From the Promenade on Brooklyn Heights, you can look out across New York Harbor. You can see Liberty Island, Governor’s Island, and Staten Island. You can look right across the East River to Manhattan Island. And if you stand in the right spot you can look right up Wall Street to where it ends at Broadway. There’s a church at the end of it, at the west end of Wall Street.
It’s an Episcopal church, the Parish of Trinity Church in the City of New York. If you were to take the subway over there and walk up the hill from the stop near the East River, you would pass a number of large office buildings. On your right you would come to Federal Hall, where Congress met, in early days. On the left, then, down a side street would be the New York Stock Exchange. And still, ahead of you, would be the church.
Scamper across Broadway and through the iron gates that stand open all day. Around you are the graves of the churchyard, an old statue and a memorial to the prisoners of war who died in confinement during the Revolution.
Go into the church. It’s old, a hundred and fifty years old. The parish is twice that age; this is their third building.
What is in it? Cows and ducks? No, there are no ducks. No cows. No sheep. No goats. No pigeons or doves (usually). This is a house of prayer.
It is not a marketplace. Imagine if it were. Imagine if all the bulls of Wall Street and all the bulls of Pamplona were to run in here. Imagine cows, sheep, and pigeons. Imagine a stockyard, in full auction mode. Imagine the noise. Imagine – the mess.
Imagine buying and selling; money changing hands.
Imagine – your disgust.
Picture Jesus – walking into the room.
He is not afraid. He knows what to do.
He drives out the sheep and the cattle, and, turning on the bankers and brokers, he upsets their trading tables. He orders the birds to be taken away. He says:
This is not an auction yard! This is a house of prayer!
In the first century, in the Temple of Herod the Great, this is what Jesus did.
The people there knew what he was doing. He is doing what a prophet out of the Old Testament would do. He acts. He acts in a way that tells you God is present – and active in the world.
What, though, are his credentials? Who is he to play the prophet? Can he show me a sign? I’ll be willing to believe him if he does. Maybe.
He answers with a riddle. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
He will take this – where the presence of God is felt, the ‘thin place’ where human beings could come close to God – and he will restore it from annihilation?
How can that possibly happen? The great temple of Herod had been under construction since before he was born!
And yet – he did it. He did raise up the Temple.
But he raised a new Temple – one not made of human hands.
“If all else fails, read the directions”
In the book of Exodus, chapter 20, we hear the words Moses heard on Sinai: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”
God is God. There is no other. There is not another way to approach God or relate to God except as God. He will not settle for anything less; he is the One.
Psalm 19 brings out the bright side of the covenant, the relationship of trust and faithfulness we have with God. The law, like the sun, rejoices the heart, illuminates the mind, and revives the soul. The God who made us has entered into relationship with us.
The law, the promise, is the way of life that works.
It is perfect, it revives the soul; it is sure, it gives wisdom; it is just, it rejoices the heart; it is clear, it gives light; it is clean, it endures forever: it is true and righteous all together.
But the Law points beyond itself – to relationship. And that relationship is fulfilled ultimately in nothing less that the presence of God incarnate in Jesus.
What kind of presence would you expect the Creator of the universe to have, if God could be present among us? Would it not be wisdom, power and might, all the time and everywhere, unmistakable? But somehow God chooses to show greatness and glory in a way surpassing human categories.
At his weakest and most vulnerable, at his most powerless and foolish, we are meant to see, God is still stronger, surer, mightier, and more full of wisdom, than any human possibility.
God comes to us, to a world in need, not as hero conqueror, a sign maker and wonder worker, a prophet of manifest greatness; God comes to us in a simple, humble man, the son of an ordinary family. And in that apparent weakness is incredible strength.
God comes to us, to a planet in shadow, where truth is less valued than knowledge, expertise than truth, and cleverness than charity; and he comes, simply, astoundingly, to the least of us, and calls him Brother.
And then he will take the extraordinary step – he will allow the Temple of his body to be destroyed. He will give his life for us. He will take on himself all our loss, all our grief, all our sorrow; and he will give us – joy.
What happened to the Temple of Herod? It was destroyed, and razed to the foundation stones. The Romans took care of that, under Vespasian and Titus.
What lived was a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a temple of flesh and breath, of heart and mind and strength. What was raised was Jesus himself. Jesus the Christ himself became the ‘thin place’ where human beings could come close to God. To feel the presence of God, seek Jesus.
Seek him where he wills to be found. Seek him where he reveals himself. Seek him where he said you could see him and serve him. Serve him in the least of these.
Serve him so that when the naked are clothed and the hungry are fed and the sick and in prison are visited and the jubilee year of God is proclaimed, and when we speak up for the captives, saying, FREE THEM, that all will know that God is present in the world, at work through the body of Christ which is his church.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the actions of my hands, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.