The Reading is from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians 6:16-18; 7:1
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.
Each year, just before Pascha, we spend a little extra time cleaning the Church. The Church gets cleaned every week, but we pay a little closer attention to the corners and other places where dirt and dust tend to congregate. We need to care for God’s House, not this that is the only place where he lives, but this place, this sacred space that has been sanctified, is indeed a sacred place. This is not just another building, this building even the ground that it stands on has been set aside for the worship of God. We need to keep this Church is good repair, and yes the columns over here to my left will be painted real soon, so that it is simply a proper place for God to dwell.
But this is not what St. Paul is talking about in the Epistle to the Corinthians that we heard a few moments ago. St. Paul says “we are the temple of the living God.” He goes on to quote from Leviticus, “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God and they shall be my people.” St. Paul is talking about us and the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in each one of us.
But what of our temple? How much time do we spend cleaning those dark places?
We have been spending time talking about our interior life. The totality of our lives as Christians has to do with the interior life. Don’t get me wrong, the external expressions of our faith are necessary but it what goes on inside of us that matters most. We heard in the Gospel of St. Luke “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” This requires the mind of, and heart of God to be able to live up to this. And this is not a suggestion, this is a requirement.
Dear ones, our lives here on earth involve a spiritual struggle, a war if you will, between what we know we should be doing and the world wants us to do. Life in this world and the life of a Christian are not compatible with each other for the world wants us to be concerned about ourselves and as Christians we need to be concerned about others. Not just some of the time, but all of the time.
We are in a spiritual war zone where our entrenched patters on sin have become a habit. For some of us, these habits are so complex that we do not even know when we have sinned. To cleanse ourselves from this requires work, and that work is the inner work of the Church and the promises of God allow us to embark on a sustained struggle for holiness.
We need to do more than just think thoughts of repentance we need to repent. We need to come out of this world, and its false religion, and turn or faces back towards God.
When I was in seminary, I spent a year working at the Billerica House of Correction in the office of the prison chaplain. Each week I would travel to the jail and spend time visiting the inmates in their cells and the common areas. Part of the program of corrections is to do just that correct the behavior that landed them in prison in the first place. The idea is to break the cycle. Part of that is to take responsibility for what they had done and to seek restitution and forgiveness. They were locked up, paying their debit to society if you will, but much of the work that needed to be done was on the inside. These were some truly angry people, and they had many, many excuses for why things happened to them. It was fascinating; over the year, I was there, to see the change in many of those guys. They gradually came to realize that they were the ones who did what they did, they were not “victims of the system” and only they could pull themselves up and get back on the right path. They were slaves to their anger and once they let that anger go the real work could be done. Now this did not happen to all of them, but for the ones that did do the work, their lives changed.
You see, we need to face our sin, not beat ourselves up for it, but we need to face it. We need to look it in the eye and shout at the top of our lungs, “I am done with you!” We need to be genuinely sorry for what we have done, and this is not just lip service, this is not coming to confession once a year and running off the list as fast as we can and getting the absolution, this is spending some real time, digging into the corners where the dust and the dirt is and cleaning it all out.
One of the skills that is taught to the prisoners is to avoid the life that they had before prison. Studies show that after release, if a prisoner returns to his old neighborhood and life chances are he will reoffend and end up back in prison. People who are in recovery from addiction are taught to avoid the places they used to go so to help avoid that behavior. Well for us, we need to adopt the same mind set. We are in recovery, recovery from sin, and it is a life long process.
We need to avoid those situations where we are drawn to sinful behavior. We need to identify what those are, we need to bring them to confession and repent of that behavior. The last line of today’s Gospel is “be merciful, for your heavenly Father is merciful.” God has a tremendous capacity for forgiveness, more than any human could ever imagine, and that mercy will be shown to each and every one of us if we ask for it!
Much of our spiritual life can be figured out by following the 12 steps of AA:
Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable (spiritual awakening)
Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity (God is Lord of all)
Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Step 5 – Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs (confession)
Step 6 – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
Step 7 – Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings (confession)
Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all (examination of conscious)
Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others (reconciliation)
Step 10 – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted
it (examination of conscious)
Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out (sacramental life of the Church)
Step 12 – Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs (evangelization)
Is this too difficult for us mere humans to do? Yes it is. That’s why we have to ask that the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us, cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to turn away when we need to turn away, it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live a life of peace with God and our fellow human beings and all of creation, and it is this same Holy Spirit who empowers us to repentance before the living God and enables us to truly become Temples of the Living God.
I have five favorite quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Church. I use them from time to time to make a point or to remind myself of why I do what I do. Saint Seraphim of Sarov is credited with my most favorite, “Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand souls will be converted around you!”
We need to find that peace, the peace that passes all understanding. We need to come home, just like the prodigal son, and feel the warm embrace of a father who loves us. We need to find that peace with each other, with creation, and with ourselves. Just imagine what the world would be like if we were able to do this!