Sermons

By Pastor John Johnson

August 26 (with apologies to Elon Musk) Hygiene Is Holiness

September 8, 2018

Has anyone here not heard about the automobile, Tesla? Or about Tesla, the company that makes the automobile and on which the stock market has put an incredibly high value despite the fact that Tesla has lost billions of dollars and has yet to turn its first profit? Or about the company’s founder and chief executive officer, Elon Musk? Musk and the company have been very much in the news, especially in, but not exclusively in, business news.

The Tesla automobile is the apparently fabulous — and fabulously expensive — all-electric automobile conceived by Musk, who became a billionaire by virtue of being a founder of Pay-Pal, with which I, and possibly a number of you, protect our credit cards from hacking by using Pay-Pal to make online purchases. Musk is a true visionary, and is also behind SpaceX, which has been using reusable launching rockets to put satellites into orbit.

Musk had already been in the news both for his hyper-sensitivity toward financial analysts and critics, and for sleeping on the floor of Tesla’s factory as it has struggled to produce in volume its “Model 3,” a more affordable electric vehicle, when, about two weeks ago, Musk announced that he had obtained financing to take Tesla private, buying out those who invested in its stock. The way in which Musk did this has him and the company, Tesla, under real scrutiny from the Securities Exchange Commission for what appears a very serious violation of its rules.

And as I was completing my second draft Friday evening, an email popped up from The Wall Street Journal that Musk was going to keep Tesla a public company, not take it private. Ah the benefits of word processing versus the old typewriter.

It has, in Musk’s words, been an excruciating time, excruciating, which comes from the same stem word as crucifixion; it has been excruciating for billionaire Elon Musk, as he related in an interview a week ago with the New York Times. And as I read from a really fabulous piece by one Kevin Williamson in “The National Review” online edition, it has been sufficiently excruciating that Musk has taken to reading poetry, including the late T.S. Eliot’s very dense, “The Wasteland.”

What drew my attention to Williamson’s piece was its thumbnail description in an email mentioning “poetry” and “T.S. Eliot.” I do not know whether Thomas Stearns Eliot is much read anymore, but he was still alive when I was a senior in high school and under the influence of an English teacher I have mentioned before, John McGrievey, who had us read Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” whose line about “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” I recall Carol’s quoting during the depression she fought for about fourteen years.

It was that thumbnail mention that drew my initial attention, but the discussion of the depths of Eliot’s knowledge of literature and how much he would have read before he ever could undertake “The Wasteland” drew me further into Williamson’s column, where what really struck me was when Williamson got into the fact that Eliot became a very devout Catholic, but that Musk remains agnostic.

After commenting upon how dense and difficult to understand is “The Wasteland,” Williamson wrote:

Eliot saw a fundamental divide in the West, “between the secularists — whatever political or moral philosophy they support — and the anti-secularists; between those who believe only in values realizable in time and on earth, and those who believe in values realized out[side] of time.”  [my emphasis]

. . . those who believe only in values realizable in time and on earth, and those who believe in values realized out[side] of time.

Which led Williamson ultimately to this: For those who measure their lives by earthly accomplishments, what I’ll call, “the temples they erect,” and Musk certainly has accomplished much, there can never be peace; there is always the possibility of destruction of what one has “built,” or of being surpassed, or of losing what one has collected.

Which takes me back to the Temple built by Solomon. Some of you may have — I know Patricia has — been to Jerusalem and to the still-standing West Wall, the “Wailing Wall,” of the Temple. . . that is, of the Second Temple. The first Temple, as I frequently remark when trying to put in context the theology of the Old Testament, the first Temple, the one built by Solomon, was destroyed in 589-587 BCE by the conquering Babylonians. The magnificent Temple did not stand “outside of time.” The second Temple was built about sixty years later, when, following the death of Cyrus the Great of Persia, who“freed” the Jews in captivity there when he conquered Babylon, Cyrus’s successor, Darius, instructed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. And as we know from the Bible itself, this Second Temple lacked the earthly magnificence of Solomon’s Temple, yet it did stand until destroyed almost completely by the Romans in 70 AD when some Jews revolted against Roman rule.

That Temple stood almost six hundred years, but not “outside of time.”

What can stand “outside of time”?  Not the Temple, not the Ark carried into the Temple, not the tablets within the ark — yet, what was written on those tablets, specifically, the Ten Commandments, has survived. What might that writing represent?

This brought to mind Horace Greeley’s comment, not, “Go west, young man,” but rather, “Fame is a vapor; riches take wings; only character survives.” If we put all our value, put our faith, on earthly matters, physical or fiscal or other such worldly “temples,” what is our “character”? If one’s character is tied to what is earthly, that character, too, vanishes. But what if somehow our character is defined by seeking God and seeking to know God and to please God by following what was on those Tablets? Such “wrestling with God” is, as most of you know, what I consider to be the Christian life. In other words, the character of the person of faith is not interested so much in winning the approval and riches of the world as in winning the approval of God, of following the will of God.

Yet there is no reason that “earth” and “outside of time” must be considered completely antithetical; indeed, the Jews of Solomon’s time believed that somehow, God came down and physically occupied part of the Temple, what they called, “The Holy of Holies.”

And let us not mock that belief, at least not yet. One of what I would call the “strengths” of Judaism and Christianity is that the physical does matter; earth and our physical bodies are where we spend our earthly time and follow God’s will; our physical bodies are where out souls reside during that earthly time. Somewhat akin to the idea of Solomon’s Temple, our bodies are where the Holy Spirit — God — resides. Our bodies are, indeed, Temples provided by God. Temples the care of which we too often ignore even if we care for the physical “temple” of a church building, but temples that I would argue should matter more because they were created by divine hands and not by human.

So, when I was thinking up my title but before I had put a finger to the keyboard, I used, “Hygiene” — hygiene, by which I meant all of the factors that go into caring for our physical bodies, diet, exercise, rest, doctor’s care — “Hygiene is holiness,” because it cares for that in which God in a real sense resides.

And I do not want to back away from that.

And yet, of course, I know all too well as do any of you who have lost loved ones, that while physical bodies, using Williamson’s terms, are “realizable in time and on earth,” the end of the time of soundness of the body is not really within our control.

Which takes me back to Elon Musk and to each of us: the eternal within us also is beyond our control, yet, should we acknowledge it, it will help us to withstand all the turmoils we shall encounter, because we know that the most important part of us, our souls, are “realized out[side] of time.”

I do feel for the Elon Musks of the world; indeed, my personal sense of pastoral call is to these people who, like me, candidly, are over-educated to the point that some feel they cannot accept the idea there is anything more powerful than they. But even in not accepting, they often acknowledge something, such as despair, such as hopelessness, excruciation, that is more powerful than they.

And what is more powerful than hopelessness and despair? I believe it is faith in Jesus Christ, the one who occupied earth and occupies the outside of time of which he assures us.

“Hygiene is holiness”; let’s see if I might still tie into that concept. We have been reading for a number of weeks from the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in this passage, though I take it out of context, the writer was talking about husbands and wives, we find this:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,  27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.

The “cleansing her” — the Church — “with the washing of water by the word” means Baptism, both the act and the ritual. But that “washing” suggests a further metaphor that offers a similar sense of an other-than-physical hygiene: the washing away of our sins for all time through the death of Jesus, the blood of Christ.

. . . through the death of Jesus, his crucifixion, his excruciating suffering on our behalf.

I sincerely hope that Elon Musk and, indeed, all who do not yet know Jesus might be freed from their excruciating situations by recognizing and then accepting that Jesus’ crucifixion was for them, and thus know His peace.

Please, friends, let all of us accept what has been given us though the blood of Christ, something that makes life on earth worth living, and opens us up to the working outside of time that can be accomplished by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the earthly temples of our bodies.

The Holy Spirit, the p-i-e-c-e piece within us of God, sent by the Father and the Son, that gives us the p-e-a-c-e peace of Christ.

And in that three-personed God may all of us — and all of the Elon Musks of the world — find and know riches beyond earthly temples and enjoy them for eternity.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.(with

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