This past Sunday we started a series on “Loving God Through Service.” This is part of our year-long exploration of “The Five Ways of Loving God.” When it comes to serving God through serving those around you, there are different forms of motivation: This is a command and I don’t want to get in trouble. Or, this is a command and I want to be rewarded. These are two primary ways of thinking when we believe heaven is a reward that is given to us as an end goal to life. Like the young rich man (Mt 19:16; Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18), we ask Jesus what WE must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response to that question is that man can do nothing. Not so with God. All things are possible with God. Only God can bring about reconciliation. In Jesus Christ, God is restoring his creation to the goodness that he intended it to be in the first place. Our motivation for serving is to join God in the redemptive work because we are part of the Kingdom and heaven has already come to us in the Holy Spirit.
As we build on this motivation for serving, I want to continue the imagery of the master stonemason building a great building. In the imagery I borrowed from NT Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, I talked about us being stonemasons working on our own stones, cutting them to be placed in the structure of the building. God prepared work for us to do, and we are his handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph. 2:10). When we work to bring about reconciliation to the brokenness of the world, we do not work in vain because what we do now for the building of the Kingdom, God’s New Creation, God will redeem in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:58).
Shifting this imagery from being stonemasons working for the master building, I want to continue on in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. At the end of chapter 2, Paul says that as fellow citizens of the Kingdom, we are all joined together in Christ to become a holy temple in the Lord (2:19-22). Jews and Gentiles, all people, are reconciled together as one people in Christ. This one new humanity does not ignore the differences between the diverse people groups but celebrates those differences in Christ. We all come to the Table through the same Spirit. We all enter the Kingdom through the same Christ. We all are built together by the same master builder. So, what does it mean to be a holy temple in the Lord?
I’ve talked about this and written about this a handful of times in my short time with you, but I believe this Biblical narrative needs to be reclaimed by the church, so I’ll continue to come back to it. When God stepped back from his creation at the end of the sixth day, he said it was good and he meant it. God’s presence is in the garden with Adam and Eve. They were co-gardeners with God. All was right in the world. God created the creation to be good. He created humanity to partner with him in tending to this goodness. When the fall of mankind came in Genesis 3, so did the fall of the goodness of creation. Romans 8 talks about the whole creation groaning for redemption. All that is good in this current world is only a glimpse of the goodness that God intended for it.
God gave humanity a vocation, a job, to be co-creators, or co-gardeners, with him. We have neglected our calling to garden because we’ve reached for the fruit that brings us power over creation. We’ve reached for power over others and neglected our calling to garden. When God’s presence was removed from creation because of sin, God did not give up. He did not retreat to the heavens in hopes that we might sort it out on our own and eventually join him on a cloud someday. No, the overarching narrative in scripture is of the God who created the universe continuing to be present to it, though not fully. He elected a people to be the place of his presence so that they might bring his presence to all people.
When they failed to fulfill their vocation as co-workers with God, he came in the form of humanity to show them what a co-gardener looks like. This is the new Adam who came to do what the old Adam failed to do (Romans 5:12-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-26, 45). God’s presence manifested in different ways throughout the First Testament: burning bush, a pillar of cloud/fire, in the holy of holies in the tabernacle and temple. God’s presence came in the form of Jesus with the Holy Spirit resting on him. He replaces the temple as the place where people come to encounter the presence of God (John 2:20-22). When we come together in Christ, through baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit. When Paul says we become a holy temple, he is pointing to the reality of God’s intended creation and what he intends to do with creation. We are the presence of God in this world, as co-gardeners, gardening with God to bring about his New Creation (Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 5; 2 Peter 3:7-13; Rev. 21:1-5).
God was present in the Temple because the broken world was not ready for his full presence. This is the thin space where heaven and earth come together as it was in the Garden. When Christ came, he empowered us to be the temple in this world, to be that thin space where heaven and earth come together in the Spirit. We live in a state of being already redeemed but not yet fully. We are signposts pointing to what is to come. So, what kind of people should we be? What does this mean for the service that we participate in for redeeming this broken world? What does service look like with this mindset?