Saturday, January 14, 2012

Epiphany 2B

New Years day was quite an education for me. I was told that Japanese people are not religious, yet they pray at the shrine. And from the lineups I saw at the various shrines in the area, I could see what people meant.

I would say that makes Japanese people VERY religious. At least in practice if not in belief. It seems that in such a highly ritualized culture, the act of praying at the shrine is a quite a religious thing to do, even if folks sometimes do so out of ritual or simple tradition.

Tokyo is this amazing city where I can walk through blocks and blocks of highly modern landscape, with its massive steel and glass buildings, and stunning architecture. Then I encounter - out of nowhere - a small Buddhist temple. And someone might be praying there. And down the block I’ll stumble upon a Shinto shine, reminding people of the city’s deep history.

And of course, on my way to the office I walk through the Yasukuni Shrine, where there is, often, a crowd gathering. And knowing its complicated history, and the strong feelings it arouses, I make my way as quickly as I can when the young men in black shirts and sunglasses start shouting into their microphones.

Religion is everywhere here. Yearnings for the sacred are found on every city block.

This wouldn’t have been news to the Christians in Corinth. The Corinthian Christians knew shrines, and they knew temples. They knew that temples and shrines were places where gods and goddesses lived.

Temples were expensive to build and even worse to maintain. Temples were sacred, holy, awe-inspiring places. They were places people went to celebrate life’s special events, those transitional moments that helped them along life’s journey. If they wanted to find the Holy, they went to the shrine and the temple.

So they were probably surprised when Paul asked them: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

They probably answered, “No, we didn’t know that.” After all, how COULD they know that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit? That wasn’t what they were taught. And it’s not always something we remember as well. And forgetting that we - our bodies - are temples of the Holy Spirit can bear significant consequences.

I know this from personal experience.

I think I’ve done more walking in the past 10 weeks than I’ve done in the past 5 years. Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, where I came from is, very much, a car culture. Actually, it’s more of a truck culture. While I buzzed around the city in my mighty 2006 PT Cruiser manual, 5-speed, with no cruise control or air conditioning, most other vehicles on the road were fully loaded half-ton pick-up trucks, with the occasional gun rank on the back.

In the eight years I lived in Lethbridge, I never once took the bus. It simply didn’t occur to me. Public transit wasn’t on my radar screen. Even though I could walk to my office from my apartment in 24 minutes (I once timed it), I still drove. I told myself that it was because I needed my car for home visits, and going to meetings, or running around the city doing church business.

But that was just a lie I told myself. I was immersed in the car culture of Alberta and didn’t want to admit it. I assumed I was better than those who reflexively bought into the unspoken idea that successful adults drove. Losers and children didn’t.

And swallowing whole the notion, I grew into the lovable mass of tubbiness you see now. And why my walking has helped me reconnect with my physicality. Aching leg muscles and sore feet remind me that I’m alive.

I see Alberta’s car culture as a metaphor for how we see ourselves. It’s as if the less we need to use our bodies than the further progress we’ve made.

It’s as if we’re running from our physicality, and with our physicality, our humanness. And perhaps, as we’re running from our humanness, we are trying to escape our mortality. Because our physical-ness reminds us of our limitations.

Maybe that’s putting too fine a point on it, but I DO think that we’re forgetting how to be human in a way that deeply connects with others and our surroundings.

On the subway everyone’s face is buried in a screen, including mine. And people are trying not engage the person next to them. I find riding the subway eerily quiet. So I put on my ear buds, turn on some music, and open a card game on my phone, so I join the rest of those who are oblivious to the mass of humanity milling around.

You may already have heard bout this, but I read recently about a game called LovePlus+, where men can get a virtual girlfriend as an app for their mobile device.

According to an article in The Atlantic Monthly: “Users play the game by simulating everything from holding hands to sending flirty text messages, and can even use the device's built-in microphone to hold simulated conversations. But unlike traditional video games, LovePlus+ users say the point of the experience isn't simple fun or virtual competition. 19-year-old player Tatsuya Fukuzawa [says], "There isn't a lot of romance in my life. This helps me cope with some of the loneliness." (Atlantic, November 2009)

And this reached an extreme with a guy, in 2009 “marrying” his virtual girlfriend. Is this a frightening trend away from deep human connections? A symptom of the growing desire to craft one’s own life apart from human community? Or the obvious next step for a techno geek to take on his way to nerd heaven?

I think I know what Paul would say:

“ you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body...”

In other words: YOU are sacred, YOU are holy, YOU are awe inspiring, because YOU - are temples. Or the better way of saying it: you are a temple. The Holy Spirit is dwelling within your physical space, in your very body. Everyone together. That’s why you can never really be your own. You’ve been summoned into a life where you are responsible for others and others are responsible for you.

That’s the life into which Jesus called Philip in this morning’s gospel. The simple summons, “Follow me” created an earthquake within him, and he knew his life was not his own, that he was part of a bigger family, a larger community. He was - with the rest of God’s people, a temple of the Spirit of God, who calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy.

And that’s what Paul was trying to say to the Corinthian Christians. We are made in God’s image, and our bodies have been made into the body of Christ, Our lives are not to be about arrogant, self-serving freedom, demanding that our personal hungers be satisfied.

Our lives are about loving and serving each other, knowing that our lives - and our life together - is a gift; a gift of the Spirit that lives and thrives deep within us, that there is not part of our lives that God does not dwell, no corner of our existence that God is not transforming. God lives in this body [pointing to me] and THIS body [point to the congregation] - YOU are the temple of the Spirit of God.

“Glorify God in your bodies,” Paul concludes. God lives in you and you live in God. YOU are the dwelling place for the Almighty, welcome all into the Spirit’s Temple, swing the doors wide open and receive a broken, hurting, and sin-stained world. In THIS Temple there is forgiveness and healing. In THIS Temple life is renewed.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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