Exodus 40:34-38; 1 Corinthians 6:19
This weekend, the Holy Spirit blew through our building, represented by warmth of heart and air; connections between old friends, strangers, and partners in ministry. The red and fiery orange of our sanctuary honored the milestones of calls to ordained ministry, to partnership work between faiths, to new ideas for ministries for the generations of our time. We learned how to listen better. We heard stories from our Jewish and Muslim partners in Abraham’s Tent. We bade farewell to the congregation of St. Mark Presbyterian Church, who will end their congregational life at the end of this month. And we sent this same congregation out. Their pastor warned us to be careful, they are coming! – a people of Spirit, hope, enthusiasm, and ideas, who want to bring St. Mark-ness to other congregations. We planted some new seeds for multi-racial congregational action. We elected and prayed for new leaders. We worshiped together, prayed together, ate together and planned together. Our Taborspace staff put their whole hearts into making this a smoothly supported event. Members and friends cooked food, set up tables and chairs and took them down, made sure the sound, recording and live-streaming worked, took pictures, sang songs, drank lots of coffee and smiled in patience whenever that, too, was needed. We made new friends in the yard yesterday, who were playing in the playground and chose to pitch in to heave tables and chairs back into their places.
I heard words from a couple of community folks who listened in. What did they say of this strange phenomenon of Presbyterians gathering for business? Not what I expected! Listen: “It was kind of magical!” And another, “There is lots of good energy in this room!”
Yes! There is lots of good energy in this room, which has been filled with worship and prayer and shared vision. The Holy Spirit was here this weekend, and continues to blow among us, thanks be to God!
God has always wanted to be among us – us specifically, us in this room, right now. But more broadly, God has always wanted to be among humans. One has the sense in reading the stories of creation that God was longing to create a being with whom God could dwell completely. As Adam found no one like himself among all the other creatures, so God found no one complementary to godself among the animal creatures. God just kept creating until humans emerged from God’s own breath. Then God walked and talked with them in the Garden of Eden. Eventually, the humans chose, to break community and try to compete with God – to be as good as God – no — better! We can’t live in community with others when we think we are better than they are; nor can we live in community if we believe we are less than they are. Community happens among beings who respect and honor each other as complete, whole, fully-valued as much as ourselves.
From that day when humans hid from God, God has yearned to be with us again. This story weaves its way through the Hebrew Scriptures. One of the most powerful evidences of God’s desire to live among God’s people is the glory of the Tabernacle.
God led the people out of Egypt into the wilderness in order to build a relationship with them, where they would have few distractions or temptations. God gave them rules for how to live in a wholesome, community-creating way.
Then, God took up residence in a tent, a tabernacle, right in the middle of their tents. When God’s tent was first set up, we read that God’s glory filled and covered it like a cloud, God’s presence shone light from it like fire. Whenever the cloud and fire moved on, the people moved on; when it stopped the people stopped. And so they sojourned in the desert, learning to live God’s pilgrim path.
With Moses and a few others, this worked okay. But in general, the people did not get close to God. The fire and glory scared them. They separated themselves, kept their obedient distance. This was not what God wanted. But God stayed with them.
When the people got to Palestine, which was finally their home, God allowed them to build a more permanent sign of God’s presence, called the Temple. When it was dedicated, God’s presence came to it, much like it had in the tabernacle: …a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:10-11).
But the people began to see the Temple as their place – a place to give them power and glory among the nations. And they didn’t notice as the glory of God faded behind the human pomp and ritual. Its light had gone out by the time the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. It was rebuilt decades later. But there is no account of the fire and glory of God ever descending on this rebuilt Temple. The absence of visible presence of God must have been a bit of an embarrassment and worry for the Jewish people. Pharisaism may have been a response to this – the belief that if liturgical and moral laws were obeyed more perfectly, then the glory of God would return to the Temple. They tried so hard, but the fire never descended. Even then, the people did not understand Holy Spirit, or know how to connect with her.
With this as background, the significance of Pentecost becomes absolutely astounding! On that day, the fire from heaven which resided in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, Holy Spirit, descended, not on a building, but on people! And all peoples – not just Jews (Acts 2:38-41). The rest of the New Testament letters explain what it means that humans on earth are now the Temple of God, God’s fire-and-light-infused Temple. Paul loved to say, “You are the Temple!” [1 Cor. 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:21-22].
Theologian, N.T. Wright, says, “Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.” [N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, Harper One, 2010]
It is a complete paradigm shift! God is no longer bound to a locality, or to one race or nation of people, but moves around and among and through all people. Sort of like the evening garden walks with Adam and Eve. It is what we were made for, what God yearned for from the beginning, and what our hearts yearn for now. The Holy Spirit is the living, breathing presence of God who is fully trustworthy, loving and kind-hearted. And not only is God with each of us in this powerful way, but because of the Spirit within us, we are the presence of God for each other. God with skin on.
One of the places we see this most often is when we gather. As Jesus announced, where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20). When the presbytery met to do business, the Spirit was there, guiding us in our decisions. When we gathered with the presbytery for Night Prayer, we sensed the Spirit’s presence. People knew that holiness and beauty were close by. And in that presence, we prayed together.
When two or three join their hearts in prayer, our eyes and hearts open. So often in these small groups, we hear the leading of the Spirit, words which call us to honor and follow. And these moments are powerful because we know we are not alone. Some folks are gathering in the Library between services to pray. Maybe this is the place for you to connect?
I am beginning to think that there is no more powerful healing balm than to be in the presence of one who hears your story and respects you completely. Where you are safe to be who you are. It is what people seek in support groups. I see it every week in the Divorce Recovery group – people come in weary and scared, leave lighter, knowing they are not alone. The Spirit is there. We are exactly that kind of presence for each other in this small but powerful congregation. Our differences do not divide, but give us an opportunity to be a holy, honoring presence for each other – the new Temple – welcoming all.
The Bible ends with one more image of the Temple. In Revelation, John sees God’s glory coming finally and completely to live among people. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the tabernacle of God is among mortals. God will tabernacle with them; they will be God’s peoples, and God in person will be with them…. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb (Revelation 21:2-3, 22).
God in this human Temple is no longer at a distance, but as close as our breath. As we follow our breath, we find the dwelling of the Spirit within us, and we let her give us life.
God in this human Temple is no longer watching life happen from afar and judging it,
standing over us shaking a finger or a lightning bolt.
God in this human Temple is the one who welcomes us home at the end of the day, to sit down and tell our story of adventure or boredom, of success or failure,
the one who listens and holds us in an embrace of complete safety,
the one who always says, I am especially fond of you!
God in this human Temple calls us to do this for each other. To hold each other’s lives and stories as sacred truth; to speak God’s blessing; to meet each other’s gaze knowing that we see something of infinite value, cherished completely. And so, we make each other whole.