Thursday, March 1, 2018

Becoming living altars

I have been thinking this week about how we serve God and what it means to be missional. The Gospel this week (John 2.13-22) is an interesting lesson in that will consider it again at least in a cursory way, during Holy Week. This will be in the lead up to Good Friday and what happens on that low hill outside the city and on the cross. It also goes to the question, “Will you surrender to God?” It is what Jesus did, starting in the Garden when he asked for the cup of suffering to be taken from him and then says, “Not my will, but yours.” He surrendered himself to the will of the Father that he would become the way home for those who would participate in him and his life after the cross.

In this lesson, I noticed something that is important. Altars. How we approach them and how we deal with them is not something that we Anglicans spend a lot of tine talking about. It is more something which we honour and something we keep as sacred and tend to leave it there, unspoken. But maybe it is something that we need to become as people. Confused? Then let me explain.

The Temple was the place of the altar and where people could approach the presence of the God of Israel here on earth. It was the place where sacrifices and offerings where made. Synagogues, where most Jews worshipped was a place for prayer and for teaching, not for sacrifice. Jesus had made the journey more than once. He went into the Temple – a place he had been before, at least twice that we know of in the Gospels. Both times were with his parents. First with his parents to obey the Law and offer sacrifice to reclaim him from the Lord because he was a first-born son. This is when the little family encountered the quiet in the Land (Simeon the priest and Anna the prophet) and many important things were said and done. The second time in the Temple was just before the year in which Jesus would have celebrated his bar mitzvah and became a man within the spiritual community. He was left behind when they family headed home, and his frantic parents went back and found him “in his Father’s house” talking with learned men.

So, for Jesus to suggest its destruction was a bit of a wild thing. Why would you destroy a big, beautiful building that is meant to house the presence of the living God? Where would people go to meet with God? How would they get forgiveness for their sins? What would become of the priests and their religion if there was no temple? Reality? God is moving his location from a place into the lives of his people to be with them – with you and with me. All day, every day.

This means that as followers of the Lord Jesus, our lives play host to the presence and the life of the living God. Our lives must out of necessity become places and spaces where giving, sacrifice and blessing need to meet – for the sake of others, not just for ourselves. Our lives and our bodies are where the divine and humanity meet. Therefore, the lives we live, including our bodies must be come altars. How do we know this is so? Consider Jesus! He had eyes to see what it was like in the Temple, ears to hear the noises and a nose to smell the different odors. Jesus knelt on a knee to wash his disciples’ feet at the table. He had hands that reached out to pick up and bless children and at the same time to make a whip of cords to drive out flocks and herds while tipping tables and scattering coins.

In learning to surrender, we also discover that our faith and participation in Christ makes us uncomfortable – faith and obedience causes struggles. It makes us sweat. Upon occasion believing and participating will involve pain and tears. And in all of it, where you go, Christ lives. So maybe we need to consider carefully where is God in our lives and in our ministries. Where does Christ need to be let in? What rooms in our lives need light? Where do we need to some spring cleaning?  We need to be people who can be identified as Christian people (and please note I say Christians not Anglicans) because of how we live, what we say and what we do. We must live incarnationally so that people can encounter ‘God with the flesh on’. In this way through what we do and what we say we are also becoming missional. In so doing, we become living altars.


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