Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 2013
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Let us Pray:
Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

Have you ever noticed how many clear pictures there are in the gospels? When we read the gospels, we can see the pictures of the birth in Bethlehem, just as we can see the pictures of the crucifixion on Calvary. The gospels were written down from stories passed on from eye-witness accounts. And they are vivid with detail – visual detail. We can see the dramatic accounts unfold as we read or hear of the story of Jesus' life and ministry. We must see them to fully understand. Ignatius Loyola knew this and designed his Spiritual Exercises around this idea. One must experience the life and death of Jesus Christ fully. Above all, we must hear of it and see it.

 

While much of Christian art, whether painting, stained glass or drama is designed to give us an experience of Christ's story, we often need interpreters to help us understand what a certain painting or stained glass panel really means. Today, we are much more focused on the printed word, seeking to understand the specific meaning of a particular phrase or concept. And that is our loss. The words are designed to be a window onto God's world, not an end in themselves.

 

Recently, I read a review of a new book about the cinema. This book focused on the lives and work of several Hollywood film directors. They were a wildly successful bunch; they made lots of money and lived very unstable lives. But each of them had mastered the technique of making great movies. Each of them knew how to use the close-up and the long shot to good advantage. They knew their medium. They knew how to tell their stories through an effective use of a camera; they guided what film-goers would see and told their stories through a deep understanding of their craft. Above all, they knew the power of the visual image.

 

Today's gospel message begins with a visual image. St. Luke writes: “And when he was come near, he beheld the city.” In this image, we see, in our mind's eye, Jesus approaching Jerusalem. He looks at the city. He recognizes its familiar buildings, the unique outline of this particular city. It is God's city. It is His home. In a very real sense, Jesus is coming home. But Jesus doesn't feel very happy in his homecoming. Rather than marveling at the beautiful sight, rather than taking joy in the wonders of the holy city, rather than looking forward to taking a deserved rest in familiar surroundings, we hear that he weeps over it. He tells his followers that there are things that will happen to this city. Terrible things. Incredible destruction will be visited on Jerusalem. And this first image is that of Jesus, standing outside the city of Jerusalem and weeping. We must see this image and embrace it in order for us to understand what it really means. What does it take to bring God to tears?

 

We may look at pictures of Jerusalem today and wonder what it was like in the time of Jesus. Yes, there are drawings and diagrams of what Jerusalem looked like. But we can never have the complete picture of what it was way back when. Jesus was calling attention to the reality of change, to the conflict that would destroy that beautiful city. And though we cannot truly see the Jerusalem of two thousand years ago, we can observe the cities of today. We may imagine God standing at the gates of any modern city. He does not marvel at the great architecture or the beautiful gardens or the transportation systems. He weeps once again because He knows the future better than any of us. And He weeps because, once again, we don't get it.

 

Jesus appears in that first picture. He also appears in a second. In this one, Jesus enters the Temple and casts out the moneychangers, accusing them of making God's house into "a den of thieves." It is a second visual image, this one set within Jerusalem itself. And not only in Jerusalem, but in the holiest place within the city. We watch as he turns over the tables of the moneychangers and those who sell doves. He turns them over. We watch as He does this. This carpenter is a strong man, a man with purpose and dedication. He is also a man who has returned to His own home, a home he created, a home he left in the care of others, others He trusted.

 

And He is justifiably angry. Things get broken. Things get thrown around and it makes a good deal of noise. But these objects that are thrown around and broken are objects that never should have been there to begin with. We can see them. We recognize that they have no place in God's house.

 

But the story does not end there. God does not leave us in a place of destruction. There is yet a third picture and it is this: Jesus teaching daily in the Temple. It seems almost an afterthought, doesn't it? A quiet ending to a very dramatic gospel story. But it is exactly what should happen. When we look at this last picture, we notice that God is at the center of the Temple, teaching the faithful the ways of God. The Temple has been cleansed of all that is not of God. We look at we can see only God's work. We see the faithful looking to God for instruction. And He instructs them in the ways of God's world. And each day they change. We watch this change over time. We see how they grow to understand, more and more, how Jesus has changed their lives.

It is like this in our own lives, too, just as it is true of our churches.

 

When we remove all that is not of God, we allow the presence of Jesus to fill us with the abundance of His teaching.

But, perhaps, there is one more picture. The gospel always leaves an opening for us to fill in that part which is us.

 

 

What does the picture look like when we bring Jesus to the center of our own lives and allow Him to fill us with an understanding of His love? It is a picture we can all create. To the joy of heaven.

 

Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.
Amen.