St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Trinity, August 8, 2021
“And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. And he taught daily in the temple.”
DID YOU EVER enter a stand of giant redwoods, sequoias of the Sierras or those of the Pacific coast range, massive columns rising to where they are beyond view? The open areas between are tastefully planted with fern and rhododendron, the hush of that sacred space, amid lives thousands of years old, still your thoughts. In your spirit you feel a cathedral. A circle of redwoods feels just like a temple.
There is no true temple, and there are a great many temples in this world. The Temple that once graced Jerusalem hasn’t stood for almost 2,000 years. Once it was a tent, packed along with the wandering tribes of Israel. David sought God’s permission to build a permanent structure in his newly won city. He purchased a site, obtained materials, then set his son to build it. Solomon’s Temple was built of stone and cedar in 1005 BC. The gold and silver in its adornment would value $3 billion today. It stood 400 years before the Babylonians toppled, burned and looted it. It was a wonder of the world. Within its walls was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant held Moses’ tablets of the Law.
After the exile, in 520 BC., Zerubbabel built a new Temple, and although its glory couldn’t match the first, his Temple would be the center of worship for another 465 years. 15 years before the birth of Christ, King Herod built a third Temple on its foundation. When the baby Jesus was presented there, its purpose was fulfilled. God had come into His Temple. The Romans completely destroyed it in 70 AD.
A Temple is not just a Jewish place of worship. Temples are built for many religions and are the places where people go to meet their idea of a god or gods. The ruins of the oldest temple that still can be found are in southern Turkey, 11,000 years old. There are Ziggurats of Babel, Egyptian temples at Luxor, the Parthenon above Athens, temples of the Germans and Norsemen, Zoroastrian fire temples at Yazd, golden Sikh temples, Hindu temples dating to the Bronze Age, and Asian Temples to the Buddha. Christianity and Islam have places of worship, but are careful not to call them Temple. Jews have no temple on earth at present. There is only one place for it. Today, the Temple Mount is occupied by the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Islamic sacred sites.
Why don’t we call this church a temple? A temple is the place God lives. You go to Temple because God is there. If we offered Christianity as one of many consumer choices of religion, it would reduce what we know to be a mere contest of ideas, philosophies, and theories. A belief system. That was not what Jesus offered the world, dying on His cross.
A week before His crucifixion He led His disciples to the gates of Jerusalem, and He paused, gazing at this ancient citadel and its Temple. He cried. “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44 Jesus could see destruction coming. Had Israel embraced its Messiah, welcomed Him in the halls of its Temple—things might have been different. Nothing of that kind occurred. His death became our life. Still, it was sad to make the Son of God weep, looking down on His own Temple that would reject Him.
His own Temple was filled with hawkers, profitable businessmen doing high trade on the requirements for sacrifice in the one place on earth it might be done to Jehovah. No other animals passed inspection. No other money was allowed in the treasuries. The exchange rates were exorbitant. The profits were shared with the priests, who issued permits to vendors. Jesus walked into the noise-filled courtyard.
We imagine never seeing Jesus as violent, the most passive person ever. But see Him here, shouting angrily, smashing cages holding doves, tearing down fences for sheep, throwing tables in the air as stacks of coins rocket into the sky. He fashions a whip of chords and begins to drive them with lashes on their backs. “It is written, 'My house isa house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'” What’s upset Him so?
Exclusivity is a problem with a Temple. You must go there, and for the Jews throughout the world, it was a long and expensive trip. Still, they were required to attempt the journey, whether from Alexandria, or Rome, or Arabia, or Persia. We read names of distant lands at Pentecost, from around the compass, Jews having to come to Jerusalem, the one Temple on earth where sacrifices could be offered to their God. Like Moslems going on their Hajj, the required pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s a big world. Religions are no longer local phenomena, and the least local of all is the Church of Jesus Christ.
A sharp difference from all other spiritual paths that’s baked into Christianity is that our path was always meant for the entire world. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…”Matt 28:19 ‘All nations’ is a staggering requirement. This was not an ethnic expression, the religion of one people group, tribe, or locale. The true God made all the world—and all the world should return to Him. How could that be local? So, how could our place of worship be at only one address?
On a day Jesus’ authenticity was challenged, He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” John 2:18-21 Jesus’ Body rose from the grave and later ascended into heaven. If He is the Temple, how do we gain access to Him? Quite simply. He said, “The Spirit of truth … shall be in you.” John 14:16-17
If the Spirit of God lives in you, then you are yourself the Temple. St. Paul made that quite clear. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and thatthe Spirit of God dwells in you? … For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” 1 Cor 3:16-17
Now, if Christians are all Temples, there is no need to build one unique place of worship. Why, then, are we here in this building? This is called a church, not a temple. The word Church means a gathering or assembly of those called out of the world. The church building is the place we gather and worship in loving unity. Christ’s Body still on earth is the collective living organism of all true believers. His Temple resides in us, but we are not single religions, one by one. We are each part of a faithful system turned right side out, that was once outside in.
A Temple, the place mere people went to meet God, was the inverse of what God designed for our ultimate relationship with Him. He didn’t want only to speak to His beloved children through one gifted and obedient servant, a prophet or priest who heard Him, while no one else could or would. He didn’t wish to carve His will in stone to be displayed and debated, or disobeyed, hanging on the wall in a shrine. He wanted all human hearts to be His home. Our hearts are His Temples, and we may all meet Him in here, no matter where we are. That sacred meeting is for ourselves, at any time, in prayer, in silence, in meditation on scriptures, in distress, in peace, in the morning, late at night. His will, His commands are inscribed within our hearts where we may read them in solitude.
However, because we are fallible, and vulnerable to the world, the flesh and the devil, we need to come together for worship, instruction and fellowship. We can’t have communion alone—even I, an ordained priest, may never consecrate or receive Holy Communion if I am alone. We need each other. We are commanded to love each other at a high level. The faith of Christ has turned the Temple right side out. God within each of us; all of us worshipping Him in community.
There is no temple, and there are a great many temples in this world. In Jerusalem the Temple where the baby Jesus and His parents walked, where He was proclaimed by Simeon and Anna, where He whipped and chased vendors, rebuked priests, taught eternal wisdom, and 30 pieces of silver spread over the stone floor where Judas threw them away… that Temple has been gone 1,950 years.
But you are His Temple, every bit as holy, quite filled with God Almighty, His Holy Spirit. Don’t you know you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? We were dead in our sins, once. Today we are alive. He has turned these tombs into temples, and former ghosts into the Holy Ghost’s Tabernacle.
What then do you do with this knowledge? Pollution comes from more than the physical smoke of our annual wildfires. Global warming is nothing in comparison to global apostacy. The culture is raging with anarchy, narcissism, newly-conceived rights that are wrong, a growing nihilism, packaged as entertainment, a happy meal, a pill we are all to swallow. To be members of this brave new world, we are encouraged to swallow it, comply, cooperate, tolerate, acquiesce. Don’t. You are the Temple of Yahweh, God’s Holy Spirit. Your body, your mind, your heart is holy, separated from the world, set apart for Him alone. Don’t suck these fumes in. Draw a line, be different, lovingly refuse to go along. We are meant to be the antidote to all that is suffocating our planet. We are not destined to die with it.
When you leave here today, remember. You didn’t go to church this morning and then leave. For the living Temple of God goes with you, for He is within you, and as He is holy, so you are holy.