Preached on 4 March 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Third Sunday in Lent, Year B
“Careful Consideration” by Ann Weems
Certain in-charge church people
expound upon the finer points of doctrine
while the disenfranchised await the verdict.
Meanwhile the holy fools rush in
and touch the outcasts,
creating Good News once again.[i]
Thanks be to God.
I feel like I should just stop here and sit down.
We long for God, to encounter God, to experience the divine. And then when we do, we try, and fail, to explain the mystery. And kind of like when explaining a joke the humor is lost, when trying to explain an experience of the divine, the mystery is lost.
At the same time, it is in the telling that we recognize the utter reality of our experience. We know it to be True despite its seeming foolishness. That knowledge is affirmed in the expressions of recognition by those who have also experienced the divine – a slight smile, a nod, a light in the eye, or leaning a little closer.
And I’m not talking about a “Road to Damascus” experience. It’s the small subtle ones as well; those times when we know that we are in the presence of the Holy, when we truly see the Christ in our neighbor.
The Bible is all about human experiences of the divine. Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai and meets God for 40 days. There he receives the ten words that we like to call the Ten Commandments that we heard today.
As the Hebrews continue their journey through the desert to the promised land, Moses regularly meets with God in the tent of meeting and the people follow God in the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. The prophets hear the word of God and proclaim it to the people.
Eventually, Solomon will build a Temple in which people will seek the divine presence and offer sacrifices. When the Babylonians destroy the Temple and take the people into captivity in Babylon, they find that God is with them, there, too.
Today we hear about Jesus at the rebuilt Temple, driving out those selling the animals the people need for the sacrifices the Law prescribes. He overturns not only the tables of the moneychangers but he overturns their understanding of Temple.
The temple is the holy place where human life and divine blessing meet. For John, Jesus, God incarnate, is the Temple, the place where God and humanity meet. God’s dwelling place is with human beings as a human being. The Word became flesh and walked among us.
A few chapters later in John’s gospel, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and they discuss “right” worship: Jews worship in the Temple in Jerusalem; Samaritans worship on the mountain. Jesus says that the time is coming that you will worship neither in Jerusalem nor on the mountain, but true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth.
Eventually, we find this temple, the body of Jesus hanging on a cross and finally, risen from the tomb talking with Mary in the garden, eating fish on the beach with his friends.
God shows up in the last place you would look. God’s power is manifest in the most powerless act God has ever done. We try to explain it and just sound foolish.
Where does our life intersect with the divine life?
We come here to worship, hoping for an encounter with the divine, not because of the building, but because of what we do here; because of who is here – the people gathered together as the Body of Christ.
Not only do we share the stories of those who have gone before through Scripture, but we also experience the mystery of God through symbols and actions in our liturgies. So, at risk of sounding foolish, I’ll say a little about some of the things we do and why.
All of our symbols, all of our actions are intended to draw our attention to God, to draw our hearts and minds and our very lives to God to be transformed by God so that we may go back out into the world to be Christ to our neighbor even as we serve Christ in our neighbor.
As we enter the church, one of the first symbols we find is the font, where we are reminded of our baptism into the family of God and the promises made in our Baptismal Covenant. In our processions, we often follow a cross, a reminder that it is Christ who leads us, always.
We believe Christ is truly present in the proclamation of the Gospel and so we turn and face the person proclaiming it. We believe that Christ is present in the Body gathered, and so we greet one another in the name of Christ at the peace. The Christ in me responds to the Christ in you. It is also a time to be reconciled with anyone with whom we are at odds.
And then we have the Liturgy of the Table, Holy Communion, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. The Table is set with a fair linen and the “dishes,” the chalice and paten, are covered with a veil, symbolic of the tent of meeting where Moses would go to meet God face-to-face. This is where we will meet God in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine of communion.
We use gestures and actions of reverence, thanksgiving, blessing, and of calling upon the Holy Spirit. We glimpse with awe and wonder the majesty and mystery that is God. Then we eat taking into our human bodies the real food and real presence of Christ, to be nourished physically and spiritually so that we may go out into the world, holy fools rushing in,
to touch the outcasts, free the captives,
feed the hungry, raise the dead;
to create Good News once more.
[i] Weems, Ann. Kneeling in Jerusalem: Poetry for Lent and Easter. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993) 36.