Trinity 10 – A House of Prayer

When Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes.

Last Monday Daniëlle and I went to the exhibit on the Kabbalah at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam (which ends today at 5pm!).  Kabbalah is a term to describe various streams of the Jewish mystical tradition since the Middle Ages.  I was interested to learn a bit about it.  It focusses on discovering the nature of creation and in the movement of the soul to God – this way includes understanding God hidden behind the very letters and words of the Hebrew language.  [It has some connection with Gnosticism – an ancient Christian heresy, that only a few are given special knowledge, and that knowledge is only to be shared with those most worthy.]

The exhibit showed various contemporary visual and musical artists who have studied it, including David Bowie and Madonna. Why would these artists be interested in this?  Because they are used to seeking what is just beyond what we know.  David Bowie is quoted as saying, “Searching for music is like searching for God.…  There’s an effort to reclaim the unmentionable, the unsayable, the unseeable, the unspeakable – all those things come into being a composer and to writing music and to searching for notes and pieces of musical information that don’t exist.”  [from an article in the Mirror by Rebecca Merriman, 13 January 2016]

In Kabbalism, there are ten so called Serifot that form a bridge, a mediation, between the Infinite God and the created world – these Serifot are described as having both divine and human qualities: crown, wisdom, insight, knowledge, love and mercy, power and judgement, glory, eternity, majesty, foundation, kingdom.

The Kabbalists are seeking a mediation.  I mention all these Serifot, because I think we could see all of these mediating elements – crown, wisdom, insight, knowledge, love and mercy, power and judgement, glory, eternity, majesty, foundation, kingdom – as gathered up in Jesus Christ.  He has been described in the Bible by many of these very words – He is the Power of God, the Wisdom of God, the Love of God, the Rock or Foundation, the Glory of God, the King, the Logos, the Mercy, the Judge.  We understand Jesus to be the perfect bridge, the Mediator between the human and the Divine, between Creation and God, because he is both human and Divine.

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What does this have to do with our lessons?

I hope each of us has a desire to know God better, that, like the Kabbalists, we long to hear his Voice, that we hope to see Him face to face!  I hope you have this longing as do the artists, as do the theologians and philosophers through the ages – a longing for real connection, for a communication to open up, for there to be a two-way exchange.

This is the promise that we have from Jesus and this is his promise today.

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But we must also be ready in order or this to happen.  Here’s why we must be made ready to receive divine gifts, for communication from above…

Two examples:

  • First, from God’s perspective: Jesus says – blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  If you are a parent, you don’t give your children the keys to the car until they show they are responsible.  A car can do a lot of damage, and the child needs a certain physical ability, a certain self-control, and also a certain maturity, to recognize the potential dangers of the car.  God, as our parent, is waiting to pour out an abundance of spiritual gifts – but we must show a certain level of responsibility before we can receive them or those very gifts will hurt us. For e.g.  Giving us a spiritual gift when we are proud, will only make us more proud. Giving us more desire, when we are directing our desire wrongly, will lead us to greater destruction.  [James 4]
  • Second, from our perspective: Paul says, strive for peace with all people, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [Heb 12:14]  For example, we can’t think clearly about God, so long as our mind is filled with anger, or with excessive thoughts about possessions or food or sex or our appearance; and, we need a certain peace in our lives with others in order to have the space to lift our minds in prayer and contemplation.  [see Aquinas, Summa, Part II-II Art. 2, Obj. 2]

Do you see how first, God holds back from giving grace if we’re not ready, not sufficiently spiritually mature, and second, we hold ourselves back if we are totally distracted by our own thoughts.

The past 7 weeks of Sunday readings have been about curbing and restraining and redirecting our thoughts and desires so that we don’t hurt ourselves or others, but also so that we are made ready for the greater inflow of God’s grace – for communication with the Divine.  Those Sunday were all about dying to sin.  Today and in the weeks to come we are speaking about rising to the new life in Christ. Death must come in us first before a Resurrection.

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In the Gospel this morning [St Luke 19:41-47a], we have this beautiful account of Jesus drawing near to the holy city of Jerusalem.  And the disciples saw and recorded his reaction for us.

Jesus wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”  And Jesus foretells prophetically the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.

Many did not recognize that the Messiah had come.

Just as we heard in Jeremiah’s time [Jeremiah 7:9-15], Jesus uses some of the very same words –

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

And as Israel was led away to Babylon in Jeremiah’s time [7:9-15], so would the Jewish national religious centre be soon destroyed by the Romans and its people scatted through the Mediterranean.

In both eras, the Jewish authorities were continuing with the outward forms of the religion but had lost the heart of it – they had made the Temple a den of robbers.  The people were robbing God because they were directing the worship that is properly directed to God to other things (we worship what we hold to be worthy)…

But the Temple in Jerusalem for Christians, is meant to be a figure of the true Temple.  By our Baptism and faith, each one of us individually is a Temple, and all of us together, as living stones, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, have become the true spiritual Temple – the Church.  Just as God revealed his presence in a mysterious way within the inner chamber, the holy of holies, in the Temple in Jerusalem, so does he now promise to be present in us.

So the drawing near of Jesus to the Temple on that day is something that is happening this morning as he draws near to us.  Will he weep or rejoice?  Perhaps both.

In the Sundays before this we’ve been asked to look at our outward actions – now we’re being challenged to really look at what is going on in our minds, in our hearts, day in day out.  Are we completely distracted inwardly?  Is our desire directed to the true love of our neighbour and of our God?  Is our heart a place of prayer, thinking upon God and his ways, about what is true and just and loving? or have we made it a den of robbers?

We often think of the proud person as offensive, we avoid being like that and we avoid people who are proud.  But pride is also something much more hidden – do we see its more subtle form as simply always choosing to fill our mind with our own thoughts and not listening for the voice of Christ? – that is pride – it is why the foremost antidote to pride is prayer.  If we catch our mind going on and on, we can snap out of it by crying, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!  Give it a higher thought to cling to.

Do you hear the voice of Jesus within?  Do you know the visitation of the Holy Spirit in your heart? As we are made ready by God, as we grow in spiritual maturity, in holiness of life, through trusting in his offering and following his steps in our lives, that voice will become clearer.  New life flows in, as we die to the old life.

Jesus, despite his tears, did not despair – he went into the Temple in Jerusalem and he taught there daily.  And even so with us, he does not despair of the distraction in our minds, but gives his grace that we might reorder our lives outwardly and then he is working inwardly to bring about the reordering of our inner thoughts and desires.

As this happens, our soul, our body, becomes a Temple fit for Him, we begin to really know him, and there can be a greater inflow of grace.

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In this morning’s Epistle reading [1 Corinthians 12:1-12], Paul describes the many gifts that are promised as our lives are made ready for His grace, as we look for and recognize the visitation of Christ in our souls.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  Wisdom…knowledge…faith…healing…miracles…prophecy…distinguishing of spirits… tongues…the interpretation of tongues.

This is the intention of our religion – after a death to sin, a resurrection to love, the renewal of our minds – insight from above – and the sharing these gifts with others.

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The followers of Kabbalah are longing for this connection with the divine, and no doubt the most faithful adherents attain to a certain insight because they are focussing their heart and mind in prayer so whole-heartedly on God, and the attributes of God.  Whoever gazes upon God will be changed.

As Christians, we have been given a Way, I hope you would agree, that is more certain and more widely available through the Wisdom of God, who became flesh, and dwelt among us – Jesus Christ.  We unite ourselves to Him through our baptism, and that Mediation, that communication between the Divine and human, opens up as we mature in our outward actions and as we attend next to the very thoughts of our hearts.  As those thoughts become more and more, a prayer, a longing after God, we will open ourselves to the spiritual gifts from above.

Jesus left us a very tangible way for us to experience the mediation between the Divine and human – his very Body and Blood given for us.

Let us now prepare ourselves to receive Christ in our hearts and minds – to cleanse us from our sin, and from the confusion and distractions in our minds, to refocus our desire on Him and the love of our neighbour, and to be ready to receive His gifts.

Amen +