Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; I Corinthians 3:16-23; Psalm 103; Matthew 5:38-48
In our lesson from Leviticus, the Lord says, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In our Gospel lesson from St. Matthew, Jesus says, “My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors…In a word, you must be perfected as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In our second lesson from St. Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, we read, “ Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?...the temple of God is holy and you are that temple…all things are yours, whether it be…the world, or life, or death, or the present, or the future: all these are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” That is some heavy hitting, we are to be holy and perfect and loving to our neighbors and our enemies and we are the temple of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit – how are we to accomplish all these things? How CAN we accomplish all these things? Well, the truth is, we can’t – we certainly can’t on our own. The key to this dilemma is hidden in our lesson from First Corinthians, I say hidden because English, unlike Greek, in which the letter was written, does not have a second person plural pronoun. In English we have “you”, whether it is one person, a dozen, or a hundred. But, in this letter, when Paul says, “You are the temple of God” and everywhere else in this passage where the word is translated “you”, he uses the plural. Paul here is talking to the Church, not individual Christians. It is the Church that is the temple of God and where the Spirit dwells, it is the Church that has all things and belongs to Christ. And therefore, we, who are the Church, who are the Body of Christ, are and have all these as well, but only as the Church.
It is a difficult concept for us, who have been raised with a western individualistic world-view, to understand that our salvation, our relationship with God, our living the truth of Christ and commitment to the Good News is the Church, it is nothing other than the Church. The Church, as the Body of Christ and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, is salvation, is the truth, is the Good News. It is in and as the Church that we can love our neighbors and our enemies because we don’t need to rely on our own strength or wisdom, we have the entire Church to draw on – the Saints, Angels, our brothers and sisters of all times and places, the Presence of the Trinity to uphold and sustain us. We are not alone, as Christians we cannot be alone. We are joined in Christ, everything we do, we do as a member of that Body. And so, when we fall down we are helped back to our feet and someone else, on earth or in heaven, takes up the slack. We are holy and perfect, not as individuals, but as the Church, our holiness and perfection is that of Christ.
Now, this does not let us off the hook as far as our personal spiritual growth is concerned, we must still struggle along the narrow way, but we struggle as a person who shares Christ’s nature, not as a disconnected unit. We struggle as the member of a Body that is holy and that supports us in our struggle. We struggle because we want to be a strong and useful member of the Body, to be able to raise up others as we have been raised up by them.
After commanding us to love our enemies, Christ says, “This will prove that you are children of your heavenly Father, for his sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust.” What this means to us is that we must cultivate this Divine attitude, we must be loving, just and generous to everybody, not let our behavior be swayed by our feelings. We are not to harbor resentment, anger, hatred, bitterness, prejudice or contempt for anyone, including ourselves. We are to turn the other cheek, hand over our coat and go the extra mile, we are not to live by the letter of the law, but by the Spirit, which is love. St. Paul says we are to become fools to the world so that we may be wise in Christ. Our Lord said, “If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?...If you greet your brothers only, what is so praiseworthy about that?” We are to risk being a fool to the world, we are to love where the world says we are to hate, we are to welcome where the world says to reject, we are to be an example that there is another way, and that way is Christ, and how we live that way is as the Church.
It is this living as the Church that makes it so important that we have prayer, devotion and a worship space in our homes, a place to light candles, pray with icons, remember the saints and holy days – a place where we live out the rhythm of the Church year in our homes. The holiness, love and perfection of the Church, the Body of Christ, bless and enrich our homes as we bless and enrich the Church when our home is a house of prayer.
We are the temple of God and we are the place where the Spirit dwells and all things are ours and we are Christ’s.
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