A Place of Prayer
Rev. Alice Fleming Townley
March 4, 2018
All four gospels have the story of Jesus and the temple incident. For Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is at the end of their gospels. In them, Jesus uses the phrase a ‘den of thieves,’ and he was arrested and killed. And those are good texts to study and preach, on another day.
The gospel of John opens, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among them.” And then in chapter 2, instead of a manger scene, we have Jesus blessing the wedding in Cana and today’s story with the temple. The temple of Jerusalem was understood to be the place, the holy place, where God lived. And being there Jesus was overwhelmed smelling the cattle, hearing the sheep, watching the caged birds, feeling the hustle and bustle of the people. Zeal consumed him. Jesus drove them all out, saying, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
Those running the place pushed back, “What do you think you’re doing? By what authority?”
And Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rise it up. . . And he was speaking of the temple of his body.” Jesus knew and claimed God’s presence in the temple of Jerusalem, AND in his own body. The gospel of John begins with this good news of the incarnation, that divinity came to dwell among us in human flesh. Human bodies and relationships are blessed by holy presence. Years later, Jesus words would echo in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. “Do you not know, the apostle will ask them—and us—“that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) We are the body of Christ, both broken and beautiful; and in us God’s Spirit dwells.
We are living temples. Joyce Rupp says, “When we are occupied with life’s many details and are rushing around the marketplace, only the surface things of life usually get our attention.”[i] We fill our temples with so much noise and activity that we get distracted from what we are about. We run faster and faster, to do more and be more. And then we wonder why we aren’t more fruitful. When we try briefly to quiet and turn within, we find we are like strangers to ourselves and to God. In the stillness we can hear our worries and our see our wounds. And it’s easier to turn the speed and volume up again.
We are overwhelmed. We need Jesus to help us clear space. Lent is a good time to reflect, what hustle and bustle needs to go?
- to listen
- to weep and rage
- to be comforted
- to dream
- to plant and water
- to grow
- to wrestle with
- to breathe and receive
- to live more abundantly
This Lent I’ve had the treasure and the challenge of reading Joyce Rupp’s The Cup of Our Life. Nearly 60 of you picked up copies of the book and 4 small groups are meeting, and there are room for more to join. I say challenge because at least for me, taking time for the daily devotions and meditations in the book is easier longed for than practiced. The to-do list with a job and family and house is never done, but knowing I am going to be leading a weekly discussion on this book elevates reading it to a spot on the list. Accountability helps. And while some days, the practice doesn’t happen, clearing space for make-up sessions in front of my fireplace have been like a spiritual retreat. Like an oasis, an opportunity to rest and drink deeply and become aware of the Holy One.
Joyce Rupp writes,
“Who is God? Where do we find this God of ours? . . . If we look at the Christian scriptures, we find a significant addition: this Divine Presence has made a home in us. . . Jesus used the image of the vine and the branches to emphasize that the same life that surges through all parts of the plant is similar to the life of God that surges through our being. God is no longer just ‘out there.’ God is also here, within us. The spirit of Jesus lives on in our own bodily temples. We have become the home of God.”[ii]
Too often we limit our interaction with God to our heads—what we read or think or believe, or can’t, at any given time intellectually. And we are tempted, even unconsciously, to confine what matters and who matters to intellectual litmus tests. John said, “Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.” Yes, God dwells in our minds. Yes, God dwells in our hearts. Yes, God dwells in our bodies.
This blessing takes
one look at you
and all it can say is
Holy even in pain.
Holy even when weary.
In brokenness, holy.
In shame, holy still.
Holy in delight.
Holy in distress.
Holy when being born.
Holy when we lay it down
at the hour of our death.
open your eyes
For one moment
see what this blessing sees,
this blessing that knows
how you have been formed
and knit together
in wonder and
Welcome this blessing
that folds its hands
when it meets you;
receive this blessing
that wants to kneel
you who are
home for God
in this world.[iii]
Our bodies matter. How we look at ourselves and others, matters. Wrinkled hands, and messy bottoms, and dirty faces, all matter. Holding hands crossing to the other side, and rocking in the middle of the night, matters. What we eat and who we share food with, matters. The vegetables we chop, the dishes we wash, the tables we extend, matter. When we slow down and become aware, we realize these are even holy. “When we remember that God has made a home in us and in each one we meet, we look at people and at life differently.”[iv] We carry God within us, and into each relationship and experience. This is the good news of the incarnation.
This is important:
- Because bodies in our midst continue to be shunned for the gender they should not be.
- Because bodies in our midst continue to be dismissed for the color they should not be.
- Because bodies in our midst continue to be overlooked for that which does not conform to what bodies should look like and be able to do.
- Because bodies in our midst continue to be assaulted and abused, battering justified by twisted and terrifying biblical interpretation meant only to oppress.
- Because bodies in our midst continue to be massacred, because other bodies are deemed rights and privileges foreign to the reign of God.[v]
Tomorrow, Monday, a visitor is coming to town planning a hate speech. At first, I thought maybe I’d just ignore this one, because there’s plenty else going on. But then one, and then two, and finally three of you came to me. We trust you will tell us what to do. Could you not read my mind, “I have no idea.”
Your words to my uncertainty, led me to gather with my colleagues and beyond with people I’d never met–to listen to MSU students, police, administrators, and city leaders. To ask collaboratively, “What can we do in our time and in our place?” On Monday and everyday we can reach out with:
- Our white, and brown and black bodies;
- Our Jewish, Muslim, Christian bodies;
- Our young and old and in between.
Perhaps we are often overwhelmed and have no idea what we can do that matters. We can share coffee and cookies. We can cross barriers and talk to strangers. We can ask for help, and confess pain, and say that ‘we don’t know.’ We can see the presence of the Holy in each one.
We can embrace Lent. Clear out the marketplace. Take a` deep breathe, be still. Open space to listen to the one who dwells within, the One who raises shattered temples, and make dry bones to live.
May the Word take flesh in our time and in our place.
[i] 47, Joyce Rupp, The Cup of Our Life.
[ii] 17, Joyce Rupp, The Cup of Our Life.
[iii] “Blessing the Body,” Jan Richardson, Painted Prayerbook, http://paintedprayerbook.com/2012/03/05/3rd-sunday-in-lent-speaking-of-the-body/
[iv] 17, Joyce Rupp, The Cup of Our Life.
[v] Karoline Lewis, “Body Zeal,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5071