Last Epiphany A

February 13, 2017

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 5:38-48

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 119:33-40

    Author: Stan Mast

  • Lectionary Epistle

    1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    The wonder of grace.  That is what this brief passage is all about.  At the end of these verses Paul once again loops back to previously sounded themes about the wisdom of the world versus the apparent foolishness of the cross.  He also hits for a third time the silliness of the Corinthians in balkanizing and forming factions by choosing this or that human leader as their primary champion.  We have looked at that already in recent sermon starters here at the Center, and if you have been preaching through 1 Corinthians lately, you need not loop back to all that in yet another sermon.

    Instead, we focus on a jaw-dropping message: by the grace of God and by no small a miracle, each one of us has become a walking, talking, breathing Temple of no less than God’s own Holy Spirit.  Each of us is a mini-Temple and together as any given congregation we create an even bigger Temple, a bigger concentration of the presence of God himself in the midst of his people.

    In a recent speech given at Calvin College’s The January Series, N.T. Wright did a magisterial job of showing how this Temple talk here in 1 Corinthians 3 is part and parcel of a Bible-wide narrative that began in Genesis 1 and that will conclude in Revelation 21-22.  For those with eyes to see, Wright noted, the creation account in Genesis 1 is God’s very intentional, very careful setting up of a Holy Temple in Eden, a place into which God intended to move with his divine presence so that he could then also live side by side with the human beings who bore his very image.

    Of course, sin disrupted this first Temple and so God had to make do.  And he does.  In the Book of Exodus—which does not merely follow Genesis sequentially in the canon of Scripture but that is in fact a direct SEQUEL to Genesis—God has now increased his covenant people and no sooner does he free them from captivity and give them his Law and he immediately launches into those chapters in Exodus we tend to skip: long and detailed architectural instructions for building a Tabernacle.  Moses then follows those elaborate instructions and builds this portable tent/Tabernacle.

    And if by Genesis 3 already we saw the tragedy of God’s having to move out of his creation Temple due to the sin of Adam and Eve, Exodus 40 gives us new hope as the glory of God’s very presence engulfs and fills the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  God is once again dwelling amongst his people.  Exodus 40 shows a small undoing of the tragedy of Genesis 3.

    That was temporary, though, and eventually the Tabernacle would be succeeded by a Temple in Jerusalem, the key place in which was that Holy of Holies with the Mercy Seat atop the Ark of the Covenant.  From there God dwelled in Zion and ruled his people—and really all the earth.  We need not rehearse the sad subsequent history of Israel nor the sad, sad picture we get in Ezekiel when the prophet sees the glory Presence of God departing the Temple and moving up into the hills around Zion.  Sin has once again torn the fabric of God’s relationship with his people.  It’s a bit of an echo of Genesis 3 all over again.

    But God was not done.  Someone was coming who would start to bring the glory back.  And it was the Evangelist John who connects the dots for us when he frames up the incarnation of God’s holy Word / Son in the words of John 1:14: “The Word was made flesh and TABERNACLED among us, full of grace and truth and we have seen his GLORY.”  Jesus is now the incarnate Tabernacle / Temple of God (as John’s heavily theologized Gospel account makes plain) but even he is not the end point of God’s desire to dwell once again in all creation.

    The Spirit will come at Pentecost and when this happens—and as Paul makes plain in 1 Corinthians 3—all believers become living Temples of this very Spirit as God has made a major advance to the fullness of his dwelling again on the earth and with his people.  And to see that final descent into a New Creation in which there is no Temple because the whole thing just is the Temple of the Lamb of God, then fast forward to Revelation 21.

    It is all finally one big story and as Paul knows and tells the Corinthians, it is all finally also a story of Grace, Grace, Grace.  If we are properly gob smacked by the revelation that each of us now houses something of the divine, we are further bowled over to see that even when we do this imperfectly, we get saved anyway.  The Lectionary asks us to skip verses 12-15.  Granted, Paul’s imagery here is a little odd and this passage could easily be twisted into some works-righteousness scheme of salvation if one were not careful.  But in context it is still all about grace.  God does expect us to build on the solid foundation that just is Christ and his Gospel.  Whether we build mightily and sturdily or poorly and weakly, however, we will still emerge saved because Temples of God’s Holy Spirit are just going to endure with that Spirit one way or the other!

    What a message!  What a comfort!  And what a spectacle whose truth requires a pretty good imagination sometimes.  How hard it is to look out on the average congregation and see Temples.  What we see are some very fit and nicely dressed folks and some rather chubby folks whose fashion sense seems a bit behind the curve.  We see sullen-looking teenagers who look anywhere but the hymnal when it’s time to sing and we see wizened saints who stand several inches shorter than when they were young and in their prime, their old bodies quite literally shrinking down.  We see people with too much make-up, with spikes through nostrils and ear cartilage, with nice complexions and acne-pocked ones.  Blue-eyed, blond, brown-eyed, brunette, red heads, suntans, freckles, bushy hair and bald heads, hearing aids and glasses . . . everybody.  But there they all are, Paul reminds us, an assemblage of just so many Temples of the Holy Spirit.  Graced people all of them, the whole blessed lot of them.

    Now that will preach!

    Note: Sermon resources for Lent and Holy Week are now up on our website:

    Illustration Idea

    Excerpt from a sermon on Exodus 40:

    Imagine it had been possible at any point in Israel’s wilderness wanderings (and starting in Exodus 40) to be able to see a satellite photo of the camp.  Somewhere in the midst of all those rag-tag hovels and tents of God’s desert-wandering people would be what we call the Tabernacle.  And it is highly doubtful that on that satellite image anyone would have cause to see that and then jump up to declare “Holy smoke!  That is where God is living!!”  Nope.  Just a tent.

    As for someone looking at a satellite photo of the scene in Exodus 40, so for us when we look in the mirror, so for anyone who bothers to take a good look at any one of us: it takes faith to see and believe that God is right here. I no more look like the dwelling place of God than that Tabernacle at Sinai looked like the most important place on earth. When I am walking through the mall, visiting an amusement park, or looking for the nicest tomato in the grocery store produce section, I cannot tell just by looking around me who is a tabernacle of the Spirit. For that matter, neither can my fellow shoppers see this in me, as though I exuded a halo glow or something.

    Sometimes when I’m out and about, clad in my denim shorts, my Princeton t-shirt, and my tennis shoes, I’ll crack a joke, make people laugh, and then a few minutes later maybe someone will discover for the first time that I am a pastor. Often people respond by saying, “You don’t look like a minister!” I’ve never done it, but probably what I should say in reply would be along the lines of, “That’s nothing–what till you find out that I’m the dwelling place of the Most High God, too!” Saying that would likely sound merely arrogant, and probably not a little queer, but I’m here to remind each of you tonight that if you are a baptized follower of Christ Jesus the Lord, that’s who you are, too.

    The dwelling place of God is not a golden throne room, bathed in an amber light, and decked out with rich tapestries and curtains.  More often than not the dwelling place of God is a tired looking tent in a desert wasteland, a carpenter’s son from a small town, the gap-toothed Iowa farmer driving his Massey-Ferguson tractor across a field of corn, the flour-dusted face of the old woman lovingly making an apple pie for her grandkids, the harried CPA trying to get her columns of figures to add up, the awkward teenager making profession of faith and hoping no one in the congregation much notices the pimple under his chin.  These are the latter-day tabernacles of God’s Spirit!

    Exodus 40 gives us God-in-a-tent, but there was so very much that led up to that climactic change-of-address on God’s part.  The people who wrote Exodus down did not want us to forget the bigger story and the faithfulness that led up to it all. This evening we also recall again all that led up to the gospel and to that big day of Pentecost that changed you and me from ordinary lumps of clay into tabernacles of the living God. It is a story that spans cosmic history, that involves the blood, sweat, and tears of God’s only begotten Son. It is a story fragrant with grace and laden with truth.

    And if you believe that old, old Story and are willing to savor and review and revel in its many details, then for you as for the people in the wilderness long ago, you know the one thing that is worth knowing more than anything else that has ever been or that will ever be: you know that the end is glory! Such knowledge ought to be enough to help sustain each one of us through the trials and terrors of this present age. We are not who we appear to be as perceived by the casual observer. We are glory-filled people whose end destiny is the glory of living forever in the presence of God. You wouldn’t expect a modest tent in the desert to convey all that. The fact that it does reminds us once more that it is precisely in the ordinary places of life that our God most often meets us and fill us with his very Self. The end is glory, my friends. Thanks be to God!