Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

“Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does it End”
John 2:13-25
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
April 22, 2018

In our scripture passage this morning, Jesus is filled with fierce and righteous anger. Why? Because the Temple, “the House of God” has been desecrated by a crass form of profiteering. He is absolutely furious. His love for the temple runs deep and he wants to protect the sacred space from defilement.

If someone came and defiled our sacred space, our beautiful sanctuary, we would be furious, too. Imagine if I took this bag of trash and emptied it right here on our holy grounds…without a second thought. Then, if I said, “This is the day that God has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” And then said, let us stand and sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy”. I imagine you would be horrified. What am I doing? This trash in our sanctuary is anything but holy. Like Jesus, you may pick up a whip of cords and drive me out of the church. Understandably so! We love this place! This is holy ground!

Today’s sermon title is “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?” It comes from  Mary Oliver’s poem with the same title. What are the boundaries of “the temple”? Does the sacred ground end at the sanctuary door? Or does it include the trees, the birds, the fish, the mountains, the sky? Is not the entire world the House of God?

In the Bible, we read that people encounter God under shady oak trees, on the top of mountains, in the middle of rivers, and in long stretches of barren wilderness.  God shows up in whirlwinds, starry skies, and burning bushes.  When people want to know more about God, the son of God tells them to pay attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. We can learn as much about God from a wildflower or a hummingbird as we can from knowing the Ten Commandments by heart.  The House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other.

According to the Psalms, the people of God are not the only creatures capable of praising God.  There are growling bears, humpback whales, and flying ducks.  Even trees clap their hands.  St. Francis of Assisi loved singing hymns with his brothers and sisters, that is, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wolf and Sister Whale, Brother Eagle and Sister Loon. Francis could not have told you the difference between the sacred and the secular, the holy and the mundane if you twisted his arm behind his back. He read the world as reverently as he read the Bible.  For him, a single bird was as much a messenger of God as any priest preaching in a Cathedral.  Francis had no discretion.  He did not know where to draw the line between the church and the world. For this reason, we call Frances a saint, I believe.

Yes, the House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other. So, how shall we fiercely love and defend “the temple” today? Today is Earth Day. The first Earth Day took place exactly 48 years ago today: April 22nd, 1970. Twenty million people took to the streets on that day to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, smog from factories and automobiles, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values – a love for planet Earth. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Act.

Earth Day is now a global event each year and more than 1 billion people in 192 countries take part in what is the largest secular observance in the world. Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day worldwide, announced that Earth Day 2018, which is today, will focus specifically on ending plastic pollution.

Over a few decades, humans have managed to dump tons upon tons of garbage into the ocean. Of the most devastating elements of this pollution is plastic. In the most polluted places in the ocean, the mass of plastic exceeds the amount of plankton six times over. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is located in the central North Pacific Ocean and is larger than the state of Texas. To date, five patches in total of comparable size have been discovered. The worst part is, these plastics don’t biodegrade, so they break up into tiny pieces that are consumed by fish and sea mammals. Plastic is killing more than 100,000 sea turtles and birds a year from ingestion and entanglement. As these chemicals are ingested by animals in the ocean, this, of course, is not good for humans. We as humans ingest contaminated fish and mammals too (Andrews, Gianna, “Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health,” from Geology and Human Health).

Sadly, an article in the New York Daily News last week, featured a young whale that washed ashore in Spain that had 64 pounds of plastic inside its stomach. Scientists say that the garbage found in the belly and intestines led to its demise. The current best estimate is that 150 million tons of plastic currently circulate in marine environments. Another 8 million tons of plastics enter the oceans each year (Dziemianowicz, Joe, “Dead Whale Had 64 Pounds of Plastic and Waste in It”, April 11, 2018).

It is not surprising then that the focus of this Earth Day is to end plastic pollution. So, what can we do as individuals to end plastic pollution?

  • Clean up plastic pollution so that it does not end up in our oceans.
  • We can recycle plastics – as less than 10% of plastics are actually recycled.
  • We can reduce and reuse plastic – give up bottled water and carry your own water bottle at all times. Stainless steel water bottles are preferable.
  • Give up plastic straws – they often end up in the nostrils of sea turtles. Use glass or stainless steel straws instead.
  • Carry reusable shopping bags.
  • Say no to plastic produce bags. Purchase reusable mesh produce bags.
  • Carry your own container when you go to a restaurant for leftovers.
  • When ordering pizza, say no to the little plastic “table” in the middle of the pizza box.

This last week, I did a plastic inventory. I encourage you to do the same. I was shocked at how much plastic I use in one week. Plastic from toothpaste tubes, deodorant containers, laundry detergent, dish soap, and even gum. Yes, there is plastic in the gum we chew. While we may not be able to completely eliminate our use of plastic, we can certainly reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Where does the Temple begin and end? Does it end at the Sanctuary doors or does it include the trees, birds, mountains, hills, flowers? Is not the he Temple, the House of God, the entire universe? We built this sanctuary with that in mind – with many windows. To blur the lines between the church and the world. To let the outside in and the inside out. In the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Earth is crammed with heaven. Every common bush afire with God. But only those who see will take off their shoes. The rest will sit around and pluck blackberries.” On this Earth Day, as we head to the All Church Picnic, may we do more than sit around and pluck blackberries, may we celebrate the “ordinary miracles” (as Connie sings), the everyday wonders of this holy and glorious creation. Amen.