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You are a traveling tabernacle and why that matters
Paul tells the Corinthians that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” We hold the Holy Spirit within us. For some of us, that’s an honor. For others, that’s a responsibility. For some of you, you might doubt God exists at all because you aren’t good enough to hold him. But I think that’s the beauty of it, his presence restores us. It makes us good enough. He didn’t select us because we were amazing, or something, I think he wanted to commune with us because we weren’t that way. But he also created us, in his image, and so we are perfectly fit to house him.
God has been making his presence among us since forever, basically. In Genesis 1, he created the “temple-cosmos.” He made his dwelling in how he organized creation.
God selected the people called Israelites to be “his people.” They were a lowly, down-trodden who needed a ruler. He decided to dwell among them. You may remember how he appeared to Moses in a burning bush. He gets the old shepherd out of his comfortable job and compels him to go back to Egypt, where he is a convicted murderer, to free his people who have multiplied in Egypt. This story of salvation is elemental to the Jewish faith and to our faith too. During U.S. Emancipation and Civil Rights, it was used (and is currently) used, to comfort black people who suffered slavery and oppression.
As the Israelites, led by Moses, leave Sinai and move to their promised land, their home, God dwells among them too. They wandered through the wilderness and looked for their home—and they carried the temple. We call it the tabernacle. It’s basically a lightly constructed tent and in the middle of it is the “Holy Place.” If you go into the “Holy Place” you’ll find the “Holiest Place.” That’s where God is. Only on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, could the High Priest enter. The Ark of the Covenant is in their too, with the tablets of Ten Commandments, as well as some other stuff.
When they settled, they actually built a Temple where God would dwell (and there was a holy of holies in there too). The Babylonians destroyed it, leaving the Jews without their own residence or one for God. The Old Testament writers, notably Ezekiel, tells us it was Israel’s disobedience that caused God to allow the Babylonians to destroy their Temple. Maybe the way that the Temple symbolized their strength and nationalism was their sin—not relying on God but on worldly structures of power. The Temple itself was a cultural center for the Jews and a real symbol that they’ve found home.
When Herod promised to reconstruct the Temple, the higher taxes he waged on people were met with less resistance because such a large project would restore the Hebrew sense of nationalism.
Jesus describes this Temple’s destruction as if it is the end of the world. The main reason is that for the Jewish people it is like their end of the world. The end of their culture, their nationalist spirit, the one thing they have that binds them as a people in the Middle of the Roman Empire. When those Romans destroy that Temple, it’s a major reminder of what happened to them in Egypt and in Babylon.
Jesus changes all of the temple politics. Remember the holy of holies? Matthew tells us that when Jesus was crucified the curtain ceiling it off was “torn.” Some people say it was torn because Jesus took on our sins and forgave them so that an annual Day of Atonement wasn’t necessary. I think the curtain was torn and God was unleashed. He no longer needed to be housed in a sanctuary, but rather, he is housed in us. The image comes to its fullness when the tongues of flame descend on all the gathered believers on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit rained on us and everyone had access. A large part of the whole New Testament is devoted to the opening of this veil and the inclusion of everyone. We are now the Temples of God and he dwells in us. He is in us and we are in him and in each other.
Paul makes this point rather explicitly in 1 Corinthians as I said before.
Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Our bodies matter. This is not a just an emotional or cerebral idea. Your body counts and is good. It’s been made good and it is redeemed and it is good enough for God to be in and among.
We hold the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ death and resurrection has made us not ours. We belong to one another, we belong to God, and we house his Spirit. You are a big deal. You matter. That’s the whole point of what we are talking.
The church is the Body of Christ and we are temples of the Holy Spirit in that body. Paul is exhorting us to honor God with our bodies, with our actions, by telling us truly who we are and what we are.
We don’t belong to ourselves, we belong to God and his body. That very question of identity is also a question of action. We are part of a tribe and a family now, we are responsible for our actions because our actions don’t affect us exclusively. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
That’s the heart of this proverb that we have: Since we are each and all temples of the Holy Spirit, art among us is never merely a matter of “self-expression.” In some sense, we can’t help be represent Him because He dwells in us. We are not just personally expressing ourselves, or even some abstract idea of concept. We are representing Jesus and the Spirit. This is why, like Alli was saying, we can see God in even the shallowest of songs. Why many of our actions are redeemable and understandable. But also why they carry weight and should require some thought and consideration.
You have the ability to change the world because you hold him. That’s a major responsibility, but I think it is an honor, one that should affirm you. You are a traveling tabernacle. You are a home for someone who doesn’t have one. What you express, how you live, matters because it touches them and influences them. All of us lead people that way. In you, through Jesus and His Spirit can find their place, home, and sense of self in you and what you are doing because you are filled with the Holy Spirit.
This probably sounds very grandiose to you, and I’m not really trying to inflate your ego. We are tiny people, that’s true, but God uses are tininess. I don’t think we can single-handedly change the world, I don’t think Circle of Hope as a whole will do that, but we can do our part and your part counts. That’s really what I’m getting at.
The Holy Spirit descending on us is a revolution. And you are elemental to that revolution. You know something, are something, and hold something that the whole world needs. Jesus needs us to do it.