The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God

Sermon

Lent 3 Year B

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

7 March 2021

The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God                                                             © Jeni Nix

Lord, make me a channel of your peace and grace. Amen.

          Our Gospel today is one of those rare moments in Scripture where Jesus simply ‘lets fly’ with his response to what He sees. His holy rage and violent physical outburst must have been incredibly confronting for all who witnessed it; and yet we can’t imagine the horror Jesus might have felt when seeing his beloved Father’s house turned into a market for profit, thinly veiled as providing Jewish Passover visitors with animals to sacrifice. The Gospel of John is traditionally known as the Gospel of Signs, and here we find the Synagogue leaders demanding Jesus show them a miraculous sign that proves his authority to clear the Temple.

          Whilst the events of this story seem uncharacteristic of Jesus’ unquestionable love for all people, His words and responses here to the Synagogue authorities are actually giving his disciples definitive truths to hold onto after the terrible events of the impending Easter saga. It is now believed that the author of the Book of John was writing for a specific Jewish Christian community to inspire members to maintain their belief during a particular troubled time in their first or second century history.

          And so today we find the disciples (whilst watching their teacher violently clearing the Temple) recalling their familiar Jewish writings – Psalm 69 verse 9 predicted a moment just like this, with the words “Zeal for Your house consumes me.” The disciples exhibited a firm belief in the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures that they knew so intimately. When the Synagogue Jews demand a sign of Jesus’ authority, His cryptic reply of raising the Temple of his body after three days was also remembered by the disciples after his resurrection, and as our final verse tells us, “they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” Verse 23, which we didn’t read, goes on to tell us that “When Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover Festival, many believed in His name BECAUSE they saw the signs that He was doing.” So Jesus’ personal followers were not the only ones who believed in His holy identity because of the Signs he gave them.

           But what happens for us when we are in a place in our lives where we feel no evidence of God’s existence or presence? Simply being human in a broken world can bring situations where we see nothing, hear nothing, read nothing, touch nothing, feel nothing, even BELIEVE nothing of our Trinitarian God, Saviour and Helper. There can be times of experiencing such profound ‘nothing-ness’ and alone-ness in our faith that the desolation is barely liveable. It can feel as if you are in a seemingly endless, barren desert.

          In this particular season of the Church’s calendar, Lent is generally considered a time of looking into the deserts in our lives, or putting ourselves into a ‘space’ of wilderness where we can relinquish parts of our daily internal routine for awhile, and seek God more intentionally. During Lent we might try to go without some luxury that we otherwise rely on for some of our earthly joy. Or this year it might just feel like a continuation of last year’s Covid-19 desert of loss and change that many of us fell into in varying degrees. When we read the story of Jesus being driven into the desert and the brief description of what he experienced there, we mainly remember that he had no food, water, relationships, or personal purpose within a community of others. Jesus knew what it was like to be totally alone in the desert.

          And yet…  How often do we acknowledge that the Gospel of Mark’s version of this tale tells us that “He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Creation kept Jesus company. …  And I don’t know how you imagine angels, but I’m pretty sure they don’t present as the winged and robed statues we see in cemeteries! The point is that some form of heavenly bodies attended to Jesus in ways that we have no idea of, but he wasn’t alone.

          What do we do; where do we turn when we are in a desert that feels like there is nothing, or too little, of God with us? Are we open to the wonder of what, or even who, might actually be in the wilderness with us that we haven’t seen or recognized yet? In his book Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis describes today’s Psalm, 19, as “the greatest poem in the Psalter.”[1] Whilst including God’s wisdom manifest in the Law, and finishing with personal prayer, this Psalm begins with celebrating God’s glory visible in creation. “The heavens are telling the Glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork”… “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.” Wow…    We may already be aware of how our souls react when we see a rainbow, watch the clouds, observe stars, or hear pretty birdsong (although Rev’d Ann is likely to be looking around rather fearfully as to how close the bird is!) For many of us, sunrise and sunset are particularly moving moments in our days – WHEN we are able to make time, space and place to acknowledge them. (Interestingly, in ancient times there were also numerous world religions apart from the new Christianity which recognized the glory and authority of the sun.)

          But do we let ourselves take time and space to go beyond the beauty and wisdom of creation that we already acknowledge? Because Psalm 19 goes on to bring us an awareness that the heavens, the days and the nights have far more to tell us than we have actually ‘heard’ with our human senses. We are told that “There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Jesus would have known this Hebrew Scripture so well. I wonder if these visible words learnt in his life of Jewish study contributed to his capacity to cope with the seeming barrenness of His forty days in the desert, surrounded by the unspoken glory and wisdom of God…

          Just as Jesus’ disciples needed him to give them signs to know who God on earth was, we, alongside Jesus, are offered the opportunity to recognize through Scripture God’s wisdom in creation all around us – especially in deeper ways that we haven’t yet even imagined, let alone experienced. Are we able this Lent to let ourselves be still – in body, mind and heart with God, in and through Creation? To open ourselves more to God, to truly just wonder at, and with, our Holy One in intimate, silent presence…

Amen.


[1] C.S. Lewis Reflections on the Psalms. London: Collins, 1961, p.56 in Wenham, Gordon J. Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically Studies in Theological Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012, p.79

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