Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We Dance Together: A Sermon

Sunday, June 19, 2016
A Meditation on Acts 3:1-10


Emil Nolde: 'Christ and the Children' (1910)
Now when Jesus was around, when Jesus was hanging with Peter and John and Mary and Martha and the rest of them, he used to say to them, "My body is the new temple."  "My body is the new temple."  Kind of a gutsy thing to say as you go around Jerusalem, in and out of the marketplace, up and down the steps of the great and holy temple itself.  "My body is the new temple."

And that would get all kinds of folks worked up--priestly types and government types and the opportunists who made a pretty good living off the temple pilgrims in those days--it would get them all worked up because they heard Jesus saying that he didn't care much for the old temple.  Which was only partially true.  "My body is the new temple," he used to say.  And his words had an edge to them.  Jesus' words always had a kind of an edge to them.  "You can tear me down," he used to say, "but God will raise me up."  No doubt he wanted to provoke them--no doubt he wanted them to see and feel everything that was at stake.  In his life.  In their lives.  "My body is the new temple," he used to say.

You see, Jesus wasn't messing around.  Jesus proposed to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth.  Nothing less than that.  This was his great proposition.  The kingdom of God on earth.  And not ten years down the line.  And not a little bit at a time.  But at that moment.  In his lifetime.  In Palestine.  The kingdom of God on earth.

And that, you see, that meant experiencing his own body as the temple of God.  Jesus experiencing his own body--his heart, his hands, his life force--as the temple of God.  As the location of God's revelation in the world.  As the venue of God's daring action in the world.  His body.  As the most beautiful, most sacred site on the planet.

And you know this, right?  You know that this is how Jesus talked; this is how he talked to Peter and John and Martha and Mary and the others; this is what he preached in the streets, and on the temple steps, to everybody listening.  "My body is the new temple," he used to say.  And of course, once you go there, if you're Jesus, once you go to your body as the temple, you're on a wild ride with a holy God who calls your body home.  And that's a wild ride that changes everything about your days and your nights, your dreams and your dear ones.  Once you go there, everything is transfigured and transformed.

You see, if Jesus experienced his own body as the temple of God, then he came to know that Peter's was too, and John's was too, and Mary's too, and Martha's too.  And if their bodies were temples of God, then the diseased guy on the corner, the guy talking to himself all the time: his body was the temple of God too; and the Roman centurion all puffed up and proud: his was too; and the little children, all those little children who bounded Jesus' way and bounced on his knee.  Their little bodies were temples of God too.  You see what I mean about that wild ride that changes everything?  You see what I mean about the kingdom of God?

Now I want to get to this morning's story in Acts, but this is all part of it.  Background, context.  My colleague Julian DeShazier at University Church in Chicago talks about the critical difference, the prophetic difference between what he calls the Temple Perspective of Jesus and the Pornographic Perspective of 21st century capitalism.  The Pornographic Perspective is the way the markets see our bodies: as body parts, as body parts only, as some body parts better than other body parts, as some bodies better than other bodies.  We're nothing more than objects for somebody else's enjoyment or enrichment.  You know how this goes, right?  It's the Pornographic Perspective; and it's all over our television sets and our computer screens.  And it's making some people very rich and the rest of us very, very poor.

But the Temple Perspective--well, that's something else entirely, right?  The Temple Perspective: that's Jesus' way of seeing things.  That's the way Jesus sees our bodies, the way God makes our bodies.  We are temples of God, every one of us.  And all of us is sacred stuff.  And all of us is holy ground.   With Jesus, you don't have to choose: I like my eyes, but my hips?  Not so much.  I like what I look like in that suit, but those shorts?  Not so much.

Jesus is working with a Temple Perspective.  Your black body is a temple of God.  Your brown body is a temple of God.  Your curvy body, your skinny body, your HIV-positive body, your differently-abled body: these aren't just pieces of somebody else's puzzle, these aren't just cogs in the market's money-making machine, these arent' just a bunch of pornographic parts.  Your body is a temple of God: it's where God's action's going down, it's where the holy life of the spirit unfolds.  Your body is the location of God's revelation.  So Jesus says, "My body is the new temple."  And every one of your bodies is a temple too.

And you know this.  This is what Jesus's talking about when he says that the kingdom of God is at hand.  Literally!  The kingdom of God is in your hands.  And in your heart.  And in your abdomen and in your hips and in the vessels and arteries and tissue nobody else can see.


So really, I want to get to the story in Acts.  But just a little pivot here to this week's news and this week's devastation in Orlando.  There are just so many ways of grieving this kind of violence, so many ways of viewing what happened at 'The Pulse' early last Sunday morning.  We can break it down in so many different ways.  It's a gun issue, it's an NRA issue and it's a legislation issue.  For sure.  And.  It's an LGBTQ issue, it's a homophobia issue, and it's a can-we-once-and-for-all-root-out-this-hatred-from-our-religious-traditions issue.  For sure.  And.  It's a Latino/Latina issue, another issue where people of color are on the receiving end of violence and contempt in America.  For sure.  What happened in Orlando last Sunday is all these things.

But as the church--as the church of Jesus Christ who said "WE ARE TEMPLES OF GOD"--as that church we've got to say something more, something different.  Something that takes everything else into account, but something more.  We've got to bring out our Temple Perspective.  It doesn't make us any better than anyone else, but it better make us mindful and responsible for our calling here.  On this planet.  In this moment.  Our Temple Perspective.  That's what we bring to this.

So we have to say: 50 beautiful temples were destroyed last week in Orlando.  50 holy sites were wiped off the planet last week on a dance floor, in a gay club.  50 manifestations of God's revelation were obliterated last week because we can't get our American minds around gun control.

And we can't go on like this.  We can't do this business where we weep for a few weeks and allow the forces of violence and empire to silence us and pacify us and shut us up.  50 temples were destroyed.  50 children of God were shot dead, just dancing and loving themselves and living life.  We have to undo all this violence: wherever it is--in us, in our minds, in our gun laws, in our homophobic religious beliefs.  Wherever it is.  We have to undo all this violence.  That's where the Temple Perspective takes us this morning.  We have to dismantle the architecture of violence in this country.


So now I'm ready for Acts.

"One day," Acts 3.  "One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer..."  One day, going up to the temple.

And Peter and John, in these very early days of the church, in these first weeks of their new lives: Jesus isn't with them anymore, at least they can't see him in the way they used to see him.  And they're sorting through all that, making sense of Jesus now, making sense of his teaching now, what it all means now.  The kingdom of God: where is it, exactly?

And they're going up to the temple for their religious practice, to do the holy thing for God...and they come upon a guy who the marketplace sees everyday, who the good people of Jerusalem know very well, who's a regular fixture on the city scene.  And he's a broken man, a body of broken parts, and a sad soul: I imagine the good people of Jerusalem, passing by on their way to the temple, seeing him briefly and filing him away.  Maybe they toss him a coin or two, maybe even a twenty on a good day.  They might even say a prayer for him when they settle in.  But honestly, he's a series of categories to them: oh that homeless guy maybe, oh that disabled guy maybe, oh that queer fellow maybe.  So they toss him a dollar and head on in to the temple.  To see God, right?

But Peter looks intently at him.  You caught that line, right?  Peter looks intently at him.  It's the revolutionary moment in this text.  It's the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this text.  It's the Temple Perspective in Peter's heart.  Peter looks intently at him.  He looks at him not as a series of categories, and not as a bunch of body parts, and not as an obstruction in the way at the hour of prayer.  Peter looks at him: and Jesus' teaching comes suddenly and wildly and fully to life.  The kingdom is at hand.

HERE is the temple.  The location of revelation.  Not the building up ahead, not the words on the wall, not the rites and habits of the people in the building up ahead.  Here is the temple: this meeting of two bodies in the street, this opportunity to look one another in the eye, this compassion that recognizes holiness in human being.  HERE is the temple.  Peter's body and John's body, and the body of a new friend looking them both in the eye.  Dreaming of dancing.

And Peter says to him, "I have no silver.  I have no gold.  But what I do have I give to you.  I have this Temple Perspective.  I have Spirit in my heart.  I have Jesus Christ in my flesh."  And so Peter reaches out with his right hand and he raises him up.  One temple raising another temple.  One man's body honoring another man's body.  One man inviting another man to dance.  And immediately--the text says--immediately his feet and ankles are made strong.  The guy who just a moment ago was lame and pitied and spat upon.  His feet and his ankles are made strong.  And he jumps up and enters the sanctuary with Peter and John, and their walking together, and they're leaping together, and they're dancing and praising God together.  The kingdom of God is at hand.


It wasn't much of a surprise this week to see that the hateful people of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas are at it again; and they're sending protesters to the funerals of Orlando's martyrs in the coming days.  You remember Westboro Baptist?  They're the folks who show up spouting hate and God's judgment and divine ugliness when there's tragedy and suffering of any kind, anywhere.  They're a miserable bunch.  And they're traveling to Orlando to multiply misery.  Or to try to.

Because in response, the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre--a lively troupe of actors and actresses there in Florida--is vowing, promising, committing to show up wherever and whenever Westboro Baptist shows up.  And did you see that they're promising to do?  Whenever Westboro Baptist shows up for a funeral, to mock the dead and chastise their families, the theatre crowd will show up in even larger numbers.  And it's even better than that.  They'll be dressed, all of them, as huge, white angels--with flowing white robes and broad linen wings.  You've got to see the pictures.  They've got their costume department working overtime now.  And their white angel wings will be so broad, so wide, so glorious--that they'll hide the haters from view, from the grieving families who gather to entrust their loved ones to God's grace.  

Friends, that's the kind of thing you do when you know that your body's a temple of God.  When you know that your friends are temples too.  You put your bodies in the way of hatred and misery and you block the hurt that some insist on doing to others.  And it's time for THAT in America.  It's time for civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance and the people of God living like holy temples.  It's time for reaching out with our right hands and lifting one another out of despair, and out of complacency, and into the dance of justice and revolution.  It's time, friends, for the kingdom of God.

The movement in this morning's text begins with vision, with feeling, with compassion: with Peter looking intently at the man who's been lying on the temple steps forever.  But it doesn't end there.  Peter reaches out with his right hand and raises him up.  Peter embodies his faith, risks his faith, affirms the Christ in his own flesh.  And then he raises the man to his feet.  And they go off leaping and dancing and praising God together.

Friends, it's time for that in America.  It's time for that in the church.  It's time for us to embody our faith, to put our bodies in the way of hatred and to say NO MORE to violence and cruelty.  Because that's what temples do.  That's how temples dance.