Acts 2:1-21 † Psalm 104:24-34 † Rom 8:22-27 † John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
This was not the first time that fire from heaven came down on the earth. It had happened before. In Exodus[i] we read that fire from heaven descended on the Tent of Meeting. It says, “Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Whenever it lifted the Israelites would move in the midst of their wanderings, but when the cloud of fire settled on it, the Lord was in the tabernacle, and they remained where they were.
The theologian N.T. Wright[ii] reminds us it happened again in 1 Kings 8[iii]. For generations God lived in the Tent of Meeting, even after David, the king had settled in his own home. Finally, around 950bce, Solomon, David’s son, had finished the temple. God finally had a home, and on the day of dedication, fire filled the temple in much the same way it had filled the tent of meeting. “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness,” Solomon proclaims. “I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell forever.”
And so the divine presence of God was assured for the Jewish people, and, in Jewish thinking, Solomon’s Temple became the centering place of the whole world.
When in 587, the Babylonians tore down the temple and exiled the Jews, it presented a profound crisis. If God lived in the temple, where was God now? Ezra, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah convinced the people the temple had to be rebuilt. And so, in 515 when they returned from exile, they did, constructing the second temple, the temple that stood when Jesus walked, until the year 70 when this one too was destroyed.
There was a problem, though. There is no record that the fire of God, the shekinah glory of God ever descended on this second temple. Wright suggests this embarrassment could explain the growth of Pharisaism—a dominant belief in Jesus’ time that if people simply obeyed laws more completely, practiced their rituals more perfectly, maintained the sabbath to the letter—then the glory of God would return. Then they would once again be God’s chosen people.
But it didn’t.
And then Acts 2 tells the story of that day—that day when the fire from heaven descended not on a building, but on a people. And all people—not just Jews—were baptized and received the Spirit. N.T. Wright suggests that the Apostle Paul’s work is defined by the immense implications of this story. Quite simply, Paul was floored with the realization that God does not play favorites, but instead that God’s love, God’s power, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s glory is found in the whole of creation, and in you and me, and all people.
You are the temple of God, Paul tells the church at Ephesus. You are the temple of God, he declares to the Corinthians—a communion, by the way, that was not exempted even as it was filled with strife and dissension and struggle. [iv] And we are the body of Christ in which God’s glory dwells.
Do you believe this? Do you really believe this?
Do you give yourself to the audacious claim of value, of holiness that this day proclaims? Or do you wonder? Perhaps it is true for someone else, but surely not me.
I know I doubt at times, when it comes to my own sense of self, my own belief in God’s love, my own sense that, as Merton said it, We are all “walking around like the sun.”
So if you’re like me, don’t despair. The pastor Rob Bell thinks the disciples became the disciples precisely because it wasn’t what they were expecting to do or be asked to do. They were not the likely candidates. They were not the Torah students, the elite who had been prepared for it from birth. They were tradespeople with modest goals. They were going to take on the family business and nothing more, nothing else. And then Jesus called them. Jesus saw in them what they couldn’t see in themselves. And they left their nets behind, and they followed. And it started a fire.
Maggie told me this week that there’s a common thread she’s seen through her work at Seattle U in religious communities who are engaged in trendsetting, vital new ministries. The common denominator is that they were desperate. They were dying, so they were willing to take a chance at something different.
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
That’s how Peter explains it to the astonished onlookers. The glory of God has fallen on you and on all people. This is where our story begins. You are the temple of God. You are Christ’s beloved. You are what the world needs. We are Christ’s body. Holy people for holy people. Holy people for a holy world.
This is what Gandhi and King understood and what the Poor People’s Campaign today claims. This is what the heart of Judaism understood with its mission to mend the world. And this is what the world needs today. But it cannot begin until we know that we are the temple of God—in our brokenness, in our imperfection, in our dreaming and hoping and longing. You are the temple of God—and that changes everything—a being of absolute value besides others of absolute value, for the salvation of a holy world.
Thanks be to God.
[i] Exodus 40:34-38.
[ii] These ideas are summarized by Richard Rohr in his “Daily Meditation” column. “The Evolution of the Temple” April 20, 2015. Retrieved on May 19, 2018 from http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=7ff2eee8-2a69-48a2-841e-91640c14c09e&c=ee206a20-643a-11e4-a643-d4ae528eaba9&ch=ee257330-643a-11e4-a643-d4ae528eaba9.
[iii] 1 Kings 8:10-13.
[iv] Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21-22.
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