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Evensong Sermon

St Margaret’s Church,  Binsey

Evensong on Sunday April 30th   2017 [Easter 3]

Revd. Professor Martin Henig


Psalm 48; Haggai 1:13 – 2:9; 1 Corinthians 3:10 -17

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  [ 1 Corinthians 3: 16]

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This question, which St Paul put to the early Christians of  Corinth, is the same question I want to put to you. Remember the context. The Second Temple (which the prophet Haggai records as in the process of being built after the Babylonian captivity and which had, just before the birth of Jesus, been lavishly embellished by Herod the Great) still stood during Paul’s lifetime. For Jews (and remember that included the followers of ‘the Way’, as the first Christians called themselves) that was the only Temple that mattered, and doubtless some members of the Corinthian Ecclesia had been there on pilgrimage. However, even if they had not, they would have been well aware of  the, now even more ancient, temples of  Archaic and Classical Greece. The 6th century Temple of Apollo in Corinth and of course the Parthenon and the other temples of 5th century Athens which survive as ruins today would have been flourishing centres of cult in the 1st century of our era. And of course there were plenty of newer temples in the Roman Colonia that was Corinth.

We do not generally employ the word ‘Temple’ for our own places of worship, though we might. In the USA, though not in England, even Jews call their synagogues [a word with very much the same meaning as ecclesia] temples, and of course temples are very much at the centre of Hindu and Jain cults in India. However, we do regard the building, the Church, in which we worship as central to our faith. This church of St Margaret’s, Binsey is consecrated ‘sacred space’ as is the surrounding churchyard. There is nothing unseemly in that of course: it does not detract from our faith in a God who is present throughout his Creation, caring as much for the sparrows as he does for our own species.  I am, as you know, passionate about the conservation, embellishment and preservation of our churches on at least three counts. First, as Historic buildings they link us to our past; secondly, they are frequently glorious works of architecture in themselves,  enshrining art of great interest and quality; thirdly they are sacred spaces which have been used for meditation and prayer for many generations.

That third aspect, however, provides a connection with St Paul’s teaching. Beautiful buildings and beautiful art are mutable, and will inevitably fall victim to time and chance. I was struck by this visiting the Greek temples, both those which I have already mentioned and perhaps, especially, the great Temple of Zeus at Olympia, one of the great wonders of Classical architecture, which was  flattened by earthquake, its huge column drums lying scattered around on the ground like so many bricks from a child’s toy castle. But then remember Jesus’ prophecy about the Jerusalem Temple. When one of his disciples commented on the size of the stones and of the building he replied that: ‘Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down’.[1]

Of course, we all fervently  hope that our cathedrals and churches will endure for centuries and we can expect that they will, by and large, outlast us and our children, but our deepest hope resides in a spirituality not made with hands, and which finds a home in us. God is not confined within a building;  after all a building however beautiful and venerable, is not required for the worship of God. We come to church once or twice a week in most cases, and are so easily distracted, church people- clergy, churchwardens, sidespeople and choir, most of all. Can we find the keys to the sacristy? Have we lit all the candles? Where are the hymnbooks or music sheets?  But all of us are distracted by irrelevant thoughts even during worship – what are we going to eat tonight? Have I posted that birthday card?  Have I prepared for tomorrow’s daily tasks at school or office? Remembering that Sa-tan is not in Biblical and Jewish thought the horrific horned personification of evil, but rather an annoying questioner of our integrity and distractor from whatever we should be doing, we are all in the grip of Sa-tan!

Do take heart and  relax; remember that every single one of us is a temple of the sacred flame that is Christ, whether we are in sacred space or outside it. God created us and every creature on earth, and all have within them that spark, that flame. It demands purity of each of us, primarily that means kindliness, love emanating from God to us and then reflected to the world around us. We should try to do no violence, no harm, to his creation which of course includes other human beings and other animals (what the Indians call the doctrine of Ahimsa) and see ourselves as Christ surely saw himself as servant of all;[2] we should reject pride, avarice and lust for power as Jesus rejected them in the Wilderness.[3]  Just as we would use the most precious materials to beautify a place of worship, we should take the very greatest care to make ourselves truly worthy of receiving the Spirit of God. Jesus was famously charged with having said he was able to destroy the Temple and to rebuild it in in three days,[4] doubtless taken as inflammatory by his accusers, but such thoughts that God works through us should remind us that we are always in the presence of God, that Christ is within us and working through us.

I am tremendously relaxed about defining sacred space provided it speaks to me of love and respect, whether it is Christian sacred space or a temple of another faith, provided that it resonates with those high ideals, having found peace from time to time  in Hindu and Jain temples, Jewish synagogues, deserted chapels, and ruined prehistoric and Classical temples, as well, of course, in numerous churches of various denominations,  believing as I do that Christ is not simply a possession for the exclusive use of Christians but is incarnate within the very fabric of all that is and will be. By the same token other people of other faiths or professing none, and indeed other creatures one meets, all carry the touch, the holy flame, of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is why the vast cruelties inflicted on creation, on the innocent,  everywhere are so very depressing, blasphemies which drive one back to contemplating Christ, into whose death every one of us is baptised, though if we are Easter people we know that there is more much more than cruelty and death in the world for as Temples of the Risen Lord we bear witness to his Resurrection and attest His ultimate victory over suffering and death. As Mother Julian of Norwich proclaimed:  All will be well and all manner of things shall be well!

Christ has Risen! He has risen indeed!



+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.





[1] Mark 13:1-2

[2] It might be a useful exercise to break away from our speciesism, and first try to see humans as they might be perceived by a squirrel, a bird or a cow, and then ask ourselves, as humans, how far we fall short of God’s injunction of stewardship.

[3] Matthew 4:1-11

[4] Matthew26:61