"Show me to your temple"
July 22, 2012
by Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 7, Year B
Readings: (2 Samuel 7:1–14a; Psalm 89:20–37); Ephesians 2:11–22; Mark 6:30–34, 53–56
There was a Truth and Reconciliation event in the city at the end of May. A United Church sharing circle teamed up with Council Fire to put it on. The goal was to encourage young people to speak for a change, about how residential schools have affected their lives. What it’s like when your parents, say, and perhaps your grandparents are survivors of this alienating experience. It was held at the Sheraton. As you may know the hotel contains a courtyard with a stream in it, a waterfall, gardens, and some trees. All behaving themselves in their concrete walls, and surrounded by glass and more concrete.
That’s where the sacred fire was lit for the event. A sacred fire has to burn all the time, twenty-four hours a day. And that’s what happened. With a permit for an outdoor fire from the city. With the fire securely contained in one of those metal patio fireplace things, brand new, right out of the box. With a security guard armed with a fire extinguisher sitting just inside the glass door where it was dry in case anything sacred escaped to threaten all that concrete. Nothing was lit from the fire. No torch was carried away from it. Nothing was cooked over it. It just burned steadily, reminding participants, some of them very deeply hurt by their thwarted childhoods, of light and heat, of cooking, stories and healing. Reminding everyone that the sacred glows and burns and cannot be contained, that the idea of a temple for the holy is a bit presumptuous.
Then the other day I was with a few friends at one temple when another one came up in conversation. We were on the golf course, a temple to many, and someone mentioned Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, the intense sense of awe that those giant trees had inspired in him. Take a moment to go to your temple, your sacred place.
Are there people there? Is it fire, a structure, a landscape, a piece of music? We need places to go, and time to go to them, thatallow us to sink deep into peace, into what is real, and primary for our lives, our souls. Just to be in or at or on our temple is to worship. The soul expands, gratitude swells within us, we connect with what it is that both thrills and calms us. Traditionally we have called this God. Some people are seeking other names for it, names that aren’t so loaded, with such strong associations.
Many of us have had moments of holiness, times of wonder or gladness in their lives. The memories of such times are strong. The tendency is to want to go back there, to recapture the experience.
Our scriptures today are all about temples. In the reading from 2 Samuel, one we didn’t hear, David learns that he is not the one to build a temple. The psalmist rehearses and celebrates God’s covenant with David, and how is it unbreakable. Paul deals with the delicate matter of a big division in the early church, between followers of Jesus who were Jewish, the circumcised, and those who were not, the uncircumcised, as they were known apparently. And the gospel writer is making clear that wherever Jesus is, on land or on the water, that is a holy site, a temple, a place where learning and feeding and healing take place.
What happens at your temple, the one you went to a moment ago? Healing? Feeding? Learning? Rejuvenation? Do you go there alone, or with others? Can you begin to put into words what happens for you at your temple? Is it a refuge, a place you need to keep private, or a meeting place, where you want to invite the whole world?
So much of our spiritual lives are private. Even if we want to share, it is just difficult to let others know the colours, the sounds, the feelings we have in the presence of the sacred. Even when we share a religious experience, such as the Justin Bieber concert coming up in the fall, we might find it easy to scream, but can be tough to talk about.
Paul is reaching for an image that changes our private spirituality into a shared experience, and he comes up with the image of the temple. You Gentiles, you used to be hopeless, because you were outside the covenant. That’s all changed. Now you have hope. That dividing wall is gone, the old animosity swept away. “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. The whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in Christ; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling‑place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
This is powerful stuff. Without the foundation of those who came before and a cornerstone, the temple of right relations can’t be built. If some of the pieces are removed, the whole structure is in jeopardy. It takes all the believers in Ephesus to be a dwelling-place for God. A dwelling place for God. Did Paul’s letter work? Did the people there get over their divisions? Did a new person joining in find God dwelling in that congregation?
How are you with the image of a temple built out of stones? Perhaps we need an image that is not so rooted to one spot, a little more lithe and agile. More organic, maybe. A synchronized swim team. An orchestra. A rainbow.
When I have a worship experience in the midst of thousand year old redwoods, that’s one thing. It’s just me and the trees. When I come to a place like this, it’s different. A different blessing is extended: the other people who are here. That is the call, to experience the people around me as a blessing, as part of that orchestra. If Paul is right, it takes each of us bringing our openness, expecting to connect, to harmonize with the others, to allow a new person to find the holy dwelling here.
This is not a weighty burden, though. And you are not just another brick in some temple wall. This invitation is light as a feather,it’s a sacred gift, a gift that means feeding, growing, healing to us, and that a new person might find those things here, too.