It’s always an honor to get to preach the Good News! This last weekend I got to (virtually) join our beloved old church in Seattle, St. Andrew’s Episcopal. Watch the sermon, which stems from John 2:13-22, on YouTube, or simply read it in full below. Enjoy!
Well, St. Andrews, it is GOOD to be with you today – even if it’s not in person, even if we’re still doing this thing called “gathering together as the hands and feet of Jesus” over a bunch of computer screens.
And, it is equally good to gather with you as we unpack a most peculiar Lenten passage, one that makes you go, wait a minute – what does flipping tables and turning Jewish temples-turned-marketplaces upside down have anything to do with this ashes-to-ashes, dust-to dust season we’re living in for six weeks as a Church, that we’ve BEEN living in for the last year, due to the global pandemic known as Covid-19.
That’s exactly what I thought too.
But then I read something from a theologian that changed everything – she used the example of a basketball game, but seeing as I don’t exactly talk sportsball, I’m going to make up an example that makes sense to me.
It’s Fat Tuesday …and there’s a big party going on at St. Andrew’s. We’re eating pancakes with butter and lots and lots of syrup, or we’re also feasting on cioppino and bread and things from the garden (which, I suppose would be endless amounts of kale, since it’s the middle of winter in Seattle). The wine is flowing and the music is pumping and the people are dancing. And the thing is, it’s not just us: Every single Episcopalian in the greater Seattle area has decided to gather with us, because not only is Covid not a thing but also, Bishop Michael Curry has decided to join us. And President Biden. And Vice-President Harris too. Multiple television crews are parked in the tiny parking lot, because this is a very BIG DEAL.
So, to celebrate the bishop and Mr. President and Madam Vice-President AND this last night of freedom before the Lenten season begins, we have also decided to transform the sanctuary into the most incredible Mardi Gras experience west of the Mississippi. You can buy tickets for the carnival: For three tickets you can try your hand at skee-ball or you can do the cake walk. For five tickets you can pie someone in the face! For ten tickets you can try to dunk Father Rich! What a wild ride! And because we are graciously hosting thousands upon thousands on our little property, all the money made from the festival will go back to us (and although we don’t say it out loud, to our building renovation project – not a big deal, seriously).
We’re all partying like it’s 19-99. And then someone takes a pair of garden shears and cuts off all the electricity and power. The place goes dark. The news broadcasters fall silent. And everyone inside, we don’t know what to do: we stick our hands out in front of us and paw our way through darkened hallways. Fat Tuesday is over. All the money we could have made is gone.
Now, again, this example is purely an example and not at all an indication of my thoughts or beliefs or feelings about the good people of St. Andrews. Not at all – but take that story and pair it alongside John 2 when Jesus pulled the plug, so to speak, on the marketplace.
The problem, of course, wasn’t so much the selling as it was the corruption – they weren’t just selling animals for purification purposes, they were cheating other people. “Maybe,” one theologian writes, “Jesus raises a ruckus in the temple to protest corruption and clean it up, if only for an afternoon.” Maybe this was merely performance art (Mary Hinkle Shore).
The writer continues: “Jesus brings temple activity to a standstill in order to point to another holy place altogether” (Mary Hinkle Shore). Because at this point in the story – a story which belonged to Jewish believers, mind you – the temple was a most holy place. The temple was the place where human life and divine blessing met, where those two entities came face-to-face.
So, what was Jesus then trying to communicate when he pulled the plug on everything? He was saying, I am the new holy place. My body, this body, THIS is the place where the human and the divine meet.
Jesus flipped it all over to remind the people of another holy place altogether, of that thin place where heaven and earth meet – which was him. Of that thin place where the experiences of our human bodies collide with the things of God, the places of holy, the intersections of the divine.
And Jesus flips it all over to remind us that this thin place is still here and can still be here, in our bodies, in all the unique and perfect and beautiful ways our individual bodies experience God, even in an ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust season of waiting for hope to appear.
We are reminded that all the beauty and complexity and pain we carry within our bodies is not the entire story. On Ash Wednesday, for example, we are reminded that “God is doing something new, inviting us to see what ashes can become” (Micha Boyett). So even when it feels like all hope is lost – and isn’t that kind of what a year of living through a global pandemic feels like? – we are reminded that “something stronger is stirring the ashes, kindling the bit of embers that still remain” (Micha Boyett).
So, where is it that God meeting you, I ask?
Some of us meet God in nature, when sweat pours down our foreheads and there’s not another human being in sight. Some of us meet God in the smells and bells of a hallowed sanctuary, when a whiff of incense and an organ prelude draws us in in ways we cannot explain. God meets us in books, or when we stare at a fire, or when we gather together at the dinner table; God meets us in a thousand different ways, because each of our bodies is holy to God – each of our bodies is a place inseparable from the Great Creator, just as it was inseparable to Jesus that overturning day in the temple, 2000 years ago.
I may have told you this story before, but I remember with fondness the first day I stepped into St. Andrews. It was the middle of the summer, July, I believe, and my boys were with a sitter for a couple of hours so I could get some work done. I was sitting in the middle of a library, the one on down on 35th Ave, writing, or at least trying to write, when all of the sudden, I found myself googling local Episcopal churches in the area. It was a Tuesday or a Thursday, that much I remember, because an hour later, I walked into the tiny chapel at the back of the church, not really knowing why I was there, except that the Internet had apparently told me it was a good idea.
A kind man with crinkly, smiling eyes named Father Terry met me at the door, along with a small gaggle of other holy misfits. We entered into prayer. We passed the peace and we breathed in Scripture; we lit candles and broke bread together, and I left that day feeling like I had finally found home.
I found the place where my heart belonged, the thin place where heaven and earth meet, where God met this sacred temple of a body, called me.
So, tell me, where is it that God meets you?
Wherever it is, just as the body of Jesus reminded the people of God’s location that day in the temple, YOUR body is the also God’s location – this right here, right now, today, point of connection between human and divine life.
As we lean into the coming week, might we remember this truth. Might we rest in this Love. And might we find hope in the big and little ways in which our bodies experience the holy and the divine.
Tell me, where is that God meets you? And, lest we forget, how are you finding hope, even in the midst of flipped tables and pulled plugs?