The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s103g06 St Barnabas East Orange Palm Sunday 9/4/06
"Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve." Mark 11.11
It has always seemed to me a bit of a 'let down' after all the excitement of his way to the Temple. It seems on the journey that something momentous was about to happen. One might have expected the procession to have sparked a political coup, or Jesus might have confronted the religious hierarchy and gave them a piece of his mind. But all that happens is that Jesus does a quick inspection of the Temple and simply goes away again. It makes me wonder who or what he was looking for. Perhaps it was an inspection, to see how many people were there or what liturgical innovations the clergy were up to! We are given no clue. No doubt it 'put the wind up' the authorities.
Throughout his life the Temple was important to Jesus. He was properly presented there after he was born and later at the age of 12 his family did the customary pilgrimage. St John has much of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem and preaching in the Temple. All the evangelists note the so-called cleansing of the Temple.
For me this indicates that Jesus came to achieve a religious agenda, rather than a political, ecological, ethical or even moral one. This is not to suggest that politics, the environment, ethical matters or morality are not important, but these are left to our continuing stewardship. Jesus is concerned with the Temple and what it stands for.
In the last week I have had a couple of conversations with people concerned that the pews in their churches had been replaced by chairs. Now I have no difficulty with churches with either pews or chairs, but we need to be careful that what we stand for doesn't get completely obliterated by other matters. If churches only remain because they are heritage structures, then it will only be those who are interested in the preservation of our heritage who will frequent them. If others decide that they would prefer to worship in more modern surroundings, then others cannot complain.
Jesus has something to say about our relationship with God and the consequences for our relationship with others. It is the temple, the synagogue and later the church, that has this dual focus.
Jesus came not to set up a new religion, but to ensure that those who spoke in God's name were themselves loving others and encouraging all to love one another.
When I attempt to define the task of the church and chaplaincy, for me it is to join with others in lifting people to their feet, as so often in the Bible God lifts people to their feet. And for me this means that our primal dignity as humans is restored -- we can stand on our own two feet and think for ourselves. In my role in the hospitals, I see doctors, nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists, diversional therapists, social workers, indeed everyone there, all trying to do the same thing.
But if the Church then serves to diminish rather than affirm others, the good that these others do will be correspondingly diminished as well. So my presence in the hospitals is to affirm the encouraging that other people do and to try to do likewise.
So I confess some anxiety when I hear people speaking in the press about the minority of Moslems who seek to dominate and subdue others -- when I often see Christians -- Anglicans -- doing precisely the same thing.
I was heartened to read in the latest Editorial of "Eureka Street" that In his Pastoral Letter, Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja, the Archbishop of Jakarta, say "that corrupt behaviour can happen at various levels: in the school and education system, in relationship with God, in families and communities."
He defines corruption as "dishonesty and illegal behaviour by people in positions of authority and power." "He is honest in stating that the Church can be, and indeed is, corrupted by commercial practices. Some people manipulate the services offered by the Church for their own interest." While this comes from the Catholic Church in Indonesia, I would not be saying this if I did not believe that this happens in our own Church here in Australia as much as anywhere else. "There are many hindrances to the fight to end corruption in Christian communities. The culture of silence is one of them", says Gregorius Soetomo sj, editor of the Indonesian journal "Hidup" who reports the Archbishop's words.
In recent years we have had the scandal of sexual abuse of young children in the care of our church exposed. But I have often been reflecting how I was brought up in a culture where children were to be seen and not heard. This is just another form of corruption. Again, I have for many years decided that the ill treatment of women -- abused by their lawfully wedded husbands -- is prolonged by the church's teaching on the subordination of women -- and I realize that this is just another example of corruption. The abuse of gay and lesbian people who only want to live quietly and worship God faithfully is another example of corruption. Indeed the whole idea that you need to be "one of us" to get to heaven, is actually to threaten others with eternal damnation unless they submit -- and this is another form of corruption.
But so often the Church wants children, women, gays, indeed others to be silent, and this culture of silence is symptomatic of corrupt practices.
Any religion that separates itself off from the ordinary mass of people, be it called Christianity or anything else, does this. When church people bemoan the advancing tide of secularism, behind this lies a desire to dominate and subdue, that is not in the least bit different from what others might actually do.
If our "evangelism" is actually an attempt to extend our domination over others, it is not at all surprising that we find it unsuccessful. Actually I would be distressed if it was successful. I am glad that our decade of evangelism didn't bear much fruit, not because I am against evangelism, but because we are now left with no alternative but to look at others who worship God in other ways to us as people to appreciate rather than people to convert.
So, to return to our examination of the role of the temple. Each and every one of us needs a place that is holy ground, a place where we are accepted, and so axiomatically a place where all are accepted. Jesus inspection of the Temple tells us that the Temple is important to God and to Jesus because it is the visible sign of the acceptance of all -- or not. If it is, it will have God's blessing; if it is not then it will neither be blessed by God or by anyone else.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"