Sermon for February 11: The Temple of Christ's Body

The Temple of Christ's Body

The Transfiguration of the Lord; February 11, 2018

John 2:13-21

I was listening to an interview with the poet Mary Karr the other day; I'll bet our women's book club has read one of her memoirs (Note: As it turns out, they have not). Anyway, she had no religion in her life and wasn't particularly interested, perhaps largely as a result of being raised in an abusive family. Then one Sunday she went to church because her five year-old son asked her to take him to church. She asked him why; he said, "I want to see if God is there."[1]

Think of all the reasons a five year-old might ask to go to church; Mary's son gave her the one reason that could actually get her there: "I want to see if God is there." Formerly an atheist or at least agnostic, she is now a practicing Catholic.

Today Presbyterians celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus; in most Presbyterian churches they are reading one of the Transfiguration stories, probably the one from Mark (9:2-9). I had to be different; I had to pick a story from John about Jesus in the Temple. Well, this is to conclude our series about church buildings, and so I wanted this story about Jesus, when he talks about himself and about the building around him. John says, "He was speaking of the temple of his body."

The temple of Christ's body: the place of sacrifice, the place of praise, the place to see if God is there is Jesus' own body. Consider bodies. Bodies are both wonderful and very annoying. In our bodies we can smell roses and taste grilled fish and hear Mannheim Steamroller and see a Nebraska sunset and touch the hand of a close friend. Bodies also have to be washed and fed and frequently repaired, especially as we get older. A young body can run up a hill or skateboard at a park and may very likely break a bone that needs to be set and that results in tears and wails of pain.

Can you imagine life without the body? You think you can; you think you could be a disembodied spirit, floating among the stars. But without eyes, how do you see those stars? Without ears, how do you hear their music? Without hands, how do you grasp the one next to you and float together?

Here's the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a hill with him. He liked to go up into the hills to pray, and those three were his closest companions. But while they were up there, they had a strange experience. One minute Jesus was off by himself, praying, while the three of them were huddled together, talking about whatever friends talk about when their leader is having a moment alone. Then they looked at him and saw a radical change. Something indescribable happened to his face, and the only thing they were ever really able to describe was that his clothes were shining like the sun. And they saw two other men with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. When Peter found his voice, he said, "This is great! We're going to put up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." A cloud came upon them, and a voice came from the cloud, "This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!" The Voice said to listen to him, but for the moment Jesus didn't say anything. But the moment was passed, Jesus looked again the same as he always had, and Moses and Elijah were gone.

They saw the body of Jesus radically changed, but it was still the body of Jesus. His clothes shone, but they were still clothes. His face was transfigured, but it was still his face. Even after his Resurrection, they often had trouble recognizing him, and he seemed to be able to go through locked doors, but he touched them, he ate and drank with them. When Jesus said that if they tore down the temple, he could raise it again in three days, he meant the temple of his body.

What if a five year-old boy, seeing our three big crosses up the hill, said to his agnostic mom, "Please take me to that church up on that hill; I want to see if God is there"? Is God here?

Would they find God because they meet nice people? You can meet nice people on Meetup.com. Would they find God because we do good things for the community? Lions and Rotary and Kiwanis and Masons and PEO do good things for the community. Would they find God because we get creative in our programming? Omaha Community Playhouse has creative programming. Would they find God because of great music? You can find great music at the Omaha Symphony or any number of clubs on Maple Street in Benson or in Midtown.

Of course, all of those things help, and I'm grateful that we have all of them. They point the right direction, but they only point. That boy and his mom will find God in the temple of Christ's body, in the paired experience of Word and Sacrament. No matter how good the quality of the preaching or of the music or the silence or the prayers, it is so much noise until it is confirmed in the body, until you can take some God in your hands and eat, put some Christ to your lips and drink. I know that I have been in the presence of God when someone hands me a piece of bread and says, "The body of Christ, broken for you" and when I sip some wine and hear the words of the Psalm, "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). Taste; know that the Lord is good.

This Holy Supper confirms the promise that on the third day the temple of Christ's body was indeed raised up. His body is not dead, hidden away so we cannot touch him, know him, eat and drink with him and so go to church and discover that yes, indeed, God is there. His body is raised up and so he raises us up. When we fall, Christ raises us up. When we trip on our plans and programs, Christ raises us up. When we go over the edge of the cliff of despair, Christ raises us up. When we stumble over one another, getting in the way of the mighty works of God, Christ raises us up. Take; eat; taste; touch; hear; smell; see. The temple was torn down and on the third day raised up. The temple is Christ's own body, right here; and Christ raises us up.

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska


[1] From the podcast "On Being" with Krista Tippett; January 25, 2018. 

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