Hasler, “Play the Fool.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

9.      Timothy J. Smith, “Building a Solid Foundation.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

10.  James L. Killen, Jr., “Still Under Construction.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

11.  Pastor Ken Klaus, “The Word for the New Year.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org

12.  Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 7th Sunday (A), Feb. 20, 2011”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org

13.  Exegesis for Matthew 5:38-48. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org

14.  Ed Stetzer, “How the Church Can Be Agents of Change”. Retrieved from www.christianity.com/edstetzer/2014/february/how-church-can-be-agents-of-change.html

15.  Chris Keating, “Turning Out Violence by Turning the Other Cheek.” Retrieved from www.sermonsuite.com

16.  Lectionary Scripture Notes, Epiphany 7, OT 7, Cycle A. Retrieved from www.sermonsuite.com

17.  John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, 7th Sunday After Epiphany, Year A. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org

18.  Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Enduring Love.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org

19.  Daniel B. Clendenin, Ph.D., “The People of God as a Positive Social Epidemic”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net

20.  Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 7th Sunday (A) February 23, 2014.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org

21.  Dave Risendal, “You Have Heard that It Was Said…But I Say to You.” Retrieved from http://onelittleword.org/?p=2353

22.  SeasonFUSION Tip for February 23, 3014. Retrieved from tips@seasonsonline.ca

23.  Christine Havens, “Bible Study: 7 Epiphany (A)”. Retrieved from http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com

24.  The Rev. Danae Ashley, “Stone Soup.” Retrieved from http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com

25.  Living the Lectionary, “Epiphany 7 A-Leviticus 19:1-18.” Retrieved from phil@calvaryftw.org

 

 

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