Read Sermon


Temples, tents, and car parks

10th Sunday after Trinity BCP

20 August 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

I have a Welsh friend, whose name I really cannot pronounce, who wakes up each day and has to decide whether she feels happy enough to be in a 'temple (of beauty)' mood, or whether she is yet again, in her own words, feeling and looking like a municipal car park. Whenever I see her, I simply ask 'temple or car park, darling?'

Here in Mayfair we are surrounded by temples of various sorts. Temples to fashion, to beauty, to entertainment and gastronomy, to dancing and style, to corporate finance, property, and investment. Some secular temples take on an almost sacred status…think of the strong emotions that surfaced regarding the pulling down of the old Wembley Stadium, home of English football. Hallowed locus of 1966 World Cup Glory and many a thrilling FA Finale. Eventually, of course, the new temple will arise and open at Wembley.

Jerusalem was the home and focus of the Jewish religion. Today's Gospel follows Jesus' triumphal entry into the holy City on a donkey, and his final Passover is approaching. His lamentation over Jerusalem was possibly spoken in verse in the original Aramaic, showing an ironic play on words in his teaching that is not untypical. Jerusalem (which might mean 'City of Peace') cannot recognise the moment when True peace comes. According to St. Mark one of the main charges brought against Jesus was that he had said 'I will throw down this temple, made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands' (Mark 14:58) and this threat seems to have become one of the things most popularly associated with him…the crowds jeer at him on the cross 'You would pull the temple down, would you, and build it in three days?' So it seems likely that this account of the 'cleansing' of the temple was originally some sort of messianic demonstration…a dramatised 'sign' of the presence in their midst of the new temple. As it happened Jesus' words about the destruction of Jerusalem came to pass in A.D. 70 at the hands of the Romans.

Throughout history God has sought to dwell among his people, even though no physical structure can really harbour him. This paradox is expressed biblically where it is variously said that the temple of God is made or is not made by human hands. Examples of temples made with human hands would be those first sanctuaries where the nascent faith of the patriarchs discovered, with awe and trembling, the presence of God. Then, later on, the tent of meeting in the desert, at the mercy of the wind, where Moses spoke with Yahweh, face to face. This idea has recently been re-received, and here in our own Diocese, the Bishop of London has encouraged the work of the Centre for Reconciliation and Peace within St. Ethelberga's in the City. They opened a tent within the building during May, during which the Bishop said this:

"As you know the first words of the oldest creed in the Hebrew scriptures are "a wandering Aramean was my Father". At the same time the "tent of meeting" is richly symbolic especially for the faiths which in their different ways look back to Abraham. The Temple is a high place of worship, the house is the place where members of the family gather but the tent which is a provisional not permanent structure can be a place of wider hospitality and meeting. Our intention at St Ethelburga's is to create "a big tent" where all can feel at home and where the role of host can be assumed by different people in turn."

(Archbishop of York has been fasting and living in a tent within his own 'temple' of York Minster, to draw attention to the lack of focus on finding solutions to the problem of Palestine and the Holy Land this week.)

Early sanctuaries of encounter, a tent of meeting pitched in the desert, at length gave rise to the glorious temple itself in Jerusalem, where the Lord of Hosts took up his dwelling. In a sense these are all temples made with human hands.

But what of the temple of God not made by human hands? Did he not already dwell in the works of creation - described in the early pages of Genesis? And don't the prophets announce that God wishes to dwell in the hearts of a faithful people?

You often hear people say you do not need to go a building in order to worship God…which of course is true, but one suspects this is usually uttered as an excuse for not attending to the serious work of prayer. After all the Temple was good enough for Our Lord, and why should some people think themselves to be better than He? By faithfully visiting the Temple, Jesus shows himself the worthy successor of the lovers of the Lord, as he goes regularly to the holy dwelling place…the place of encounter…the place of prayer. When there, and in direct line with prophetic tradition, he prepares the way for the new order, where, in his own body, everything comes to fruition and fullness. The glorious body of the risen Christ, holy Church, which still remains a 'work in progress' as she continues to be built up, and also the Christian believer wthin whom the Spirit dwells - this is now the true sanctuary. The temples made by human hands will be at the service of the temple not made by human hands. Within both the holy building, and within the heart of every believer dwells the living God…the Lord of Hosts who makes His home and insists 'My house is a house of prayer'. A brief definition of prayer might describe simply 'an encounter with God'…a meeting with God. Words of encouragement and also a command to each of us - whether we feel like temples, or a municipal car park.
Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.