“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:17–22 ESV)

{From a sermon given 7.23.17}

 

Once, on return from a conference my flight was delayed, then canceled. It was a late flight and the next morning was my daughter's birthday; I had been away from both my daughters and wife for a week. I chose a flight into dayton that would get me at least that much closer to home, then I could rent a car and drive the remaining distance. The experience of that last hour's drive was maybe the most unholy experience I've ever had - not because I was particularly wicked that night driving home, no road rage. But it was the slowest drive, the miles crept, crept. I knew what was waiting for me - the arms of my wife, a long shower, the faces of my daughters in bed. Everything about it was holy, set apart, beautiful and good. God-sent. And I felt the ache of the distance between where I was and where I wanted to be. It was a long way home. 

It's a long way to holiness. It's a long way that drive, it's a long way late at night and your heart sinks in bed from loneliness or fear. It's a long way to holiness when you walk out of the hospital after a long shift into god-knows what hour of night, and what greets you on the drive home is the thought that you have to work more when you get there. It's a long way to holiness when you can't make ends meet. It's a long way when you show up at a church with runner's shoes and a runner's soul that barely flickers, and you just know you're not going to find it, holiness, here. But you show up anyway. Because who knows, there could be something there, some whiff of something. Something in the stained glass, something in the bread or the wine.

The opposite of holiness is to be distant from God. To know, even if no one else does, that your heart separates you. Here in Ephesians God gives us the contrast between holiness and un-holiness. The distance from being wrong to being righted again. This is a frequent confusion in the church, one with drastic consequences. It is possible to be both moral and unholy at the same time - the Pharisees showed us how. It is possible to be raggedly holy, the disciples, the woman at the well, showed us that. If you think that holiness equals pristine morality, then you will always love your morality more than Jesus. 

So How do you get there, to holiness? If holiness is to be like God in his character and work, united to God and to his goodness, to no longer be a stranger, to no longer live far off from Him it will require something more radical than moral and religious wishing to get there. 

***

That church at Ephesus, so consumed by the mystical, the local deities, the marketplace gods and goddesses you can buy and sell to make the day less blue or fill your pockets. The little deities who were part of a spiritual city. Paul in a letter here says that if you want holiness, you really want the God of the Bible, because unlike so many others that keep you distant, this God brings holiness to you. In fact he makes you into holiness itself. This is what the text is telling us: there is justification, when we are declared innocent by the blood of Jesus Christ upon our embrace of him. That is merely point A. There is also sanctification, being made holy, the process of going from point A to point B. The answer we are given is that holiness is by the Spirit of God at work in the Temple of God. 

A quick primer: if your only exposure to temple is the Temple of Doom, let me give you quick historical data. Temple worship was instituted by Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible, in obedience to God. The first version of the Temple was a small-scale roving tabernacle. It went wherever God's people went, and through it they worshipped regularly, structuring their lives around the process of hearing the word of God proclaimed, making confession of sins, and receiving a pardon through the blood sacrifice of animals, then receiving the priestly benediction. Around 1000 BC, once God's people had a land and were no longer wandering, they built a permanent Temple. God's real presence among his people was always of critical importance to their daily life. The process of holiness, the way of being right with God, the way of growing up into maturity, was being in the presence of God.

A.W. Tozer, 20th-century american churchman who signed away the royalties for his books to those in need, described the process of holiness this way: 

“Holiness, as taught in the Scriptures, is not based upon knowledge on our part. Rather, it is based upon the resurrected Christ in-dwelling us and changing us into His likeness.”

God builds us together into a temple for his Spirit to dwell. So when we are called together, being built stone upon stone, life upon life, grief upon grief, joy upon joy, belief upon barely belief, your part-time agnosticism upon mine, we become the Temple of the living God. And in all our ramshackle glory heaven breaks in on earth, our mortality is swallowed up by immortality, the Spirit of God which raised Jesus from the dead goes to work in the middle of wherever we are with faith. He "temples" us to make us holy, transforming us breath by breath from messes to holy messes.

To be templed is to be washed clean. Sin and suffering are addressed through the word of God; we confess to one another and to God, we receive the pardon of God for our sins. We agree together that there is power in the blood of the Son. We do not allow ourselves to believe that we do not need cleansing. And we do not let people lurk in the shadows who believe they can never be clean, who are content to beg, who show up in church and are terrified sthat they will be found out, and we don't allow Christians to puff out their chests, who cannot imagine that they would need that kind of help from God. This temple function of being washed clean, which we do each week through the liturgy - you notice during the pardon we take part in the washing that comes from Christ - it allows us to speak courageously even amidst our own failures. It allows us to pursue good even when our hearts are weighed down by sin.

To be templed is to be nourished. The Temple of God has always been a place where faith is strengthened, where we receive the blessing of God to be what we are called to be. We receive the presence of God to pursue holiness. So that when we gather together it isn't foolish to believe that the action of worship could actually change things for us. Part of the way to holiness is for God to feed you by his presence. You must have your faith nourished by God if you are to be holy. A church that is not a temple is merely optimistic. When we take the Lord's Supper each week it is for the real spiritual presence of Jesus that we eat and drink. We want to follow God, we know we need Jesus, so we hear the word of the prophets and the Apostles, and we drink to Jesus! When I tell you that we must press on to uncommon generosity, that blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, I am not pressing on you a burden, but a delight, because you are fed by God for those tasks, and to walk that road is to see God at work in you. 

To be templed is to be set apart. There is a ministry of the temple in its dignifying and commissioning function as well. When the people of God temple together we are set apart by God through our worship-for the task of Godly life in his world. We are reminded of our identity, encouraged in that task, sent out for a purpose. Temple worship is, weekly, an opportunity to remember the goodness of God, the need of the world around us, and the provision of God to meet that need. And for those of us who arrive with two left feet and a grim soul, it must be an unbelievable joy to be told that you have this destiny. But again, if this isn't a temple, if there isn't a cleansing, if there's no nourishment in the gospel, then the benediction is well-wishing and not much more. 

Having been templed by God, how do we bless the world? We make the ground holy in far off places. It means that both our worship of God and our spirituality are temple-shaped. The same way we engage in temple life elsewhere, because everyone temples.

An Ohio State football game is not just a game, it is an experience. There is a liturgy and a responsive reading, there is an emotional process of being cleansed and nourished. O-H-I-O, Hang on Sloopy, sitting in our seats, standing and sitting down, clapping, shouting, hoping, having our emotions engaged. The difference of course is that after the game, without a ticket stub, there is no lasting difference made in our lives. We expect our temples to shape our lives, for at least as long as we give ourselves to them. So how do we live a life shaped by the temple of God?

We hold out for the world a worship service as one of our very best ways to love people and to be a temple for the world. It has structure that helps them learn how to worship, but more importantly, a worship that cleanses, nurtures and sets them apart. Our worship service should temple the world. We are committed to a robust temple worship service. So if you were invited here by someone this morning it’s because they believed that you, as much as they, need to be nourished spiritually, challenged and grown up in God. Anne Lamott, in her story of faith, was brought to a state of conviction over her sin and her need for God through all the parts of worship, not just the preaching but the singing and the readings and those living stones built on the cornerstone - that all of it was heavy, substantial, real and true. Every part of the worship service needs to have some heft.

We also take a temple shape between worship services. It is how the Temple happens outside, it is the way that we become temples too. This week multiple families that do not attend our church were connected to us through the intersection of relationship and need, and families in our church were excited to provide for them. You do not have a temple spirituality unless the outside world is shaped by its presence. When Papa Wemba, the Congolese inventor of the Rumba died, the BBC interviewed grief-stricken Congolese. When they asked about Wemba the people almost unfailingly broke into dance. He shaped them by the shape of his life. The Temple makes temples. Your fellow print machine operators know that you can keep secrets, you hear their confessions, their fears. They do not know but they are experiencing the Temple, but they are, because you are one of those stones. Your patients know when they see you that they are not a patient satisfaction score, or a file that moves from the inbox to the outbox; they know you see them, they know you are not indifferent, they know - somewhere in the cosmic darkness you get sucked into when you are terribly ill, they know they are someone to you. They have been set apart. They are at temple, without knowing it. 

The reason for the Temple is so that there will no longer be far off places and far off people. And if we are going to build a life, if we are going to build a church, and if it will be more than a place for baptizing, marrying and burying, if it will be more than a place for learning bible trivia, then we must commit to being a temple together, so that our church can know Jesus and do some good. That’s all we can ask. That’s where we’re going. A church that cleanses, nourishes, and sets apart. We have an agenda: we want no more far off places or far off people. 

***

In John chapter one, verse fourteen, we learn what it means to go a long way for holiness. The word says that the Word of God, that is, the love of God, the face of God, the power of God, the desire of God, the goodness of God, put on flesh and "tabernacled" with us. We translate it "dwelled" but the word is Tabernacled. He templed with us from the moment he came into the world. He put on flesh because only flesh can bleed. He came a long way for holiness, and the holiness he was after was you and me transformed from point A to B, into people built upon his word and one another, built with him as the cornerstone. He was after us and he came a long way. His very presence in the world was a gift. He was wrapped, literally, in the means to make you holy. That's why he can look at you and call you holy. He calls you holy even while you're on the road, even while you are a long way off, in the middle of things, in the middle of hoping, finding the words to pray, learning generosity at a snail's pace, asking your children for forgiveness, asking your neighbors for forgiveness. Even a long way off you are a part of a holy temple, resting upon Christ and even when you are out of breath, nearly out of hope, having your lungs filled with the Spirit of the living, dwelling, templing, God.