Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace.
In the Name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, it’s very good to be back from vacation and to ‘see’ all of you again, if only virtually!
I’m really looking forward to seeing you again face-to-face on Sundays beginning September 13th which will be the grand re-opening of our church building for public worship. Of course, then we’ll be seeing each other face-to-face through masks and at a safe physical distance, but that’s better than through a screen!
Over the coming weeks you will be hearing much more about the various health and safety protocols that will be in place for our re-opening. Please know that our highest priority will be to ensure the safety of all those who will gather here in-person for worship - and that of course will include rigorous cleaning in-between services.
So it’s quite fitting that in today’s Gospel, which we just heard, we see Jesus ‘cleansing the temple,’ as this story is often called. So as we prepare to ensure that our church building here at St. James is properly sanitized, we are also called to attend to the more fulsome cleansing required by God’s Word to us this morning.
And our readings today - from Luke, Jeremiah and 1 Corinthians, together with our Psalm and collect of the day - all present us with a unified message about the deep cleaning and thorough re-arranging that God requires of us. And the message comes to us in three parts: First, Jesus cleanses the Temple in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophesy. Second, St. Paul shows us what this clean house of prayer will look like; and thirdly in our Psalm and collect, we ask that both we and our prayers would be purified and made pleasing to God, so that He will hear and answer us, as we dwell continually in His presence. There is a deep connection between these things: because Jesus cleanses, as Jeremiah foretold, St. Paul must instruct and the Psalm & collect we must pray. So let us take these in order.
First, in our Gospel from Luke, before Jesus cleanses the Temple – and the reason He does so – is because He weeps for us. And He weeps for us because, as He says, we fail to see the things that make for our peace. Jesus weeps because He loves us and because knows our pain, our weakness, and our turmoil. He knows all those ways in which the world besieges us and tear us down. Friends, I don’t have to tell you that there are so many things in this world and in our lives that rob us of peace, so many things that cause us turmoil – all the more so now during this time of pandemic.
There is nothing in this tumultuous and uncertain world that can give us the peace our hearts desire – it can only be received as a gift from God. And God can offer it to us as a gift because He created the world and then rested from His work. And in that act of rest, God created ‘tranquility, serenity, peace and repose;’ and He now invites us to enter into it on this Sabbath day.
Over the past month while enjoying my summer Sabbath, I read several novels by a Jewish author (Chaim Potok) whose characters are mostly all religious Jews who carefully observe the Sabbath. And I was struck by just how intentionally they set apart the Sabbath as a day of rest by carefully refraining from any form of work so as to have time for prayer, worship, thanksgiving, family, deep conversation, good reading, walking and rest.
The purpose of these various rules about not working on the Sabbath is ‘to clear a path.’ The rules of refraining from work only clear a path, the soul must then walk that path and enter into the spirit of rest. They speak of the Sabbath as a gift of peace and tranquility from God, an antidote to the turmoil of the world, the armistice in our struggle to live in the world.
After the hustle and bustle and work and worry of the week where we strive to control the world and our lives, we take a day off to focus on self-control and inner liberty, to allow God to purify and renew us through worship and rest. Something actually happens to us on the Sabbath day – a light shines from within us, glows from our face.
By commanding us to cease from work, God makes a promise to us: God promises He’ll give us time to complete the tasks He’s assigned to us. We are never finished all the work we have to do. But on the Sabbath, God invites us to rest as if we’re finished.
So friends, my practical take-home suggestion for you today is simply to be intentional about your Sundays. Make sure you set Sunday apart as a special day each week. Refrain from certain weekday activities so that you have more time to pray, worship, sing hymns, read Scripture, give thanks, reflect with joy and satisfaction on your work, spend quality time with family, enjoy good food and a good book, go for a walk, enjoy nature, and do other things that bring you peace. That’s how you can come to know the things that make for peace.
Jesus says, Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! In biblical times, the main reason why the people of God made a mess for themselves was because of their failure to observe the Sabbath properly. That’s why the Temple became corrupt and was destroyed as Jeremiah warned and Jesus predicted in our readings today.
The Temple became a den of robbers. What does that phrase mean? Robbers cheat and steal and do their violence in the world, and then retreat to their den for safety. That’s how the people of God were treating the Temple and their religious observances - as a cover for their sin, as a safe haven where they thought they could escape from the consequences of their misdeeds.
So friends, the point here for us is that Sabbath rest and worship on the Lord’s Day are meant to re-make us. God uses this day to forgive us, renew us and to make us more like Jesus. So there should be no discord between our moral behaviour on Sunday and the of the week.
On this Sabbath day, through His Word, Jesus enters the temple of our bodies and drives out all those things that rob us of the life of prayer which alone can give us peace. He drives out our sin, our attachments to the world, our guilt and shame, our worries and distractions. Through His Holy Spirit, Jesus comes into our hearts to take up His rightful place as Lord and guardian of our lives as He teaches and guides us.
So O that today – and everyday – you would hear His voice. Then you will know the things that make for peace: the peace of knowing that your sin is forgiven through His cross; the peace of knowing that you can walk in newness of life in the strength of His Resurrection; the peace that comes from growing more and more like Him through the work of the Holy Spirit within you; the peace of knowing that He will come again to heal this broken world that is in such desperate need of His peace.
That’s why Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, whose work will bring about the perfect rest and peace in the new creation to come. And as a preview and foretaste of this, Jesus visits us in a special way on Sundays. Today is the time of our visitation. And so our calling as His Church is to attend to His presence here in our midst. Jesus comes to gives us His peace; and not only that, He empowers us to be channels of His peace in this world. Through the Holy Spirit alive and active in us, He gives each of us a spiritual gift to use for the common good, so that our church community of St. James can be a sanctuary of peace.
That’s what St. Paul teaches us today in our reading from 1 Corinthians chapter 12. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Our gifts are different, but their source is the same (the Holy Spirit) and our goal in using them is the same (the common good).
And so friends, as we prepare for re-opening in September and resume some of our ministries that have been on hold, there is opportunity for you to serve the Church by using your gifts of service. In particular, we will need a volunteer cleaning crew and also more greeters and sidespeople to guide folks through the safety protocols on Sundays.
It’s never been more important for us as a church to be united in service of the common good. When Jesus laments today that we often fail to see the things that make for our peace, this also includes the things that make for our peace as a church body: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, forgiveness and love (Col. 3:12-13).
So today, as Jesus cleanses and rearranges the Temple, here we see what a thoroughly clean, tidy and sanitized temple will look like: a united congregation with members using their spiritual gifts in service of the common good. And the common good is simply peace: the peace of the Church so that we may be sanctuary of peace for the world.
We each have an individual responsibility to this end. That’s why in today’s Psalm we prayed: Refine me [O LORD] and you will find no impurity in me.
Today we ask God to purify our hearts and bodies, the temples of His Holy Spirit, and that includes our prayers. In a few minutes, in our collect of the day, we will ask God to make our prayers pleasing to Him. To that end, I would suggest you pray today and this week for two things:
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.