The Importance of Temples

John 10.22-30

This is not going to be a sermon about sheep.

We hear a lot about sheep in the Bible, and they make for a good metaphor, but I want to talk about temples.

HANUKKAH

You see, I think it’s important that our gospel reading begins by mentioning the feast of the dedication, which is better known by its other name of Hanukkah.

You may have seen the 9-branched candlesticks that are lit for this feast, or the similar ones that sometimes make their way into Christmas decorations.

Around 200 years before Jesus was born Jerusalem was captured by Syrian invaders and the temple was filled with statues of Greek gods.

The invaders even put up an altar to Zeus inside the temple and sacrificed pigs there.

This was horrifying to the Jewish population and eventually there was a revolt.

The invaders were defeated, and the temple was rededicated to God, with a candle being lit as a sign of his presence.

So, the nine-branched candlestick that’s used during the Hanukkah festival symbolises God’s help in difficult times.

And the festival celebrates the lights coming back on after a time of disaster and loss.

LOSING TEMPLES

It’s perhaps hard for us to understand how much of a disaster losing the temple was to the Jews.

We can get a glimpse of it if we think about how devastated so many people were by the fire at Notre Dame, as they saw an ancient and beautiful place of worship go up in flames, not knowing if it could be saved.

But on the other hand, we’re surrounded by ruined temples – from prehistoric Stonehenge to the abbeys torn down and the churches damaged in the Reformation – and we don’t seem to mind this.

In fact, many people enjoy visiting ruined places of worship, looking round, reading the information put up by English Heritage or the National Trust, and seeing pictures of what places might’ve looked like with the roof on and more walls.

But, important though these places of worship were in their time, no-one has tried to restore them to their former use – and maybe that’s partly because we see things differently these days.

THe temple in Jerusalem

For the Jews, the temple was the primary place where God could be found.

They knew that God wasn’t contained to just one spot, of course, but the temple contained the holy of holies, an inner sanctuary where God’s presence dwelt in a special way.

People could speak to God in the temple and listen to his word.

And it was a political symbol, stating that they were, as the USA later said about itself, one nation under God.

The temple set Israel apart from other countries, giving them a sense of identity by showing them who they were and what they stood for.

And it carried their hopes for a future of justice and peace when the Messiah would come and set up his throne.

So the temple was for the Jews a special place to meet with God, a place that gave them a sense of identity, and a place that gave them hope for the future.

All of that was lost when the temple was desecrated, and brought back when the temple was restored.

Our temple

But what does this have to do with life here in the UK in 2019?

Well, the world today still has more than its fair share of shock, horror and loss.

There are wars across the world, not all of which get onto the news.

We hear a lot about terrorism, violence, abuse, intolerance and prejudice.

Natural disasters strike at random and climate change is an increasingly urgent emergency.

There seems to be a lot of disaster, loss and darkness around.

But we still have light and hope, and everything is not lost, for we still have our temple.

Our temple can’t be lost.

Our temple rose from the dead on Easter Day and nothing can overpower him.

“The Father and I are one” says Jesus.

God came to us in Jesus and is still here through the Spirit.

He lives, loves and works within and among us.

Our temple goes with us everywhere so we’re always in the presence of God, even in the worst of times.

“What my Father has given me is greater than all else”, Jesus says.

For Jesus has ultimate power and authority in the world – even when it seems like everything might be descending into chaos, and when those who want to hurt and destroy seem to be getting the upper hand.

Jesus explains that “my sheep hear my voice”.

So in Jesus we can hear God speaking the words we need to hear.

Words of encouragement, direction, comfort, peace and understanding.

And we can speak to God in every place and at every time because our temple is always with us.

Jesus also gives us identity and purpose, saying: “I know them and they follow me”.

In Jesus our temple we have a sense of who we are and what our purpose is that can never be taken away.

And Jesus gives us hope for the future: “I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand”.

Death and destruction don’t get the final word.

Jesus does.

In Jesus we have hope because he shows us that death is not the end, suffering will be transformed, and evil won’t get its own way for ever.

So, while we need and should cherish our places of worship, they aren’t ultimately our temple.

History shows us that buildings can fall out of use, be damaged or destroyed, and that triumphs and disasters come and go.

But a living temple that has been through death, and risen again, will stand strong for us for ever.

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