Treat brother Ass kindly or he may turn and bite his owner. He too needs nourishing food and drink, plenty of exercise and an annual break from the daily-grind for rest and recreation.
I feel sure you have stepped through the door of your church, or any gathering of Christians, for that matter, and immediately been touched by a sense of awe, of reverence. Whether folk are in prayer, a hymn is being sung, or even seeing those going about making preparation for the service, there is that unmistakable presence.
You think, God is here, and you are right. But if you were the first sides-man to arrive, you fetched the key, switched on the lights, and generally went about your business, that might not have struck you in quite the same way.
He is omnipresent, everywhere, of course, but perhaps no more so, if you are the first to arrive in church, than in the car-park. What is the difference?
This page was updated on 9th October, 2021.
"Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit dwells in you?"
- 1 Cor 3
Or if it is the end of the service, and folk are heading off home, or to the hall for a cup of tea and fellowship, and you are the last to leave, suddenly you have a sense that the presence of God that so touched you earlier, has faded.
But as you enter the hall, or even the toilet where a few others are enjoying a sweet-pee, again there is that unmistakable presence. The ladies are pouring tea, a couple are deep in conversation and others are laughing; perhaps there is someone in distress being consoled, and the glory of God is all around you.
Why is this? Is he at the coffee-tables, but not in the empty church building?
In the passage from Corinthians that we read earlier, the apostle Paul gives us a clue. Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit dwells in you?
And again from Peter, the God who made the world and all things in it does not dwell in temples made with hands.
It is not these bricks and mortar, the beautiful soaring roof or the alter that make this place holy; nor is it the organ, or the painting of Jesus and Mary. It is God dwelling in you and in me.
"All of you surely know you are God's temple and his Spirit lives in you."
- 1 Cor 3:16
And when we leave for tea in the hall, that intimate glory leaves this place, and goes with us wherever we are heading.
Thinking back to that glorious day when I first invited Christ into my life, from the moment I heard that unmistakable knock, and the voice of Jesus asking to be admitted, and I opened the door and asked him in, something dramatic and life-changing happened.
God came in and supped with me, and I with him, and He never left; my body became the temple where he took up residence.
St Francis of Assisi, the inspired thirteenth century monk, described his body as Brother Ass; the donkey that bore the real him. As CS Lewis says, no one in his right senses can revere or hate a donkey. It is useful and sturdy, but lazy; an obstinate, lovable and infuriating beast, said he.
And I think many of us can identify with that. But you know what is interesting? Brother Ass, this infuriating body, does not bear just you and me; he carries Almighty-God too.
In St Francis' book, Canticle of the Sun, he expresses his love of all creatures great and small and in fact the whole of Creation; he envisaged them including the sun, moon and the whole firmament as being a family of related beings, capable of communicating with one another.
The hands and feet, the heart and mind of Brother Ass, are the very limbs that do the work of God in the world.
Your hands and mine.
My real word to you this morning, is treat Brother Ass kindly. Do not beat him, make sure he is properly fed, and that he gets plenty of exercise; because he bears both you and Almighty God.
If we mistreat him and he becomes lame, or sick, or God forbid dies long before his time, then not only do we feel the pain, but so does the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Jesus has just lost a pair of hands that should still be doing His work in the world.
Perhaps you say, well, it is better to go and be with God. But maybe you leave behind unfinished business; work that he intends you to complete.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
If you do not take good care of yourself, of Brother Ass, love him and treat him kindly, you cannot fend for your neighbour either. He will have to look after you instead. What is more, donkeys have been known to turn around to bite their masters when they have been ill-treated.
And finally, on a sombre note the passage continues with a warning. "If any man defiles the temple of God, the Lord shall destroy him."
"For that temple of God is holy, which you are."
I believe our lives would be quite different if we went about our work and play very conscious that our bodies are the temples of God. He indwells us each moment of the day and the night, and that Brother Ass not only bears us, but he is also where the Holy Spirit dwells.
In what we eat and drink, in everything we do, what we think and dream about, let us not defile the temple of God. Take good care of Brother Ass, and he will look after you.
Taking proper holidays is important; stress and exhaustion can and will grind all of us down and make us prone to illness. Burnout waits in the wings for those do not treat Brother Ass kindly.
Do you too often take ill while on vacation?
Treat brother Ass kindly, feeding him properly and making sure he gets plenty of exercise, as he bears not only you but also the Almighty.
Read more about frailty syndrome, and the research around the four vitamins vital to stave off the day of reckoning.
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