Temples, the Three Little Pigs, and Birthers

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 09 August 2009

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For the last few weeks, St. Paul has been using the image of the Body to help us understand our relationship with Christ and one another. When we imagine the Church as a body, we understand that working together with those around us is the natural thing to do, and understand how selfishness is unnatural and counter-productive. We also get a sense of how the Mystery of Baptism grafts us to this Body; how Repentance restores us when we have rendered ourselves from it; and how Communion is the life’s blood that continually infuses us and every part of the Body with vitality and vigor. Thanks to this image, we also understand what a blessing it is to have a head guiding us that is both loving and omniscient; submission becomes less a test of our faith than a rational and joyful response to the perfect order of things.

And while this image of the Church as a living breathing person teaches us a lot we might otherwise misunderstand, it does not help us understand all of the Mysteries God would like to reveal to us. God’s use of parables and imagery is designed to open our minds and draw us closer to the Great “I AM”. This requires that He come at us from a variety of different angles.

Today, the Apostle of Christ has turned from the imagery of the Church as a body and us as its members to the image of the individual Christian as a physical temple. I think that one of the reasons for the change is that the image of “building a temple” moves us from a more passive understanding of our proper place in relation to God and others, to a more active one designed to remind us that we have work to do, and that this work should be done well.

The image of the temple would have resonated in a special way to the Jews: the temple was central to their identity; there was only one temple; everyone knew about it; and much of Jewish scripture was dedicated to describing exactly how God wanted it to be built.

How do we build a temple?

We may not be as familiar with temple lore as the Jews of St. Paul’s time were, but the image of erecting a building still has a lot of meaning for us. For instance, we know that you have to begin by having a proper foundation [describe?]. This is true of constructing ourselves as temples, too: we have to build our body-temples on Christ. He is the “Solid Rock”; all other ground is “sinking sand”. In case you are not familiar with this amazing hymn, it was Christ Himself who said;

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (St. Matthew 7: 24-37)

Any foundation other than Christ will not allow you to withstand the buffets that will inevitably come. But we all know that the builder cannot stop with the foundation. Once you have to planted yourself firmly on Christ, you have to actually build the temple. Some of our ancient folk wisdom may help us to understand the importance of doing this well: the three little pigs. If you do not take time and care in building your temple, it may fall to nothing the first time that the wolf comes a’blowin’!

Saint Paul is giving the original – more dignified – version of this truth when he says in today’s lesson;

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

What sort of work are you building? How will it withstand the winds of temptation and trouble? Will it blow away, leaving you naked and alone, buffeted about about until you end up sinking in sand?

Build your temple on Christ. Fortify it with pious habits; with daily prayer, love of your neighbor, humility, reading the Scripture, communal worship, and participation in the Sacraments. These are your bricks, your gold, and your precious stones. If you do this, then your temple will not fall, and you will never face adversity alone. You may “suffer loss”, but you will be saved. You will become the temple of God and the Spirit of God will dwell in you, will protect you, and will sanctify you. As St. Paul says; “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”

More on the Epistle:

St. John C. spends the majority if his time on these verses explaining that they do not negate the possibility of damnation. One of the things you’ll note w. SJC is that he confronts logical challenges straight on. In this case, he demonstrates a general property of understanding scripture: you cannot interpret it in a way that goes against the Truth. In this case, there are lots of times where Christ has warned us of damnation. This one line of St. Paul can be interpreted to suggest some kind of Purgatory or universal salvation. Without the Church, what will guide you as you interpret Scripture. Who has the authority to teach? Who knows the Truth? Christ. Can the Holy Spirit individuals to interpret Scripture correctly? Well yes, but there are no individuals in Christ; only members of His Body. We are saved in Communion with others; should we surprised that the Truth is preserved within this Body? If you deny this, then I wonder if you have really accepted the Incarnation. The Church is no more a symbol of something greater than the Messiah who walked this Earth 2000 years ago was a symbol: both are the mystical, physical union of God and Man. God Incarnate in His Creation. God and Man. One Person. One Church.

Mail Call I:

Autocephaly: so how do we solve the problem of the Church in Ukraine? How do we solve the problem of the Church in America? I told you: focus on the Eucharist. Love your bishop. Celebrate God’s perfection and love and your unity in Him. If you have extra energy and time, serve and pray. If you still have energy and time, give everything you have to the poor and follow Christ. If you still have energy and time, then, after you have worn out your knees praying for it and if God calls you to do so, then work towards practical solutions.

Everything looks like a nail. The hammer we have is democracy and the state. Empowerment. See a problem: lobby to fix it. Support people with power who support our goals. But if we have not first prayed, and if we have no discernment, we must worry that we are simply engaging in laziness and gossip (why). We see it as our duty and right as citizens to make things better, to identify our own agendas and then work towards their satisfaction. Moreover, we polarize the debate into those who are our allies in working to improve things and those who are obstructing progress. This lack of charity is sad enough in secular politics, but it is sinful when applied to Church. People in the Church who do not share our agenda – or who do share it, but not our platform – are not our enemies. Nor are they the enemies of the Church.

We are like homeless refugees, who, when given temporary housing and food in a high-end hotel and the promise of a permanent home in the palace as soon as things can be arranged, complain that the carpets and drapes in our hotel do not match. Then we divide into camps about whether the carpets should be changed to match the drapes or the drapes to the carpets.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about autocephaly, only that it should not be prominent in your mind: the thing that should be prominent is the Peace that Passes all understanding; thankfulness and praise for God’s grace, and a desire to completely conform yourself to the pattern God has established for you.

Are you as passionate about living and sharing the Good News about Christ as you are about Church politics? I have met people who did not witness their love of the Lord to me, but excitedly shared all kinds of opinions about Church politics. Sad.

Mail Call II:

Weren’t the Epistles of St. Paul written before the Gospel? Aren’t the Gospels also like homilies?

Yes. They teach both the life of Christ and it’s context and purpose. From St. John you learn that the Eucharist was central to the understanding Christ; that this was the case from the beginning; that it was the case from the beginning because it was what Christ wanted and willed; and that Christ willed it because it matched the pattern of love and sanctification which are cornerstones of the world He made for us. My main point was that the Epistles of St. Paul are written in the form of a homily, not of a narrative. This is also the case with homilies.

Mail Call III:

Doesn’t Christian compassion demand better health care, using whatever means we have at our disposal?

Yes. The Social Gospel isn’t wrong, but needs to be centered on Christ. Must be wise stewards. Largely a matter of opinion, efficiency. Hammer and nails. Scares me how quickly we turn to it for solutions. Trends: bigger gov’t. Less objective constraint (e.g. Constitution). Increasingly amoral culture.

Moreover, the government distorts things. Should be provider of last resort. Can we not imagine other ways? Government solutions are difficult to tinker with: not self-correcting. Requires intentional action – politics make this difficult (but not impossible – if we have informed voters and/or wise politicians). Moreover, the gov’t cannot be one of the competitors in a market place. Not only does it have deepest pockets, it ultimately relies on coercion. Best to save it’s coercive powers for the last resort. Are we there with health care? Perhaps.

I still think we need to fundamentally rethink our attitude towards our health, our money, and our government.

Living Green. With me. Update on technologies: LED lights. (CFL?). Gardening? Not so well. But supporting gardeners? Yes! (how is CSA working?) Also support of parishioners. Yummy. Gave up on shakes. Now lots of raw veggies, broiled veggies, and stew. We will expand a bit each year. Tomatoes. Composting. Worm farming.

Local News: this week is Dormition/Assumption on NC (Exaltation on ours) Greek festival; next week is “Heritage Days”; school starting back; new rhythms. one new rhythm: more involvement with UOL. Starting a chapter. Hosting a meeting. All on the day of our festival. Busy? Yes, but is busy bad? Just have to make sure that is remains a rhythm and that I don’t lose the beat; don’t lose time; don’t lose the underlying rhythm. It must remain at the center: we have to get the temp from the Great Conductor. Tempting to come up with our own, maybe even form our own little ensemble with its own beat. Only sounds good if you close your ears to the greater symphony.

Other news:

Funny trends: subcultures. seem insane to others. maybe: but what if there is no shared conception of sanity. E.g. birthers in the south: according to Kathleen Parker, only 47% of southerners believe Pres. Obama was born in the US and 30% aren’t sure. Have they “ceded from sanity”. Perhaps. They have certainly ceded from something.

Michael Lind at Salon (thanks Crunchycon) points out that they are not the only subculture with its own odd set of facts. My own encounter with African Americans, and with Ukrainian nationalists.

This creates some interesting problems in a democracy; they will become even more interesting to the extent that: our fragmentation continues (jihad vs. mcworld is a strong metaphor); and the government does more and more. With a very limited government, all that is required is agreement on basic principles. With more gov’t , smooth operation (and lack of tyranny) requires agreement on more and more.

The Obama birther thing is interesting to me only to the extend it is an indicator of a deeper problem. The fact is that most people came to their opinion about Obama’s birthplace based on their attitudes towards him and his policies (and no, it isn’t just racism). This is how our brains work. The problem isn’t the fact of disagreement over the circumstances of a man’s birth; it is that it demonstrates a deeper and stronger division over fundamentals. Disagreements so strong and deep that they give rise to this kind of thing. True not just of this, but of all the other examples I gave.

So what is the answer? With regard to government, I like the answer of limited gov’t more than the Rousseauian answer of homogenization. Especially when that homogenization is not built on the Truth of Christ. Segue to final point:

The real answer to this is the Church. Ironically, this does involve a certain kind of homogenization: a shared recognition of the glory of God and the Way He has created for us. If we submit to this, then there are no Greeks or Jews; there are no Southern birthers; no African American or Ukrainian nationalists; there are only all of us united members of the Body Christ; with that body marching on to Zion.

And glory to God, on the way we can keep our gyros, bagels, grits, soul food, and holobchi.

Until next time: Godspeed.