“The Temple of His Body”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 4, 2018

John 2:13-22

 

This scene may sound rather foreign to us.  Even though Woodstock is a farming town, we don’t usually see livestock here in the sanctuary.  And we don’t usually conduct commerce here, either (except on the weekend of the Christmas Fair).  So first, a word of context to help us understand this story.  In the time of Jesus, festivals like Passover were a time when many faithful Jews made pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices to God as they remembered the story of the Exodus, when the Israelite people escaped from slavery in Egypt and became God’s covenant people in the land of Canaan.  To offer those sacrifices according to the traditions of their faith, they needed to exchange their Roman coins for Jewish ones, and they needed to purchase various animals.  So, the presence of moneychangers and livestock-sellers in the Temple court was not unusual, was not profane, but was a part of the way the system worked.  Until Jesus showed up and disrupted it all.

There are so many ways in which we could seek to understand that disruption.  There are so many sermons that could be preached from this text.

We could look at this story as a critique of worship practices that had turned into empty ritual, just going through the motions without any real meaning.  We could wonder what parts of our religious life Jesus might disrupt in order to call us to deeper, more faithful engagement.

We could look at this story as a critique of a system of temple sacrifices that had been twisted so that it disadvantaged people who were poor or marginalized and could not afford to purchase the requisite sacrificial animals.  We could wonder if there are ways in which our practices as a faith community might unintentionally exclude people with fewer resources or different life experience.

We could look at this story as a critique of the way in which the entire temple system and its leadership at the time had become enmeshed with the Roman occupation of Palestine.  The chief priests were Roman appointees, and Roman imperial coffers benefited from every transaction in those temple marketplaces.  We could wonder how our religious institutions and leadership might be complicit in systems that oppress and dominate.

We could look at this story as an example of civil disobedience, a first-century sit-in or walk-out, a symbolic protest against systemic injustice.  We could wonder if there are ways in which we, as followers of Jesus, might be called to that kind of action in our time.

We could look at this story and remember that by the time it was written down in the gospels, the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed.  We could wonder if this story might represent the struggle of a community to make sense of the destruction of the center of their worship.

We could read this story and remember that after Jesus was crucified, the story says, on the third day, he rose again.  We could wonder if this story is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection to come.

There are so many ways in which we could seek to understand this story.  There are so many sermons that could be preached from this text.

But what I notice this time around is the sentence in verse 21, an aside from the narrator, in which we are told this:  “He was speaking of the temple of his body.”

He was speaking of the temple of his body.  Perhaps this doesn’t sound particularly radical to us.  You have surely heard phrases like “the body is a temple” on countless occasions, from athletes, yoga teachers, gurus, health food companies, and, of course, in church.  But stop for a minute and think, really think, about what that means.

It is a reminder of the story we tell at Christmastime—the story of how God’s own heart came to dwell among us in mortal flesh, as close as a heartbeat, a sigh, an embrace, a hand slipped into yours.

It is a reminder of the story that begins the very first book of the Bible—the story of humanity created in God’s own image, bearing God’s likeness, breathed to life by God’s breath, animated from within by the Holy Spirit.

It is a reminder of the holiness of every human body.  The skinniest, boniest beanpole and the roundest, most plus-sized figure—holy.  The marathon-fit athlete and the one who is sedentary by choice or by necessity—holy.  Skin of darkest brown, of palest peach, and every hue in between—holy.  Hair that is straight or curly, blond or red or brown or black or gray or white or purple—holy.  Piercings or ink or none of the above—holy.

Tongues that speak in English and Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin, Swahili and Farsi and Creole—holy.  Bodies that walk and run, roll and limp, dance and leap, crawl and hobble—holy.  Bodies that are female, bodies that are male, bodies that transition, bodies that are beyond our binary understanding—holy.  Bodies that are brand new, still wet behind the ears, and bodies that bear the wrinkles and scars and stretch marks of a long life, fully lived—holy.  Bodies that hurt and bodies that heal, bodies that are healthy and bodies that are ill and bodies that are dying—holy.

Every body—everybody—holy, holy, holy.

And if this is true—if every body, everybody, is a living, breathing temple, an incarnate manifestation of holiness on earth—then that means that God is everywhere.  Not just in the temple, not just in the church, but everywhere we go.  And the point of being here is to help us notice God there.  God’s presence is accessible to us—to you—no matter where you are.  At work, at school, at home.  Sitting at the computer, standing over the kitchen sink, lying in bed.  At the doctor’s office, in the nursing home, in the grocery store, in the car.  Eating, sleeping, moving, resting—God is right there in the midst of it all, close to us as breathing, always present, always accessible, always pouring out love.

And if this is true—if every body, everybody, is a living, breathing temple, an incarnate manifestation of holiness on earth—then I can see why Jesus got so angry from time to time, including in our reading today.  Standing firmly in the tradition of the Israelite prophets before him, Jesus said a bold No to anything that would harm any body, anybody.  And he says it still:  to systems that entwine empire and religion… to institutions that privilege the wealthy over the poor, the citizen over the foreigner, the white over the black and brown… to the instruments of death that snuff out young lives on battlefields and on city streets and even in schools… to all the phobias and isms that name some bodies as valuable, beautiful, worthy, and others as not.  Jesus says a bold No to anything that would degrade the holiness of any in-God’s-image body, any incarnate manifestation of holiness on earth, any living, breathing temple.

To anything and everything that would separate you, or me, or anybody, any body, from the truth that you are made in God’s image, that you bear God’s likeness, that you are animated from within by the Holy Spirit, that you are holy from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, that you are a living, breathing temple, a dwelling-place for God’s presence on earth—to anything that would negate or deny or degrade that truth, God says a resounding No.

And to you, to me, to everybody, to every body, God says:  Yes, beloved.  Yes, beautiful.  Yes, cherished.  Yes, holy.  Yes, mine.

 


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