42 - Your Body is a Temple, Aug 2, 2015

I Corinthians 3:9-17

Matthew 14:22-34

The theme of our 18th All American Council was, “Expanding the Mission. Let’s reflect on this morning’s Scripture readings with this theme as our “hermeneutical” key.

“Each man’s work will become manifest” on the Last Day, says St Paul. What might each man’s work be? Note, St Paul says it will become manifest on the Last Day, as though to say that it is not manifest now. It must therefore be a hidden work. I believe it is the work of the inner man that is taken up in answer to the work that Christ came to do, and that He finished on the Cross. It is the work of creating in us a clean heart and putting in us a new and right spirit. That work is done as we deny ourselves and take up our cross – the ascetic disciplines of the Church – to leave father, mother, brother and sister, to sell all that we have; in short, to live not for the life of this world and its glories and vanities, but to live for the eternal life that Christ opened to us by His death on the cross.

This work of the inner man is that of making ourselves masters of the passions within us. This is the spiritual meaning given by the Church in her liturgical hymns and spiritual texts to the stormy winds and billowing waves in this morning’s Gospel that would have destroyed Peter had he not called on the Name of the LORD and had not the LORD reached out His hand – not unlike the manner in which He stretched out His hands on the cross – to lift Peter out of the waves. But let us note that if the mighty waves and mighty winds are the outer, physical face of the passions that tyrannize the inner man, and if Jesus is walking on those waves, and if He is walking wherever He wants to in those winds, it means that Jesus is the Master not just of the winds and the waves but also of the passions that have the power to destroy us. But, it means that He is the Master of the inner man because He became man. The image of Jesus walking on the waters in the midst of the storm is an image of the mystery of His Incarnation, where the winds and the waves are the inner man: the soul, the mind of our nature where the passions blow with gale force and would drown us if we were left to our own strength.

This takes me back to our epistle. Our translation this morning has St Paul saying: “You are God’s field;” but, the word is cultivated field (georgios). I think this, too, could refer to the mystery of Our Savior’s Incarnation. Our inner man is not a wild field but a cultivated field because God has become flesh and dwelt among or within us. Listen: He entered into the dust of our flesh, the field of our soul to the point of death on the Cross whereby He entered into our death and was buried in the cave, i.e., in the ground. Perhaps we should say that the field of our inner man is wild, wild and stormy like the sea in this morning’s Gospel, but Christ has become flesh and has “pitched His tent” among us, Christ has come to us walking on the stormy seas of our inner man, and He has made the wild field of our soul to become a cultivated field as He made the stormy sea all around Peter to become calm when He stretched out His hands and lifted Peter from the waves.

In becoming flesh, in entering into the field of our soul, in coming to us on the stormy seas of our inner man, can we say that there has been an expanding of a mission? Was not the Son of God “sent” into the world by the Father (cf. Lk 9:48)? But, in becoming man, should we say that God expanded, or should we say that He contracted Himself?

However we view that, the point is that the LORD became flesh and dwelt among us – he pitched His tent among us. In becoming flesh, He worked salvation in the midst of the earth, in the midst of the wild “field” or stormy sea of our inner man, so that Moses’ word to the Israelites: “The Word is very near you: it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it,” (Dt 30:14) is revealed as a prophecy of God the Son, the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and the “it” that we can do is the work accomplished by the Word of God on the Cross: it is the work of cultivating the field, calming the seas of the inner man by laying hold of Christ’s outstretched hand, i.e., His Cross, that brings us into the boat of the Church and to the shore of Gennesaret where He heals all their sick and makes them well, an icon of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And the point of this point – that the LORD became flesh to dwell among us and to work salvation in the midst of the earth, in the inner man – is that, whether or not the Incarnation is an expansion or a contraction of God, it is most certainly the expansion of us.

You are God’s building, says St Paul. That, I think, refers to our baptism. That’s when we were raised up from the waters, like Peter raised from the sea, and made to stand like a building, God’s building, in the midst of a cultivated field, God’s cultivated field or rather, God’s human nature, the Body of Christ, in which He destroyed death by His death on the Cross and was raised up into the Garden, the Garden of Eden, and ascended into heaven, into the bosom of the Father – all of this in our human nature that He made to be His own!

You are God’s temple, says St Paul, and the Spirit of God dwells in you. Throughout the whole of the Bible, the Spirit of God always descends on the temple – but, it never dwells there until it descends on the temple of the Theotokos. By the Spirit, the Theotokos brings forth God in the flesh, God the Word in the temple of His human body. And so, when the Spirit descends on the disciples at Pentecost, and when He descends on us at our holy baptism, what can that mean but that the disciples and we have been taken up into the Body of Christ? Both our outer man, our body, and our inner man, our souls, are holy because we through the sacramental mysteries of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, have become members of Christ’s Body. Once, we were in the body of the old Adam, the body that was subject to death and corruption under the power of the passions and enslaved to evil desires. But through the sacramental mysteries of the Church, we have been raised up out of the stormy waters, and we have been transported into the “cultivated field” of Christ’s human body that has destroyed death and overcome the evil one and has been glorified with the Father in the Holy Spirit. St Paul’s imagery is very much like St Peter’s imagery of “living stones”. We don’t just lie around in that cultivated field of Christ’s Body. We are doing the work of submitting our outer man and our inner man to the hands of Christ stretched out to us on His Cross, beseeching Him to shape us into smooth stones that He can use in the building of His Holy Temple, His crucified, resurrected and glorified Body, which is the Temple that was destroyed and that He raised up in three days.

We are doing the work of submitting ourselves to Christ our God. If our outer man and our inner man are a temple of God – let’s say that our outer body is the narthex, our inner man is the nave – that means that there is a sanctuary within us. What would that be but our secret heart – the heart that is deep and that is the man (Jer 17:9 LXX)? And, what would the altar of our heart be but our desire that originates from the altar of our heart?

I think this is where the work that will become manifest on the Last Day is and must be undertaken. Our work is to deny ourselves that we may unite ourselves to Christ and purify our heart so that we love no longer the pleasures of our bodies and the desires of our flesh but Him who first denied Himself for us by emptying Himself to become flesh and to dwell among us that He might work salvation in the midst of the earth, in the wild sea of our innermost heart. That work cannot become manifest until the Last Day because it is not finished until we breathe our last.

But, in this work, do you see how we are expanding the mission by enlarging our heart so that we are being glorified, deified, sanctified, becoming partakers of the divine nature? Clearly, if this work is the work of our deification, it can be done only as we decrease so that Christ may increase in us. Like St Peter, we need to call on the Name of the LORD and stretch out the hands of our heart to Him ceaselessly, that we might be saved. Amen.