Building the temple of the Lord

Updated: Jan 30

Everyone here knows the fable / fairy tale of The Three Little Pigs.  One built a house of straw, another built a house of sticks, and the third built a house of bricks.


The Big Bad Wolf came looking to eat some pigs, so he blew down the houses made of straw and sticks, but after those two pigs escaped to the brick house, the wolf could not blow that house down and the three little pigs were saved.


3 pigs

We are left to wonder if the two who lost their houses rebuilt in brick or stone … or if they all lived happily ever after in the one brick house.


In the Gospel of Matthew (which we do not read today), Jesus told a parable about two men who built houses.


The “wise man built his house on the rock,” while the “foolish man built his house on sand.”


Now, there were no wolf attacks, but Mother Nature played the same role, “huffing and puffing” rain and wind, with flooding waters, all pounding each house.


The house built on rock survived, while the house built on sand did not.


I imagine much of Waveland, Mississippi was built on sand, because when Hurricane Katrina came ashore it blew away many houses.


Only the concrete slabs stayed in place, while the homes washed away.  Even the boulder ballast of the railroad tracks was washed away, with the metal rails left mangled and twisted.


Damage caused by hurricane Katrina can be seen along the railroad tracks in Waveland, Mississippi, where the tracks are bent, the ground beneath some of the tracks is no longer there to sustain them and a house can be seen in the distance on the tracks. Authorities closed off the section of town south of the railroad tracks Friday afternoon to all except residents in case of storm surge.

All of this paints a picture that if you are going to build something, build it right … build it sturdy … build it strong and durable.


That was what was in David’s mind when he looked at the ark, which had just been brought into the city of David, and he saw it was only in a tent … a portable tabernacle.


Certainly, it was a large tent, but have you ever seen what strong winds and rain can do to a tent?


Not long ago, at a Major League Baseball game in Pittsburgh, the grounds crew had to roll out the tarp to cover the infield because a storm came up quickly.  That big, heavy tarp – which is not too different from tent material – was lifted up in the air by heavy winds.  It took many crew members and even some players to keep it from flying away.


tarp blown

That long and wide tarp was being raised like a hotdog wrapper can be, by normal winds.


So, David was thinking, “You know what?  I have this study cedar house to live in. We need to build a big sturdy building to put the ark in, because it is so important and we wouldn’t want it to be blown away.”


It was wise of David to think that … and the Temple would be built by wise Solomon, after David had passed away.


So, the most important part of the 2nd Samuel reading is when God told Nathan, “Go tell David, “The LORD will make you a house.”'


Last week, I pointed out how the City of God is not a place with buildings, but a place in each person’s heart.  Each of us has to do the work to make ourselves open for God’s presence; and then we have to maintain that “building” in honor of God.


The readings this week confirm that message; but it is easy to get confused and look at the beauty and magnificence of buildings – cathedrals, mega-churches, and even the Temple of Solomon – and think in terms of the physical, and not the spiritual.


The Temple in Jerusalem was torn down by invaders … twice.


Again using the lyrics from David’s song of sadness, written into the Book of Jashar – “How the mighty have fallen!”


I was raised in a cathedral-style church, one originally home to a Methodist Episcopal denomination, which was sold to my mother’s denomination – Assemblies of God.  That religious group eventually declined in number and vacated the building.  It was sold several years later and transformed into a Renaissance-theme restaurant.  That church had fallen … but so too since has the restaurant.


st. paul's abbey

1906 rendering



24 Apr 1995, Atlanta, Georgia, USA --- Tables set for dinner at the Abbey Restaurant, a former church. Atlanta, Georgia, USA. --- Image by © Kevin Fleming/Corbis

24 Apr 1995


Satan has a way of coming and huffing and puffing and blowing buildings built of weak materials down.


That is why it is so important to realize why David wanted to build a suitable building for the ark to be housed.  The ark was the power of the House of Israel.


Inside the ark was the Law … the sacred tablets of Moses.


Memorize those laws … know them by heart … and whenever times get tough, your adherence to the Law will save you.  The Law is then like pallets of bricks delivered to a building site.  Still, God would have to tell His prophets how and when to use the powers of the ark, to defeat an enemy that threatened the House of Israel.  The “blueprints” then called for more than just bricks.


As this external protection of the Israelites was all part of God’s plan, we should be able to look back on that history and see how the Law was placed inside an ark, which was itself then placed inside a tent or building, which was then placed inside a city of people, who were all inside the boundaries of a nation of people – those who all shared in one religious faith.  This environment established by God was then a place where all the chosen people of God went to learn about their religion.


In the wilderness with Moses … in Canaan with judges … in Israel with kings … in exile with Pharisees … in Jerusalem with Temple Priests … in Judea and Galilee with Jesus … that whole history, with thousands of years of learning, all while maintaining the Sabbath as a mandatory holy day of rest and religious observance … all that made the House of Israel the equivalent of one huge, expansive, and historic seminary.


Only the descendants of Abraham, through Isaac, and through Jacob received acceptance letters to attend that “school building,” that “college” for priests, who would serve the true One God.


Before Jesus visited that “campus,” no one had ever “graduated” from the House of Israel, as far as being ordained to serve the whole world.


That was because the external environment was one kept from them, so the Israelites were protected by the pretense that no one ever needed to graduate.  Once acceptance into that prestigious “university” was granted (by birthright), then that “Disney Land” environment produced the fantasy of religion.  Admission meant everyone there only had to study texts, memorize the laws, and attend classes held by parents and rabbis … with Shabbat services mandatory.


This created a constant hostility between those inhabitants of that religious “Fantasy Island” and those of the real world.


As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, the two sides consisted of those identified as “the uncircumcision” and “the circumcision.”  The Gentiles were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” – the House of Israel – and the Gentiles were “strangers to the covenants of promise.”


In essence, Jews had all that in their private “building,” and they posted signs outside that said, “No Gentiles Allowed.”  Thus, there was a “dividing wall,” with that invisible “structure” being the cause of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles … between seminarians and laity … priests and heathens … between shepherds and sheep.


Paul pointed out how Jesus came to tear down that wall that divided the two groups.  As such, Paul wrote, “So [Jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.”


If you recall, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  Those words were used against Jesus in his trial before Pilate.  Those words had Jesus convicted and crucified.


2nd temple

Since history proves the Second Temple was destroyed – by the Romans, in 70 AD – we hear Jesus say, “Destroy this temple” and we think that history made those words prophetic … which they were.


BUT … Jesus was not referring to a building of stone and mortar being destroyed.  He was not referring specifically to the Temple of Jerusalem … a “house” built to replicate the one Solomon built to “house” the ark … from David’s plan.


Jesus was referring to the whole campus of Judaism.  In essence, Jesus said, “Destroy this educational institution … this seminary of religious studies, which has never before graduated a priest that served any purpose for the real world.”


When you hear Jesus make that statement, it is more understandable that raising a replacement for THAT INSTITUTION, in three days, happened when Jesus died, was dead for three days, and then resurrected.  “That institution” changed from being Judaism to the new identity of Christianity, even though everything still looked the same.


Jesus was not speaking of building any physical structures, from inanimate materials, like straw, sticks and stone.  Jesus meant he would use spiritual parts. Thus, Paul wrote how Jesus, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”


Jesus provided for a new building be set upon a solid foundation – like rock – and not a weak one – like sand.  In three days, a perfectly square stone became available, allowing for a new temple to be raised on that rock.


But, again, the new temple would be built of flesh and bones, with Jesus’s cornerstone being the life blood within that structure – the Holy Spirit.


“In him,” Paul wrote, “the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”


Thus, as Paul continued to tell his fellow apostles – both Gentile and Jewish – “You also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”


YOU are each temples that have been rebuilt for God … YOU just have to sweep out all the trash and do the work of sprucing up and washing windows first.


cleaning supplies

Just like a cathedral for Methodist Episcopalians was cleaned, so it was attractive to the Assemblies of God buyers, so too do we have to look marvelous to God.


In the seminary that I visited, I saw how the fantasy world prepared the would-be graduates for the real world.  Student-priests were assigned to assist real priests, who served real congregations.


This same “practice run experience” is found in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark.  We read how, “the apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.”


Jesus WAS the seminary for his disciples, who would be graduate priests one day, ordained to be sent forth into the real world.  Once in the real world, the Apostles would themselves become temples, amid people in need of religious shelter, protection, and teaching.


Before that could happen, Jesus listened to the apostles joyfully tell about how wonderful it was to be filled with a power that placed them in a position of importance among the ordinary folk.


He told them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  After all, “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”  However, Jesus was not asking his students to take a much needed break from all the work of priesthood … as if walking with the “great unwashed” was hard work and tiresome.


Jesus was telling his disciples to learn to stop trying to remember everything they had been taught in his seminary AND the seminary of Judaism.  They were thinking so much they forgot to do the basic stuff, like eat and rest.  Therefore, Jesus was laying the foundation for them to set their simple brains aside and let the Mind of God take over the operations of His temple.


God NEVER grows old and weary, unable to listen to a prayer or offer the warmth of a smile.  God does not “retire,” like modern popes do.


pope squared

That is why so many people flocked to Jesus and his apostles-in-training.  The sick and lost did not see people they wanted to touch … they saw temples they could have access to, ones they could touch without being beaten away, treated like criminals who were breaking the law simply because they wanted the light of religion to shine upon them.


There was a great divide between Jews and Gentiles, while there was an equal divide between clean Jews and unclean Jews.  All the unclean Jews – the sick brought on mats to Jesus – were like lost sheep … sheep without a shepherd … Jews without a Temple … the first two little pigs without a home left standing because of the Big Bad Wolf.


Those unclean Jews were the practice congregations for a new order of priests … those who would go into the real world as temples of the Lord.


To be a temple of the Lord, you have to learn, you have to practice what you learn, you have to experience the value of that learning – both in your own personal sense of fulfilment and you sense of joy from fulfilling the needs of other – and you have to stop being a student and transform into a teacher (a rabbi).  You have to stop being a sheep and become a shepherd.


You have to graduate from being a “take it down, move it, and set it back up” tabernacle, to becoming a shining new temple that beacons to all who are lost, and in need of being found.


You know you have been ordained to be a temple of God, when the ark has been placed in your heart, so that the Law has been written upon the cornerstone of you, making you a temple in Christ Jesus.


Amen

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