Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sermon: True North

Sermon for Lent 3, Year B
Vicki Hesse, Seminarian, March 11, 2012

At one point in my life, 
I tried to get a private pilot’s license. 
I never did finish that, but I did
complete much of the book study,
practical flying and four “solo” flights.

On one of these “solo” flights,
I planned to fly from San Carlos to Modesto. 
I established the route, listened to the weather,
completed the checklist and took off. 
As I approached what I thought was Modesto,
I announced my descent.
“Cessna Tango 5546 on final.”
NO response.  Hmm. Curious.

At 500 feet
I can see in plain letters
the name of the airport traced across the landing strip,
Ooops.  That’s not MODESTO. Wrong Airport. 
This was my lesson in adjusting
the “magnetic declination” on the compass of the plane.

See, “magnetic declination” is the difference between
magnetic north and geographic north. 
Setting the “magnetic declination” incorrectly
meant that in that 90-mile trip, I was off by 20 miles. 
That error with the magnetic declination 
was a barrier to my arriving at my destination. 

I am sure that Jesus did not have to
set the magnetic declination
on his compass to get to Jerusalem. 
The trail to Jerusalem was probably well worn
by the time Jesus went there.

The trail to Jerusalem was well worn, because
the Passover festival was near.
As a pilgrimage feast, the Passover annually drew
thousands of Jews from all over the region.
The festival itself was a
required religious experience –
every Jewish male over 12 years of age
had to attend,
despite the barriers to God that they experienced.

First, they had to travel
long distances to complete the required activities
as outlined in Leviticus.

Second, since the Passover was major event,
the city and The Temple were busy, not quiet and prayerful.

The event itself was held in the Temple –
A space of ~35 acres, about 1/6 the size of Jerusalem. 
The entire enclosure was paved with colored stones,
surrounded by colonnade of white marble 40 feet high.
There was a lot of activity in and around this place –
not only Jewish people gathering in the temple,
but those who supported the festival
and helped the pilgrims.

Third, the pilgrim had to abide by specific rules -
more barriers to attend to before they worshipped. 

The religious authorities - “The Jews”
supervised the activities that required
pilgrims to sacrifice unblemished cattle, sheep or doves. 

Since pilgrims came from a distance,
they needed to buy an unblemished animal
and thus a fourth barrier;
they had to exchange money, since the sellers
of these animals required temple currency –
not coins bearing the image of a Roman emperor -

Once all these barriers were crossed,
Then, they could worship God.
Passover was near,
and as a faithful Jew,
Jesus came to the temple,
a sacred space,
a dwelling place of God on Earth.

Jesus entered the temple through the Court of the Gentiles. 
The area set up as an open-air market. 
There were cattle bellowing, sheep bleating, doves cooing,
and people changing money
all necessary activities ostensibly to benefit the pilgrims,
but really – essentially, all barriers to worshipping God. 

Which makes me wonder, is it any different today? 
Do we experience barriers to God?

I heard recently that
10 o’clock on Sunday morning is
the most sacred hour of the week”
and “9 o’clock on Sunday morning is
the least sacred hour”
That is when we experience fractured relationships.
We frantically get the kids dressed,
we slam down our breakfast & coffee,
we worry about being late,
even as we desire to arrive in a mindful, pleasant mood.
We sense our distance from God, in this least sacred time.

I recognize this in myself – even during the week.
Just one more item to do at school,
just one more topic to discuss before this meeting is over,
just one more thing to do before I pray.
Surely then I forgive my loved one,
Surely then I will know that I am loved by God,
Surely then I will spend time with Jesus. 

Does this ring any bells?

The rules of society,
the expectations of our lives,
the demands of our culture,
set up barriers to God,
barriers to noticing God in our everyday life. 

Perhaps the magnetic declination
of our inner compass is off?

And so, by the grace of God,
Jesus entered the Temple scene to remove the barriers.

In a flurry of activity, Jesus interrupted everything.
He found the cattle, sheep, doves, and moneychangers.

With a cord whip,
He drove out the sheep and the cattle.
He poured out the coins.
He demanded the dove sellers to leave.

Jesus upset the market place and
recalibrated what was important.

When he said,
“Stop making my Father’s house a market place!”
The disciples recalled scripture,
From Psalm 69, (Psalm 69:9)
“…zeal for your house that has consumed me”
From Malachi (3:1),
“…the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
And from the prophet Zechariah (14:21),
“there shall no longer be traders
in the house of the Lord of Hosts
on that day.”

On that day, God was in the house of the Lord of Hosts and Jesus removed the barriers for the people.

On that day, Jesus made himself known as
the locus of God on Earth,
the center of faith,
the focal point of worship.

On that day, Jesus was (and is) the temple –
The one that would be raised /in his resurrection/ on Easter.
The disciples remembered this event and
freed from the barriers established by authorities,
they believed the scripture and
the word that Jesus had spoken.

God made God’s self known on Earth,
through the in-breaking,
surprising activity of Jesus, on that day
in the temple
as the temple
for the temple.

He removed the barriers then.
And he removes barriers now, for us.
As we know Jesus, we know God. 
This is a new and re-calibrated way of looking at the world. 

God acts in surprising ways in our lives. 

And so, we notice:
God, through Jesus, recalibrates our “magnetic declination.”

God intercedes in surprising ways
to break our routines,
to drive out old patterns,
to pour out the coinage we think we need,
to open our eyes to God’s activity in the world. 

These examples occur every Sunday here at St. Andrews.

In the liberating words of an Ash Wednesday sermon,
that reframed what fasting means –
not from food but from what we obsess about.

In the creative formation of the newcomer’s ministry,
that teams up diverse spiritual gifts –
with inspiring hope and fresh ideas to make St. Andrew’s
a radically welcome place. 

In the abundant harvest of “Plot against hunger,” that provides food for hungry people through Arlington Food Assistance Center.

In the innocent voice of the little boy who interrupted the Confirmation service in the midst of renewing our Baptismal Vows when the Bishop asked, “Do you believe in God …” and before he could finish his sentence “…the Father?”
This little boy shouted out, “YES!”

With Jesus shaking things up in our community,
we catch authentic glimpses of God
through sound,
through stories and
in the breaking of bread. 

God, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,
has already made a difference in our lives. 

Which is why we come here,
in this sacred temple,
the temple of Jesus. 

We come here to remember
stories of God’s continued action
in our lives and in the life of the church

We come here to experience
the real presence of Christ
in the bread and the wine. 

We come to know the Word made flesh and
made known to us in
radical, re-orienting, re-calibrating ways. 

This Lent, we can look at our calendar and
with God’s help, remove some of those barriers. 

The good news is that
God is active and present in our church
and our every day life.

Is your compass pointing to true north?


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