A recent alumni e-mail reminded me of one of the nicknames used by those of us who went to Notre Dame (grad school for me), “domers.” That odd appellation comes from our years of school life under the shadow of a large golden dome, topped with a statue of the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary). It’s actual gold leaf which covers that memorable architectural feature at the center of campus.
In this Sunday’s text from I Corinthians 3:10-23, Paul talks in verse 12 about building with materials like “gold, silver and precious stones,” as well as with “wood, hay, and straw.” The issue is what materials will stand up to the coming “Day,” in verse 13, when fire will be the proof of what was built.
It’s all part of Paul’s switch from an agricultural metaphor for the Christian Church in the first part of chapter 3 (watering, planting, growth, “you are God’s field”) to the image signaled at the end of verse 9 last week, “you are God’s building.”
Throughout I Corinthians, Paul draws on various vivid images to stress the unity in diversity which is the Church. The rich picture of the Church as a human body will show up in chapter 12. But this image of a building helps us grasp that we don’t simply just find ourselves in the church, but that we have a part in creating it. The primary Creator/Builder is of course God, as we read last week. But our work matters too.
Verses 16 and 17 highlight the importance of the Church construction, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?” What we create together by coming together as the Church is sacred and is made sacred by its being the very place where God lives.
It’s important to read the footnote to verses 16 and 17 in the NRSV, that in both the word “you” is plural. There’s been much recent unfortunate individualization and secularization of this idea of humans being God’s temple. It’s partly the connection with chapter 6 verse 19, but that verse needs to be read in the light 3:16 and 17 which come before it.
So I regularly hear folks at the gym say something like “My body is a temple,” and then go on to talk about their latest diet or exercise program, which presumably is some sort of worship in that “temple.” But Paul’s idea, the Gospel idea, is that it is all the bodies of God’s people gathered together as the Church which are actually the temple of God. That of course has implications for what each of us does with our own individual bodies, as in chapter 6, but the primary focus is on the larger building of which we each are only a part.
The text ends with yet one more warning against divisiveness in the Church. The problem is feelings of superiority of one faction over another, supposed “wisdom.” The result is division around adopted leaders of those factions.
Yet it is all God’s building through Christ. We all belong to God through Christ, Paul concludes in verse 23. That means that the building we are together needs to be constructed of “materials” which hold together in the fire of judgment.
The golden dome at Notre Dame needs periodic regilding in order to keep shining. But it’s an incredibly beautiful and lasting material. May our life together in Christ make use of similarly precious materials like love and grace and patience, which, while needing to be renewed regularly in this life, will hold us together forever.