New Temple: Life in the Presence

My sermon on Sunday was about the New Temple, and it reminded me of the below blog post that I originally wrote in 2014. Find the sermon video at the bottom.

Little Lies We Learn as Children

There is a little children’s rhyme that we all learned as children. It uses hands to creatively teach about the church:

Here is the Church
And Here is the Steeple
Open the Doors
And see all the People!

The childhood rhyme is Biblically incorrect! While we often call the physical building and place of worship for the people of God, a Church, that is a misnomer. I go so far to call it a little lie. Little lies like this have been taught to us as children, and they have done great damage. Subtly and powerfully, they shape our vocabulary and thus our thinking and values as the people of God. The Church is NOT a physical building with a steeple and doors. Yet, we persist in using the word with that reference and meaning.

The institutional church itself has reinforced the vocabulary. A couple of years ago, the Bishop corrected me when I referred to my church’s worship space as “the Sanctuary.” He said, “Properly, the sanctuary is the space behind the altar rails and building should be referred to as ‘the church’.” From a technical architectural vocabulary perspective, he was not wrong.

The reforming instinct in me cannot accept his correction. I have worked hard to never refer to a physical building as “The Church” because of the misaligned priorities on buildings, programs and institutions.

Empty Tombs

In the New Testament parlance, the Church is the gathered worshiping People of God. Rather than the building, the Church would be what you see when you open the doors and look inside the physical building. Monday through Saturday, the Church has left the building! Without the resurrected People of God gathered, the building stands vacant like an empty tomb!

As the angel who told the women looking for Jesus inside the rock-hewn tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen!” Yes, there are many beautiful “church” buildings built around the world, with wonderful architectural features and gorgeous stain glass windows. They are built to the Glory of God! However, without a vibrant Holy Spirit filled, worshiping body of Christ, they are empty albeit beautiful sepulchers.

Whenever the New Testament uses the term “church”, it is always referring to the redeemed and holy people of God. It does describe church in terms of building and structure but always as a building made with living stones on the divinely appointed cornerstone.

The church building is alive!

Biblically, we should not say we go to church as so many of us are apt to say, but rather we should say we are the church! The church is a community of people whose lives are completely centered on Jesus, living stones built into the precious cornerstone.

Paul used this same imagery in his letter to the Ephesians. He says,

“You are being built into a holy temple, one stone placed upon another, incorporated with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. In him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a Holy Temple in the Lord. In him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

So does that mean that we should not build physical buildings for the church? Not at all! Yet, the institutional tools and structures that we have created with human hands out of wood, metal, bricks and mortar are merely tools and institutional supports for the spiritual living Church, the body of Christ. This is an incredibly important distinction for us. Why? Our primary focus is properly on the living organic Temple of the Lord.

The resurrected life is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and the community and people that have been incorporated into the New Temple that is his Body. As in times of the Old Testament, the People of God find themselves serving worldly physical and institutional structures, rather than the physical and institutional structures supporting the people of God.

This was the corruption of the political, religious and economic systems which Jesus confronted in his day when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the old Temple.

The challenge in our day is to renew our emphasis on the True Church, the Living Stones, the New Spiritual Temple, The Body of Christ. The people of this world value the physical stones, but the Lord values the living stones. As the Apostle Peter writes, they are chosen by God and “precious to him.”

New Temple: Life in the Presence – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.

Question for thought and discussion: Do you agree that the people of this world place more value on worldly structures and institutions than people? Do you see this happening even with the Church? How do we get back to the right emphases?

New Life: Fishing Again? Returning back to the Old

Jesus calls us to new life in Him. But we don’t have to wait until our resurrection day to begin that new life. New life in Jesus begins now!

New Life: The Miraculous Catch

Before we look at what new life looks like, I must warn you: there is always a great temptation to stay in our old life or return to it again. Even the disciples experienced this setback. When Jesus called His first followers—Peter, James, and John—they were out on the Sea of Galilee fishing from a boat (and not doing too well at that!).  Jesus challenged them to go out into deep water and put out their nets again. Peter was exasperated, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” Luke 5:5, NRSV).

New Life: Fishing Again? – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.

You remember the rest of the story. Peter, James, and John pulled in a miraculous catch. Thus began a great adventure with the incarnate Lord and Savior of the world as Jesus called them from their profession as fishermen to become fishers of men.

Fast-forward three years. Peter, James, and John have now experienced amazing things as disciples of Jesus. They have walked beside the Lord witnessing His mighty acts of healing, listened to his teaching, and even participated in miracles. And yet, even they returned to their old ways— fishing for fish instead of men (and not doing very well at that!). Read John 21:1-25.

After the dramatic events of the His death and resurrection, Jesus again appears where the men are fishing.  He calls to them to cast their empty nets on the other side of the boat. Another miraculous catch. Recognizing Jesus, John whispers to Peter, “It is the Lord!” And in true “Peter” fashion…

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish… Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (John 21:7-12)

The story begs the question: why did Peter and the disciples go back to their regular jobs of fishing again? Jesus had called them to so much greater.

The reason is clear from an earlier account in John’s Gospel.  Remember that before the crucifixion, Peter had denied Jesus three times. If that wasn’t bad enough, his denials were in spite of a personal vow that he would go to the death with Jesus: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:37-38).

After his denials, Peter was acutely aware of his own inadequacy, his own failings, his own weakness. Rather than stepping into the Resurrected Life and moving forward with Jesus’ call on his life to be an apostle, Peter had reverted back to being merely a fisherman. And evidently, he had brought the others with him. Like an athlete who lets down the team in the big moment, Peter had fumbled the ball after vowing to be a superstar! He was discouraged and disillusioned.

In our own walks with the Lord, very often some major disappointment or failing on our parts hinders or blocks us from truly stepping out into the fullness of the Resurrected Life. Is there any disappointment in your life that would have you fishing again rather than boldly living for the Lord?  Is there any unworthy feeling holding you back, some guilt or shame, that would prevent you from truly walking in the newness of life that the Lord has for you?

In a wonderful moment of restoration, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  (John 21:15-17).  The disciple who once vowed,  “I do not know the man!” now says to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” three times. In reversing his three denials, those affirmations became a reaffirmation of Peter’s calling to be a shepherd to the flock of the Lord. Jesus sealed Peter’s affirmations with, “Feed my sheep.” By taking Peter back to the beginning, to the moment of his calling, Jesus gave Peter a new start and a new challenge.  Peter would indeed be fishing again for people!

The Lord would do the same for you. The Lord has a special call upon your life. It’s a call that will require you to step into a new reality, a new life. The temptation will be to return to the old ways and to the old life. And yet Jesus, your risen Lord, will meet you in your failings and challenge you to get back to your calling, to living once more for His kingdom.

What’s holding you back? Is there any failing in the Christian life that has disillusioned you and hindered you from living the Resurrected Life? Have you been fishing on the wrong side of the boat again? Jesus restored Peter, and he will restore you!

Excerpted from The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New