Temples of the Holy Spirit
Editor’s note: This morning, Leopoldo Sánchez delivered the following homily in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. It includes a brief reflection on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the context of the Epiphany theme of the identity of Christians as temples of the Holy Spirit living in an unholy world.
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Monday of the Week of Epiphany 2 (January 16, 2012)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Temple talk in Scripture points us to a living temple that never dies. That is Jesus. He is God’s holy temple on earth. God’s own presence in the flesh, among sinners, to make us a holy people. Epiphany! God most holy manifested in the flesh to sanctify the flesh. The temple is not a lifeless building. He has flesh and bones. The temple walks among us, it moves, it is full of life, and gives his life to us.
Jesus is God’s temple. The Father raised him from the dead. Otherwise, his body would be lifeless, just like any building or temple. But Jesus is alive, raised in the body, to give his brethren resurrection life. And so he is the firstfruits of the coming harvest, of your resurrection.
But the only way Jesus can give us resurrection life is by giving us the Holy Spirit. The only-begotten Son is raised by God according to the Spirit of holiness—to use Paul’s language—so that you, who are made adopted sons and daughters by the same Spirit in baptism, may also be raised to life. And so the Spirit is the down payment and firstfruits of your resurrection. No Spirit, no resurrection, for Jesus or for us.
Before the coming of Jesus, some Jewish tradition taught that the Holy Spirit had departed from the temple. How can the Holy be among the unholy? But when Jesus, God’s holy temple among us, comes to make us holy, the Gospel writers tell us that the Spirit descends, rests, remains upon him. And so the Holy Spirit has returned to the temple. Once again, the Spirit lives in a living temple: Jesus. And the one who bears that Spirit gives it to you.
So now you get to be temples in the world. You are temples of the Holy Spirit, of the living God, of the risen Christ. Once again, the temple moves, has flesh and bones, arms and legs. It’s you!
The Holy Spirit chooses the most unlikely places to rest and dwell, in the lowly child of Bethlehem, in the Jesus from Galilee where nothing good comes from. But even more amazingly, the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell in sinners like us. The Holy One dwells in the unholy to make us holy and bring holiness to an unholy world.
What does it mean to be temples of the Holy Spirit? Paul teaches about what temples do in the church. We honor our bodies, where the Spirit dwells, by fighting against sexual immorality, divisions in the church, and false teachers.
But this apostolic teaching also has application for Christians as they live in the Spirit in the world. You are the living temples of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to God’s holiness in an unholy world. You are the ones who carry the Word and all manners of holy living to a world where immorality, division, and wrong teaching happens. You are God’s living temples in a world where other temples claim the devotion of people. You are temples of the Spirit where other spirits capture and bind the thoughts, affections, and actions of people.
And there is an Epiphany lesson in all this: You are the little epiphanies of God’s mercy and care for the lost, the poor, and all sorts of neighbors. You are Christ’s presence in the world.
Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is celebrated today, was one such temple. He acted quite consciously as a Christian in society and, from his own vocational place, dramatized through peaceful demonstrations and speeches an unholy state of affairs. He wanted to make life, in this less than perfect world, better for his people and for all people. Before the era of globalization and Internet, of Madonnas and Lady Gagas, there were really only two Americans that almost anyone outside of the U.S. knew: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. And both because of their public moral stand on the question of human dignity. Martin Luther King Jr. honored his body by fighting against the sin of racism.
What are the unholy places that need the light of Christ today? The unholy places where the Spirit of holiness must give witness to Christ through God’s holy people?
Temples of the Holy Spirit move around in the world where real neighbors with real needs live. We can argue about who deserves a holiday and who doesn’t. Or about who is more morally upright than another. Or whether this or that Christian always has his theology right when he applies it to some difficult situation. But that misses the point entirely.
Temples of the Holy Spirit are not perfect. They are sinners. That God dwells at all in any of us is a miracle. Still the Spirit uses us to bring the Gospel and charity to all kinds of neighbors, to bring the light of Christ to the world. And for those little epiphanies we are most thankful to our Father.
The Spirit of resurrection helps us to attend to concrete needs in the world while setting our eyes on the world that is yet to come. The Spirit does not seek to make unholy society heaven or paradise, but he does work through God’s holy people to make it more humane for our neighbors through our various vocations where holiness actually happens.
It’s amazing. The Spirit of the living Christ even makes us bold to dare to do things for the sake of a neighbor even when that might cost us our own lives. Jesus, full of the Spirit, dies on the cross. Like Jesus, Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit, and gets stoned to death. Life in the Spirit has the shape of a cross.
The Spirit allows even normal, ordinary Christians to take bold stands for the sake of some neighbor. People like Bonhoeffer, King, or Romero. If life in the Spirit means life in the shape of the cross, they experienced it alright. We may not all die the kind of death they died. That’s the Spirit’s business, not ours. That cross is for God alone to give.
But like them, we are temples of the Holy One in an unholy world. That could be scary, but fear not. The Spirit will raise us from the dead. The disciples of Jesus actually believed this stuff. This is why they rejoiced in the Spirit even after the beatings that the name of Christ brought upon their bodies.
In this less than holy world, the Spirit who dwells in you will give you the strength and boldness to offer your body as a living sacrifice to the Lord, to honor your body in a sinful world as a witness to Christ and for the sake of your neighbor, whatever that might bring to your life.
Holy Spirit, through the Word, make us ever holy to be Christ’s little epiphanies in an unholy world.