Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cleansing the Temple Lent 3B 8.00 homily

When I was a child, my parents took me on an outing from our home in Sussex to see the great post-war wonder that is Coventry Cathedral.
I was overwhelmed, my breath taken away by what I was utterly unlike any building I'd visited before, and challenged my expectations in so many different ways.
But perhaps the thing that I remember best from that trip was reading an entry in the visitors' book as I paused to record our names
My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves, flower arrangers, postcard sellers and outside broadcast teams”

It gave me pause because, surely flower ladies, Cathedral shops and the radio 3 broadcast of Choral Evensong were – and are – essential features of a Cathedral's life, - things that we absolutely took for granted.
I didn't understand why they had made someone so angry – though I recognised the anger, right enough.

But those words have stayed with me, returned to me time and again when I've visited holy places...
They have become, indeed, almost a template against which I measure their holiness, or its absence.
And I wonder whether that unknown objector 40 years ago had the right idea
And I wonder what Jesus would say about THIS holy place, if he arrived today.

We've had 175 years to solidify what we're about here – but I wonder if we remain true to our purposes.
What is a parish church for?
What was the Temple for?
Do buildings help or hinder our mission?

When the appeal was launched to build this church, I wonder what the contributors hoped would emerge.
Would it be a place to encounter the living God – or a place to imprison him, God in a box, constrained to suit our purposes?
Would it be somewhere where all those who have no home, no place to call their own would find that they belonged, were accepted?
Somewhere where the feast  Christ hosts would be celebrated week after week, with everyone welcome?

Or would it become a club for insiders, a place where it mattered that you knew the rules...that you could blend into the surroundings?

When Christ came to the Temple, he was outraged.
The God of Israel was not a God for Israel alone but for all people - Jew and Gentile alike, - and his house had room for all - but the outer court were the Gentiles came had been crammed full of all the traffic and commerce of an open air market.
How could they draw near where there was no space?
How could they hear the great story of God's love above the sales patter, the hawkers' cries, the farmyard cacophany of sacrifices in waiting?
The place of hospitality had become a place of exclusion.
Suddenly, you were welcomed only if you dress, speech, politics – if you were ready to join in with the irreverent worship of dishonest gain, to align your priorities with those of the powers that be.

When Jesus lost his temper, strode across the scene like an avenging fury, turning the tables and restoring lost priorities, his actions aligned him decisively with the OUTSIDERS......those for whom commerce left no room.
His anger, echoing down the centuries, reminds us that we too come must apart, to this holy place to pray – to attune our wandering hearts to the music of God's will once more.
It reminds us, too,that we are prone to distort that music,to crowd out the holy space with peripherals that benefit only the few...

There are, of course, loud and uncomfortable parallels with recent events – for it's only slightly over a week ago that those praying in an outer court were summarily evicted, told  that this house of prayer was not the place for them.
Sometimes noisy, potentially smelly, certainly disruptive – those Occupy protestors believed that they had a prophetic calling to challenge our core assumptions about the way we organise our world and, incidentally, about the truly essential features of our holy they churches, Cathedrals – or the inner chambers of our hearts.
Whatever your opinion of their approach, their message is one that we need to consider – a reminder that there IS another way, that society need not be founded on the pursuit of profit at all costs.

But Society will only change, the CHURCH will only change if we embrace change within ourselves.
We may be so used to the flower arrangers, postcard sellers and outside broadcast teams that we won't question their squatters rights even for a moment – but God's church exists for something greater than that. 
We are the living stones from which that Church is built – and we come to this passage of challenge and demand within a season of repentance – so let us ask for grace to align ourselves with Jesus, to assist him in cleansing the Temple so that it may be transformed into an authentic sign of his kingdom on earth.

A prayer by the Dean of St Albans

Lord, do something about your Church.
It is so awful, it is hard not to feel ashamed of belonging to it.
Most of the time it seems to be all the things you condemned:
hierarchical, conventional, judgmental, hypocritical,
respectable, comfortable, moralising, compromising,
clinging to its privileges and worldly securities,
and when not positively objectionable, merely absurd.
Lord, we need your whip of cords.
Judge us and cleanse us,
challenge and change us,
break and remake us.
Help us to be what you called us to be.
Help us to embody you on earth.
Help us to make you real down here,
and to feed your people bread instead of stones.
And start with me.


Dave Wilkinson said...

That is wonderful Kathryn, I wish I was there to here it. Both inspiring & challenging, a difficult mix to get right.

Still Breathing said...

I love visiting cathedrals and usually find the gift shop, flowers etc help the experience. However the reason for the building being there s lost if it ceases to be a place where people, any people, can come to meet with God. One of my favourite memories of a cathedral trip Helen and I made was going to the midday Eucharist in Ripon Cathedral where we joined the lady who came every day to ensure the priest wasn't on his own for the shared meal; a wonderful time of fellowship.

Arabella said...

What a powerful prayer by the Dean of St Albans. I'd like to share it with others but can't find a copyright or reference to it online. Any advice? Thank you for the post.