Friday, November 29, 2013

Is Our Temple Presentable?

Within the past several years, there has been a significant increase in environmental awareness. In general, we are much more conscious about tending the earth and being good stewards of it. Why is that? The simplest answer is that we claim the earth as the space in which we live, and we value it for ourselves as well as future generations. On a smaller scale, there is residential space. Whether one rents or owns, we take care of the space in which we live. We have rules such as, “take your shoes off at the door”. We clean, design to our taste, and take extra care when a guest comes over. Why do we do these things? Again, it’s the space where we live, and we view our living space as sacred.

Speaking of sacred space, what about the Church building, or “Temple”, and in a moment we’ll see why the word “Temple” is appropriate. The Khoran, the area where the altar sits, where the priest and deacons serve, is treated with what we sometimes think of as mere protocol, but in actuality is holy reverence. Serving at the altar I take notice of the attention to detail; how liturgical vessels are cleaned, carried, put in their proper place, and how all of this space is treated with such care, as if it has been touched by glory. And indeed it has been; by God’s glory. Once again, this is sacred living space, where the presence of God resides, and it is treated as such.

Today, and every November 21st marks the Feast Day of Ընձայումն Աստուածածնի; The Presentation of Mary to the Temple. According to this rite, children were typically presented forty days after they were born, but according to Holy Tradition, Mary was presented at the age of three, remained in the temple to serve for twelve years, and emerged at the age of fifteen. And of course, soon after this she would be visited by the Archangel Gabriel who would tell her she would become Աստուածածին, the Bearer of God; the vessel or temple to carry the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

But there is something interesting to notice about the Temple at this time in history. It was “ark-less”. That is, the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel that contained the glory of God, was lost. The Temple at this time was a replacement of the Temple which once held the Ark, but was destroyed by the Babylonians. We read in 1 Esdras 1:54, “And all the holy vessels of the Lord, great and small, and the treasure chests of the Lord, and the royal stores, they took and carried away to Babylon.” As glorious as the architecture of the Temple might’ve been, the Temple itself was empty of the glory of God.

And Mary enters this Temple to be presented and accepted by God. The one who will become the True Ark; the one who will bear God in her womb, becoming the True Bearer of the glory of God. So Mary is being presented to the Temple; to God. Mary is the Temple of God. And in the epistle reading for today, St. Paul tells us that we are the Temple of the God. 2 Cor. 6:16 reads, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Like a good steward of the earth, like a good resident or homeowner, or like a good altar server, do we take the time and effort to closely examine our own space, our own temples, and the temple of the community in order to remove what doesn’t belong? The glory is there; in our space. We have been anointed by the Holy Spirit when we were baptized into the community; into the Body of Christ, the Church. At the Incaration, when Jesus took on the form of flesh, He redeemed us, and restored creation and the image of God within us. And of what does St. Paul remind us? Idols are not welcome!

Nothing is more damaging, tempting, and incompatible with the Temple of God than idolatry. Idols are anything that distract us from placing God first in our life. This is the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Therefore, we have to constantly keep the Temple clean, individually, as well as communally. Unceasing upkeep and maintenance is required, such as addressing pain and suffering, forgiveness of one another, confession, repentance, and regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church.

Just like we quickly react to a piece of litter on the ground, or dirt, or stains anywhere in our sacred space, we should react the same way to what prevents us from properly presenting ourselves to God. If we let it go, the stain will set in, the dirt will build becoming encrusted and more difficult to remove. And idols will make themselves at home to the point of not being noticed anymore, similar to becoming accustomed to a piece of furniture or decor in our home that just becomes part of the lansdcape, no longer noticeable as we walk past it everyday.

Again, listen to what St. Paul says. We are the Temple of God. God lives in and among us. We have been touched by His glory. And like Mary, the Bearer of God, we are the bearer of Him and His good news; His message of love. Let us pray that we always remember that every moment of our life counts, and is therefore a presentation or dedication to God. This is why humility is such a significant virtue. Again, anything that causes distraction or tempts us away from the Lord is an idol, and very often is a result of our own pride. The gospel reading for today, Mary’s song of praise to God after she received news about her being chosen as the God-Bearer, is all about humility and magnifying God despite our pride.

So today, as we remember Mary, as the God-Bearer; or the Ark, and her presentation to the Temple, let’s take a moment, maybe even during the remainder of Badarak, or before we commune, to present and dedicate ourselves to God in humility, and think about what idols we have set up or allowed into our Temple, the sacred place where God lives, and rightly treat it as a space presented to and bearing God’s glory.

(This was a sermon I preached at St. Nersess Seminary on November 21, 2013 during Badarak (Divine Liturgy) on the Feast of The Presentation of Mary to the Temple)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

God bless you to keep writing such beautiful things. You are so special!