Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

The Temple of God
May 8, 2011, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: ,

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, 8th May 2011.

Haggai 1.13-2.9; 1Cor 3.10-17

“I was glad, glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord.” It is almost impossible to hear those words without associating them with the glorious setting of Hubert Parry. Whether at a Coronation or at a royal wedding, they are sung to express joy that whatever is to be done, is to be done in the house and in the presence of God.

I have made the point before, but it is constantly to be remembered that one of the keys to understanding the Old Testament is the destruction of the Temple in the year 587 BC and the subsequent exile of the people to Babylon. The shock-waves from that event resonate throughout the Scriptures as they were compiled by the scribes in the post-exilic period. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the exile of Jacob, the captivity in Egypt: all were re-read and re-written in the light of 587. The Temple of Solomon, one of the wonders of the world (at least in Jewish eyes), the guarantee of God’s presence in Israel and his protection of the Holy City: gone!

About seventy years later, a remnant of Israel returned to Jerusalem and began to re-build. Zerubbabel, successor of the ancient kings, and Joshua the successor to the high-priesthood, encouraged by the prophet Haggai, set about laying the foundations for a new Temple. Their resources were meagre, their achievement was disappointing. As they looked at the first stage of their handiwork, the prophet articulated the thoughts that must have been in all of their minds: “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” If there were any old men present who in their childhood had seen the former Temple, they must have wept as they saw the pitiful replacement.

Yet what did the Lord say to them? “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, … and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, …  and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.” Be strong; work; and fear not. The work of human hands may indeed be feeble and pitiful, but there is more than human effort involved. “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.”

“Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land,” because I am the Lord of Creation. “And I will shake all nations,” because I am the Lord of History. “And the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory,” because I am the Saviour of the world. When, in the fullness of time, the Virgin-mother carried her little son into the Temple at Jerusalem, the desire of all the nations came, and the house was filled with glory, even if only aged Simeon could see it. “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former: and in this place will I give peace.”

In their historic context, those words would have been taken as a promise of a physical building outstripping the magnificence of the old one: even this was fulfilled when Herod the Great began the refurbishment of the Temple a few years before the birth of our Lord, though the work was not completed until a few years before its final destruction by the Romans in AD70. But in the perspective of history, the true meaning of the prophecy could only be understood in the light of Christ. “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.”

The true Temple of God is the body of Christ, whether his individual humanity in which dwelt the fullness of the Godhead, or the mystical body which is the Church. And each one of us is a copy of that Temple. St Paul told his converts at Corinth that they themselves were God’s building. Like another Zerubbabel, he, Paul, had laid a foundation for others to build on. That foundation was Jesus Christ- that is to say, the basis for calling them God’s temple was that their lives were based upon Christ, upon their recognition of Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Upon that foundation they themselves were to build- and upon that foundation we too are to build.

The foundation is always the same, but the superstructure depends on the builders. They may choose strong and durable materials, decorating it with gold, silver and precious stones; or they may just put up a ramshackle shed made of wood, thatched with straw and carpeted with dried grass. Which will survive, if there is a fire? Solomon’s Temple fell, and Herod’s Temple fell; what endures in God’s sight is not bricks and mortar, not even silver and gold. Our building is a spiritual one. Its foundation is Christ, its components are faith, hope, charity, and all the other virtues. These are the true silver and gold of which God says, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine.”

“I was glad, glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord.” We are glad not simply and not mainly because it is a splendid building, but because it is the house of the Lord. The most magnificent cathedral can feel empty of spiritual life, the simplest country church can be full of the sense of God’s presence. Of course, the presence or absence of the Blessed Sacrament has a lot to do with that: even a shabby and neglected building can be transformed by the sanctuary lamp that indicates that the Lord is sacramentally present.

The same is true of Christian people. A bishop in all his pomp and splendour may be a very poor disciple, while a simple and uneducated church cleaner may be a saint. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” Last Sunday, the great Pope John Paul II was declared Blessed; but this was not because of his worldly achievements, such as the fall of Communism. It was because those closest to him knew him as a holy man, utterly devoted to the service of Christ and the welfare of his people. Holiness is not the preserve and the prerogative of the great and famous (often the reverse). It is found among the small and obscure- our blessed Lady, St Therese of Lisieux, St Francis or the little shepherds of Fatima.

We, individually and as a community, a parish, are the Temple of God. May our faith and our love bring peace and joy to the world! May those who come among us want to say, “I was glad when they said unto me:,We will go into the house of the Lord.”


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