Monday, March 05, 2018

Overturning Tables in The Temple

In the Name of One God; The Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.

“Over-turning the Tables in the Temple!”

What a Sunday to begin! Somebody; if I start turning tables over at the coffee hour, remind me not to take the Bible so literally!

My son David is the Senior Warden at St. Mary’s Church in Dorchester. So last week being my last “free” Sunday for a while, we worshipped with him and later went to brunch. Naturally, I had to search out the indoor plumbing. You know you’re in Boston when you go to the “men’s room” and discover it is not the men’s room after all. Where you would typically see the universal symbol for men or women on a bathroom door, instead you see a symbol half of which is for the male of the species, and the other half, female. The sign below the curious symbol reads; “Whatevah”.

The conversation we’re having in the church and the culture around it about gender and orientation is reaping interesting and renriching ways of looking at one another. I hope we are also learning that the old pigeon holes we put each other into are beginning to disappear. 

The phenomenon is not new to us. It is as old as the Gospel. St Paul put it this way; “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:27,28.

When Paul references “Jew and Greek” he is not merely speaking of those two racial/ethnic delineations, he is speaking of all races and ethnicities. “We are all one!”
When Paul speaks of “slave and free”, he is not only speaking of those with freedom and those without, he is speaking of all folks in every economic class; rich and poor and everyone in between. “We are all one!”
And when Paul speaks of “male and female”, the same spirit is present. I would argue that Paul speaks up for all of us in the entire rainbow of human identity, inclusive of the LGBT community, which for so long has been persecuted and marginalized inside and outside the church. Did you not notice? There it is; right at the outset, in the beginning, as it were; the Gospel proclamation; “We are ALL one!”

Jesus overturned many tables and not just those in the Temple that day. The Gospel overturns our whole way of looking at one another. The Church Jesus planted overturned the tables of all human hatred. Right here at the heart of our love for one another; Jesus places himself on the Cross. Race, class, gender, orientation; this is not how Jesus saw us. Like an old Arab woman once told us when on Pilgrimage in the Holy Land in answer to the question; “What is the color of God?”

She replied; “The color of God is the color of water!” 

Today’s story; The Cleansing of the Temple occurs in all four Gospels. In John it occurs at the outset of Jesus’ ministry in the second chapter, and sets the tone for his whole life. In the Synoptics on the other hand; Matthew, Mark and Luke the event occurs at the conclusion of Jesus ministry. The confrontation of Jesus with the money changers and the Temple Authorities seals his fate and in a few short days there is a trial, a crucifixion, a death and a glorious resurrection! Talk about turning the whole world upside down!!!

I remember when we were in Seminary we fought for civil rights. Jonathan Daniels, a senior student had been shot to death the previous year to my matriculation, for protecting a young black girl. Violence and guns have been around for a very long time and has taken a vast toll on human life. We alone among developed countries kill one another off at the alarming of rate of tens of thousands each year. When I returned from Canada to attend seminary, gun deaths there could be counted in multiples of 10. Still can. Why is that? The young people of Parkland High and our Bishops call us to action. What part of “Thou shalt not kill” do we not understand anyway? Bad enough that there are well over 300,000,000 weapons out there. Worse still that we do not execute the full measure of the Second Amendment which calls for “A well regulated militia”. Until we make sure that the Second Amendment exists under the authority of that clause, the slaughter will continue. Folks we need to join the kids from Parkland and “March for our Lives”!

During the struggle for racial equality John Burgess was elected the first Black bishop in the Episcopal Church. He ordained me a priest in the church of God more than 45 years ago. I thank God for that for so many reasons. His consecration raised many an eyebrow among lots of white folks. 

Then it fell to us to begin exploring the possibility of the ordination of women. The church had fits over the ordination of the Philadelphia eleven and the Anglican Communion has yet to get over it in many quarters.

Then there was this. My uncle was what we called then “a confirmed bachelor”. This was way back in the 1950’s. More recently two of my children broke it to me; “Dad I’m gay”. One was afraid of how Cindy and I would take the news. The other told us to take it or leave it. More recently, I officiated at the wedding of one of Cindy’s sisters and her partner is another woman and they too love one another very much! Good heavens, and I say that advisedly, I’ve been around the LGBT community all my life. If ever there were a non issue in our family, this is it. Yet, in some quarters, the Church and the culture around it have gone downright apoplectic over the idea of celebrating God’s embrace of all people. 

We’ve been over turning tables in the Temple for a very long time. By what authority do we do this? Under what authority did Jesus make his whip of cords and chase out the money changers and those who traded in pigeons and the like? 

In the synoptics, when Jesus cleansed the Temple he told them plainly; “My House shall be a House of Prayer for ALL People” (emphasis mine). Jesus did not pick that turn of phrase out of thin air. He quoted scripture to show by what authority he did these things; specifically Isaiah chapter 56. The prophet considered the question of foreigners and eunuchs in the household of God. Both the Levitical and Deuteronomic Law Code separated foreigners and eunuchs from the sacred assembly. But not Isaiah and certainly not Jesus!!! Listen to this passage from the Prophet Isaiah; 
“Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
   ‘God will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
   ‘I am just a dry tree.’ 
For thus says the Holy One:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
   I will give a monument and a name
   better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
   that shall not be cut off. 
And the foreigners who join themselves to God,
   I will bring them to my holy mountain,
   and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
   for all peoples.”
And then in the next verse the Prophet says;  
“Thus says the Holy One,
   who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
   besides those already gathered.”

There have always been persecuted outcasts among those God loves and cares about. God requires care and love among us as well. Lots of folks don’t like foreign folks, and want to build walls to keep them out. I often wonder how high that wall needs to be since so many foreign folks get here by air. Antipathy to the “other” has a long history. My grandmother used to say that it was the Irish who ruined Boston; which tells you what she thought of my dad. And she made me promise on the family Bible, that I’d never marry an Italian. I promised. I later broke that promise. But that’s all right. Ma has all that straightened out now that she’s in heaven. “Don’t you, Ma?” 

Foreign folks have often been given the cold shoulder here and around the world: and too the “eunuch”; those who raise gender and orientation questions. Talk about cold shoulder!

To our credit the Episcopal Church has handled these matters with something approaching Grace, albeit with the notable occasional brouhaha. 

The world doesn’t get what we’re doing sometime. Neither does so much of the church. As Paul so well puts it in today’s Epistle. “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” And “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The core proclamation of today’s Gospel is: “We are a House of Prayer for ALL people”. This is because when Jesus stretched out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross he did so in order that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. 

God may surprise us from time to time in delightful kinds of ways just as happened last week after I returned to the lunch table with Cindy and David. “You’ll never guess who I met in the bathroom just now!” It doesn’t matter any more. Jew or Greek, slave or free, it doesn’t even matter any more if we are male or female. Because we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord and we shall always be “A house of prayer for ALL people”

In the Name of One God; The Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.

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