St. Mary's Nanoose
November 17, 2019
Have you heard the story where the spiritual seeker on the streets of New York? He approaches a hotdog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything.” The vendor hands him a fat hotdog dripping with all the sauces. He hands the vendor a ten-dollar bill ….. which the vendor pockets. “Hey, what about my change?” the seeker asks. The vendor replies, “Everyone knows that change comes from within.”
In light of our reading today from Luke, there is much in the story of our seeker in New York that resonates. Our outer world which may seem stable is actually constantly changing. Our inner world is where our strength lies. And it’s from a strong base inside us, that we are able to, not only endure, but become a dwelling place for God’s spirit. A real temple.
The passage opens innocuously enough with Jesus and his followers at the Temple in Jerusalem. Imagine the scene…. a group of peasants and farmers have followed Jesus into the “big city” and are standing in awe of this magnificent structure. Just how magnificent? Listen to this description of the Temple by the 1st century historian, Josephus: “Now the outward face of the temple was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays.”
The Temple in Jerusalem was built to impress. Historians today tell us that the temple was big enough to hold 400,000 people. So, you can well imagine that Jesus’ followers would have been awe-struck. But Jesus cuts short their “oohing” and “ahhing.” He says: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” What could he possibly mean? How could something so solid be razed to the ground?
Yet, just as Jesus predicted…. many things would come to a shocking end. Jesus would die the death of a common criminal, the Temple would be demolished in the Jewish war some 40 years after he died; and his followers would be persecuted for spreading his gospel. Everything that was familiar, everything that seemed solid, everything they knew would come to an end.
His followers had a hard time believing his words. But Jesus wanted to prepare them. Over and over, in this gospel and in others he was teaching them: Don’t get fooled by status, wealth, the trappings, the transient – that’s not where life is. Still, they are mesmerized by glittering gold, with Jesus right there with them!
How much are we like these people at the temple with Jesus? What are we distracted by? How well are we listening? Where is our attention? How much has changed since Jesus’ day?
Do we place our faith, trust and hope in things: in our investments, our looks, our possessions, our houses, our status, in the routines of our days?
Do we despair because the state of the world? Do we look for easy answers or follow people who purport to know how and on what day the world will end?
Jesus tells us, “Don’t look outside for your hope, it doesn’t, and can’t lie there.” Whatever we create for our pleasure, security or future can and will be destroyed, either through the passage of time, forces of nature or human exploit. Our hope can’t possibly lie in our own creations.
So where does our hope lie? Our hope lies in the One who is warning us, teaching us, guiding us, reassuring us. The one who is with us, even in this difficult text.
But we are a fearful people. We have a hard time trusting. We feed on each other’s fears. Our media thrives on, and perpetuates, fear. Fear is part of our nature. We have active imaginations. As Mark Twain once said, “A lot of terrible things ………have almost happened to me!” Our fears can get the best of us. Difficult things can and do happen, but rarely are they the things we wasted time imagining or worrying about.
How can we proceed in times of fear? It may not be the temple being razed, it may not be an invasion or occupation. But troubles come to all of us. Who here hasn’t been betrayed by a friend or family member? Who here hasn’t suffered the loss of a job, a relationship, a loved one. Who here hasn’t faced an uncertain future or had health issues? Life can be very, very difficult. So how can we prepare ourselves for inevitable hardship? How can we anticipate and side step every possible problem?
Our best way forward is the time spent on our inner life. Because we know that we will die, suffering is inevitable and terrible things go on in the world. But by enduring, through prayer and practice, we have the opportunity to offer God a space within us where we can rest, refresh and reconsider. We can come to know and live with and out of that peace that passes all understanding. And we can come to live fully in the world where the essence of who we are cannot be harmed.
Jesus tells us over and over again in the gospels to TRUST. Over 50 times in the New Testament, Jesus says, “Fear not,” or words to that effect. Fear not. Today he tells us to trust in this way, “So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance…. For I will give you words and a wisdom…. ”
OK, but how do we do a “not”? Well, in some ways it is easier to learn to “not” do something. Because we don’t have to use our imagination. We just need to pay attention to when we are doing what we don’t want to do. Only we are really aware of the moments when we worry, or constrict in fear, can we address what we are doing. And then we can change. Then it is simple enough to breathe into that fear, say a prayer, and let go of it.
And once we have let go of our fear, worry or whatever it is, and our hearts are open, that’s how we create space within us for the Holy Spirit to live and move and have its being.
It’s a life-long practice. To wake up and not let our fears control us. We have to exercise the muscle of our hearts so that we can stay open at those times when it would be easier to shut down, lash out or wallow in despair.
This is the inner temple work. Preparing our hearts. Moment by moment. Day by day, building a prayer practice that grounds and sustains us. In this way we will be able to stand tall when we are challenged. In this way we will be open to receive the words that will be given us when we need to speak the truth. Jesus is constantly calling us to wake up, and pay attention to what is going on within us. Not to look outwards for simple answers. But to trust that the difficult passages in scripture and the difficult passages in life do all work unto good.
This morning we are invited to a meal; a simple meal that nourishes and builds the inner life. Eating together reminds us that we are not alone and that though we may suffer, “not a hair on our head will perish.”
Eat and drink and know the peace that passes all understanding.
This is the good news.