The other day, I was driving home from an appointment and, at one point, I was waiting at a stop light and I happened to look out my window at the car that was a little further ahead in the lane next to mine. And what I saw next was a large white cloud of smoke come out of that car. It appeared to be a lady in the driver’s seat. Suddenly I saw her hand plop out of the window and rest on the door panel. The really strange thing was that just this one hand had on a blue latex glove. And nestled between the fingers was a cigarette.
The light turned green and the car drove off and all I saw was that blue latex gloved hand holding a cigarette. It was an unusual sight and I was trying to make sense of it. Why was the person wearing a single latex glove on one hand while smoking a cigarette in her car? I thought maybe she had to wear that glove for her job or maybe she had some kind of medical issue with her hand or maybe it was some kind of new fashion statement. I don’t know. It just was really strange. My final conclusion, I could be totally wrong, was that she was trying to protect her hand from the smoke of the cigarette. Because, the smoke from cigarettes, just like the smoke from a campfire, unfortunately leaves a distinct odor on clothing and skin. And of course, once I made this conclusion, I immediately thought about the irony of it all. The glove was protecting the person’s hand from the smoke but, ironically, that hand was holding something that was dangerous to that persons entire body which was completely unprotected from the smoke.
Today’s epistle reading is touching on the same idea of protection, of protecting ourselves, not so much from dangerous substances that can be harmful to our bodies but from spiritual dangers that can be harmful to our soul and to our salvation.
St. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth which had struggled with many issues, the greatest of which had to do with immorality. St. Paul writes to them to admonish them, to remind them of who they are as Christians and what they have received through Christ. He focuses especially on the importance of living a life of daily struggle for purity and holiness. He writes:
BRETHREN, you 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. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.
St. Paul reminds them that as Christians, their bodies are consecrated to God. Meaning that God, the Holy Spirit literally dwells within them and furthermore, they receive Christ himself through Holy Communion. Therefore their bodies are truly temples where God dwells. And just like a temple building like this church must be kept clean to honor God who dwells there, so the body must be kept clean for God.
He tells them that since they have received such a great gift and promise that they are the sons and daughters of God, then it only makes sense that they should live that way.
He then says, “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God”.
What is this defilement of body and spirit that we must cleanse ourselves from? How is the body and spirit defiled? First of all, there is a direct connection here between the body and the spirit. Because everything we do in the body, whether good or bad, affects the soul. So the body is the gateway to the health of the soul. What is meant by body is not only my physical body, but also my thoughts, my feelings, my words, my actions. All of the things that I do with my body and through my body affect my soul. There are the obvious things which we all know about and also try to teach our children. That Christians must be discerning about how we dress, we must be careful with our words and how we speak, we must use discretion with what we listen to and be careful with what we look at, whether on TV or the internet. Why? Because each of us is a the temple of the living God, and we don’t fill the temple of God with things that have no place there, things that will defile and dishonor the temple.
Unless you live in a cave in a mountain somewhere, most of us face these challenges every single day and have to struggle to be vigilant against these dangers every day.
But there’s an even deeper problem, a deeper struggle, because there’s a disconnect sometimes between my body and my thoughts, between what I think and what I say, between what I want to do and what I actually do. So for example, I can go to the gym and work out physically and feel great but the whole time I was working out, I was thinking really terrible thoughts about someone. Or I can come to church, light a candle, listen to the hymns, say prayers and receive Holy Communion but inside, my heart is totally distant from God and I’m just going through the motions without any real repentance and therefore without any real change in my life and in my soul.
Nowadays, we all wish and pray there would be peace and unity and harmony in our country and in our world, but that will never happen unless we have peace and unity and harmony within ourselves, between our thoughts and our hearts, between what we say we believe and how we actually live, between who are and who we could be.
How can this come about? It can happen when I am honest with myself, when I acknowledge my mistakes and weaknesses, and confess them to Christ. It happens when I struggle every day, and every moment to remember that I am a temple of the living God – and the temple is first and foremost a place of prayer, from which comes love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A place that I must struggle to make clean and keep clean.
St. Paul says it another way in his letter to the Galatians, he writes:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. And again, he says, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” May God strengthen us all to continue our struggle this day, this week, to clean and beautify the temple of our bodies and souls and truly be sons and daughters of the living God.