02/23/14 Sermon (February 23, 2013) "We are the Temple of God"

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:43 AM by David Hawkins

02/23/14 Sermon (February 23, 2013)

"We are the Temple of God"

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 (Liturgist)

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,”

and again,

    “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.

Sermon: "We are the Temple of God"             Rev. David Hawkins

Today we find the Apostle Paul still upset over the way that the Corinthian church has become divided between cliques that have formed in it. There are some who follow Apollos, there are some who follow Peter, there are some who follow Paul. There are even some who follow Jesus, if you can believe it.

Now, Paul isn’t saying that any of these particular influences have been wrong. He isn’t saying that Peter has been teaching some kind of heresy or something. He’s not saying that the church should ignore Apollos.

He’s saying that the ways that certain groups within the church have dressed themselves up in the teaching of these individual leaders of the church have made the church weaker, and have diluted the Gospel message. Paul is upset that the church has formed itself into different doctrinal camps, and have created walls between these camps. And worse, these camps have begun to question the validity of each other’s claims to be Christians.

We’re lucky that sort of thing doesn’t happen any more, right?

I mean, wouldn’t that be terrible, if we Christians today would form ourselves into insular little communities according to different ways of interpreting the scripture?  Wouldn’t that be a shame if we started to question whether or not people who think differently than us could actually be Christian?

Paul has spotted a problem in Corinth that will plague the church for two thousand years. There is this  need for us to feel like we and we alone have got it right, when it comes to our faith. That we’ve figured it out, that we have ironed out all the wrinkles. And when we reach that glorious place, when we just know what the Bible is saying to us, and even better, when we just know what the Bible is saying to other people, we end up in a bad place. We end up thinking that we have nothing new to learn. We end up thinking that we are the only ones who know the truth. The real truth. The only truth.

It’s easy to start thinking that our way of thinking about God is the only way. That our personal experience of God is somehow universal, and that anybody who thinks differently, or has encountered God in a different way is somehow not an authentic Christian.

And to strengthen our own position, we tend to cluster around people who think like we do. It is helpful to be in a group that has clearly marked out its theological territory, and speaks the same lingo. What’s the old expression? Birds of a feather tend to excommunicate those with whom they disagree? Something like that.

This is the situation in Corinth, and it is killing the church. These groups are questioning the validity of each other’s beliefs, and the result is suspicion, fear, and division. And even worse, the reality is, each of the groups actually does possess a small amount of the truth.

The problem is, they each think that they possess all of it.

The group that follows Paul, well, they think they’ve got the truth. And who can blame them? Their guy is the Apostle Paul, the greatest theologian ever. How can you not feel good about following Paul? Who can challenge Paul when it comes to God? Nobody, that’s who. He’s got it all locked up tight. Just read all those letters he wrote. And so anybody who disagrees with us is disagreeing with Paul, and what kind of Christian disagrees with Paul? I mean really.

But then you’ve got this whole group of people over here who follow Peter. And for good reasons. Peter was a disciple of Jesus. In fact, Jesus said he would build his church on Peter. Peter was the rock, the one who kept everybody together in the hard days right after Jesus died. Peter was the leader of the church in Rome. If you don’t follow the Bishop of Rome, then how can you call yourself a Christian? It doesn’t make any sense.

And then there is Apollos, the preacher. He was said to be best orator of his time. He makes the gospel message come alive. Because of his charisma and preaching, thousands were being saved. Apollos is the great evangelist, bringing the message of salvation to the world. Anybody who doesn’t follow Apollos must not care about saving souls.

Isn’t it amazing that 2,000 years ago, the foundations for the schisms ripping our Christian faith apart were already being laid?

And Paul sees it coming. And he hates it.

He hates the fact that these cliques in the church, these mini-denominations, have formed. He hates the fact that they have become so attached to their own small part of truth that they are blind to the truths of others. He hates the fact that their differences are splitting the church.

But he especially hates the fact that they are calling into question the validity of each other’s salvation. He detests the fact that these cliques are casting doubt and judgment upon each other, as though they were God, as they knew the fullness of God’s will. This is what really drives Paul nuts.

You know, it’s a pretty remarkable thing that Paul is able to see himself as part of the problem. He recognizes the fact that he himself is seen as one of the leaders of these religious divisions. He sees that his own leadership in the church has inadvertently brought about a crisis.

And he know that he has to do something about it.

And so he goes back to the beginning. He compares the people of God to a house. No wait, even better, a temple. Because anybody can live in a house. But a temple, well, that is where God lives. And so He reminds the church in Corinth that they are the dwelling place of God. Not the building in which they meet. But they, the people, are the dwelling place.

And every temple needs a foundation. And for Christians, that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Now Paul recognizes that a temple needs more than just a foundation. It needs walls, and doors and ceilings and a roof. It needs windows, floors, tables, chairs. But first of all it needs a foundation. Without a foundation, the temple can be destroyed. Without a foundation there really is no temple.

Because the temple could catch on fire, couldn’t it? The temple could find itself burnt to the ground by arguments, conflict, accusations, and then what would be left? Just the foundation. But if there is still a foundation, then the temple can be built again.

But if the foundation of the temple is not Jesus Christ, then it doesn’t matter what the rest of the building looks like. It doesn’t matter if it’s got a golden roof, or diamond glass windows, or the best cedar walls and the most beautiful cherry wood floors. If the temple catches fire, and there is no foundation, it will be utterly destroyed.

And so Paul desperately wants the church to remember its foundation. That all the other stuff might be good and true and helpful, but the foundation is what ties it all together.  

The teachings of Peter and Apollos and Paul are all well and good, Paul says. But they only draw their strength from the foundation of Jesus Christ. And because they are based on the foundation, they are not, and cannot be mutually exclusive. The teachings of the leaders of the church are the walls and the doors and the roof of the temple. They provide a space within which the people can live and work, and pray.

And these teachings, these doctrines need to be present in every church. We as a temple need these doctrines and their differences in our ways of thinking. A temple made with only walls will not keep out the rain. A temple made with only ceilings will not keep out the wind. A temple made without tables and chairs will not invite fellowship, and will be a cold and formal place where no one, not even God would want to live.

We need the differences that each of us bring to the temple. We need to be exposed to different ways of thinking about the Bible, about God, about Jesus. We need to be challenged in our thinking, because if we aren’t challenged, our own faith will become weak and uncertain.

We need liberals and conservatives, radicals and peace-keepers, forceful and gentle teachers, intellectual and passionate disciples, young and old church members and people who are all different colors. We need each other in order to more fully become the Temple in which God would be please to dwell.

But church teachings, church doctrine and tradition, regardless of how important and necessary, are still not the foundation of the church. That is always, and only, Jesus Christ. And regardless of the fires that rage above, the foundation is what really counts. And the foundation will always stand.

Now, as you might have guessed, I can’t help but find some parallels between our scripture today and the Church. Especially in these days when churches are leaving the denomination at an alarming rate. Westminster Lubbock left last year, Matthews Memorial down in Albany left last month, and First Amarillo is in the process of leaving.

This is a difficult time for the denomination. We find ourselves in the same position as the church in Corinth, with various factions declaring their own authority and questioning the legitimacy of others. We see churches splitting off over matters of doctrine, of accusing those with whom they disagree with failing to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The temple is on fire. There’s no other way to put it. We are in danger of burning to the ground. I don’t know where or how it will all shake out, but right now, it’s a mess.

And the hardest thing about all this is watching it happen, knowing that all parties are claiming their own version of the truth. And the reality is, everybody involved has a portion of it. The traditionalists have a portion of the truth, the progressives have a portion. The evangelicals have some, the mainline folks have some.

There is truth in all of it, and everyone is just sure that they are standing on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

But for whatever reason, we can’t figure out a way to stand on that foundation together. We have forgotten, or maybe we refuse to remember that we share a common belief in Jesus Christ. It’s easier to believe that we alone are faithful, that we alone remain true. And that the others have abandoned the essential tenets of our our faith.

And it’s tearing the church apart.

But, there is hope.

Paul knows what’s going to happen if the people can’t remember the foundational beliefs they share. He knows what will happen if doctrinal purity gets in the way of relationships that are based on Jesus Christ.

But even more than that he knows that whatever does happen, there is still a chance for reconciliation.

Because even this present difficult time belongs to God. All of the division, the arguing, the accusations, the hard feelings, they belong to God. Paul, Apollos, Peter. The left, the right. The evangelicals, the mainline. The church, and all those in it, belong to God, whether they stay in the PCUSA or not.

This is what we can hang onto in the middle of our church chaos. That the teachings of Apollo, and Paul, and Peter, and the PCUSA, and Evangelical Covenant order of Presbyterians, and those with whom we agree, and those with whom we disagree, all belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

It’s a weird time to be a Presbyterian, let’s not deny it.

But this is not the first time in the life of the church that it has been threatened by discord, or by schism, or by our own ability to get along with each other.

The church will continue, because it is not based on our own ideas about what the church should do, or be, or say, or think. The church will continue because it is built on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And nothing, not even the fires of hell can destroy the temple of God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.