This could be a challenging exercise for some communities, but it also holds potential for building bridges and lowering walls.
Give each person a small roll of bread on a plate. (If you have people who are gluten-intolerant, have some broken pieces of gluten-free bread on one side that they can swap at the end.) The object is to end up with a plate of broken, odd-shaped pieces, like those stones from which we build a temple. Here are the instruction:
You must find at least three people who are different from you, and swap a piece of bread with them. They might be a different age, a different height, like a different football team, wear different clothes, have different hair or speak a different language. It should not be difficult to find people who are different from you – we are all different!
Try to find people you do not know well, people you would not normally talk to, and as you swap bread, ask “Will you build a temple with me?” The answer you give is “yes”!
When you have swapped with at least three people, (those with gluten intolerance can exchange their morsels for gluten-free ones at this point) we will all eat together as a sign of our unanimity – literally our oneness in spirit – even (especially) when we are not one in temperament, opinion or taste.
I’d like you to sing tenor – ten or eleven miles away!
Your teeth are like stars – they come out at night!
Your face is like a million dollars – all green and wrinkly!
Your body is a temple – craggy and ruined with bits falling off!
You may have heard ‘your body is a temple’ before (1 Cor 6), but in this passage, Paul is not talking about an individual’s body. You yourselves are God’s temple … God’s Spirit dwells in your midst … you together are that temple. It’s a community thing.
As I write this, I am sitting in the middle of a building site. I’m at Wesley House, a theology college in Cambridge, and there are power tools, scaffolding and lumps of stone everywhere. The dulcet chirrups of the birds on Jesus College grounds are drowned out by circular saws installing the stone ramp into the chapel. But I don’t mind the noise because of what is being built.
We are all lumps of stone, and together we make a temple. Not each one of us separately, not all of us on our own, but all of us as we fit together, combining to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now I’m sure you’ve hear that analogy before, but seeing it happen, and happen right outside chapel, brought it home for me. Chapel is where the college community meets. All of us: residents and non-residents, visitors and staff, old friends and new arrivals. And we’re different. Many of us come from counties and cultures beyond the UK. We are here with different backgrounds, experiences, assumptions and goals. How ever could we be fitted together?
It’s like the stone they’re using to build the chapel ramp. Or better, building a dry stone wall. Some pieces fit together better than others. Many have odd shapes, unevennesses or cracks. All will need areas of smoothing or filing or chipping off. If stone had a voice I’m sure it would be grumbling and objecting. “Oy! Leave my granite inclusion alone – I know it’s weird, but I like it!” “Gerroff! That bit you’ve just chipped off had half a fossil in it!”
I’m not saying that we should lose the wonderful, unique way our God made us, but we (by which I mean I) need to recognise that other folks are made in their wonderful, unique ways as well, and it behoves me to recognise the image of God in my sister and my brother and to accommodate myself to them as best I can.
This what Paul was talking about in his ‘weak and strong’ discourse in Romans. Paul’s lump of stone was happy with eating meat, but he recognised that if other stones around him were being damaged by what he did, then he needed to allow that bit to be chipped off so that they would fit together better, to build a more beautiful temple. And what the temple looks like is important, for two reasons: the outside, and the inside.
For the people outside the temple, the outside is all they see. We, God’s people, are the only picture of God that a lot of folks ever see. What kind of temple are we portraying? The dodgy stonework, the lumpy bits and the pieces missing? Crikey! No wonder some folks are put off. I mean, the church is made up of people like me! So working together, even when we disagree, is important for our witness. The idea is supposed to be that we make folks say “see how they love one another!” (Yep, work in progress. Me too.)
And then there is the inside. That is the place where God dwells, where we meet with him, where we find redemption and reconciliation. And God does dwell, despite the dodgy stonework, the lumpy bits and the pieces missing. Perhaps that is even a good thing.
Our body is a temple – craggy and ruined with bits falling off. Yes. We’re never going to be perfect this side of glory, but let’s commit ourselves to being the best temple we can be, for the sake of the one whose glory dwells within.
God of infinite majesty,
We confess that we make a poor temple for your glory.
We are not one, as your son, Jesus, prayed.
We do not live such that people see us and glorify you.
We have not loved our sister and our brother as ourselves.
Build us, Lord, into a temple fit for your glory,
That the world by see, and know, and worship.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 New International Version
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. […]
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
New International Version (NIV)
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