TRINITY X – Dum clamarem
Introit: (Ps. 55) When I called upon the Lord he heard my voice from the battle that was against me: and he hath brought them down, even he that is of old, and endureth for ever: O cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall nourish thee. Ps. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and hide not thyself from my petition: take heed unto me, and hear me. Glory be … When I called …
Collect: Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open unto the prayers of thy humble servants: and that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgement between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 7.1-11)
Gradual: (Ps. 17) Keep me, O Lord, as the apple of an eye: hide me under the shadow of thy wings. V. Let my sentence come forth from thy presence: and let thine eyes look upon the thing that is equal.
Epistle: Brethren: Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. (I Corinthians 12.2-11)
Alleluia. Thou, O God, art praised in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: When Jesus was come near Jerusalem, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. And he taught daily in the temple. (St Luke 19.41-47)
“Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord … Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers?”
Jerusalem: the name itself means “Abode of Peace.” It was the centre of the Jewish world, the city of God; and at its heart was the great Temple, the very dwelling-place of the Lord God upon earth. To the Jewish mind, the world would stand as long as Jerusalem stood, and the protection of the city and of the nation was the Temple. But … there was no shalom in Yerushaláyim; and in her Temple even the worship of God had been exchanged not just for crass commerce, but for the fleecing of the people in God’s name. And Jesus was not deceived by all the gold and marble nor by the religiosity of the people living in Jerusalem. He saw right through the veneer of religion to the corruption that lay underneath it all. God had called these people to Himself and yet they had repeatedly turned away from Him. He had called them to holiness, but they were satisfied with superficial rituals and outward acts of piety. Finally, God had sent His Messiah to usher in His kingdom, but the people had also rejected Him, and were seeking to destroy Him. So Jesus wept because God’s people had squandered the priceless gifts they had been given. Today’s Gospel actually comes at the end of what we call the Lord’s Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. And this context is not insignificant. This King, Who comes riding on a donkey, will seek a completely different kind and level of loyalty, and the peace He brings is a peace which the world cannot give.
Tacitus, the Roman historian, wrote, “The Romans rob, they slaughter, they plunder, and they call it ‘Empire.’ Where they make a wasteland, they call it ‘Pax Romana’.” In contrast, the verses immediately prior to our Gospel reading provide quite a different picture. With the multitude of followers acclaiming Jesus with cries of, “Blessed is the King who cometh (which is tantamount to treason) … Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (strangely reminiscent of the night of the Nativity), St Luke is proclaiming that the only true and lasting peace is to be found in Christ’s reign over His people, and to follow this King is to deny that any earthly prince or power has the right to demand total allegiance. The seemingly simple statement, “Jesus is Lord,” would become the rallying cry and hallmark of the Early Church, and the reason why so many early Christians were persecuted; for if Jesus is Lord, then the Emperor is not. Jesus is the manifestation to a violent and evil world that the empire and culture of warfare, oppression, materialism, and self-seeking will crumble to dust.
Our Lord Jesus took upon Him our flesh, and became a human being like us. He suffered blisters and calluses, rashes and insect bites, hunger and thirst, and grief. He also knew betrayal by friends, and irrational hatred. He felt all the sorrows, pain, and losses that we experience. But the worst of all these pains was not when they stretched out His arms to drive nails through His flesh into the wood of the cross. What hurt most was that He was rejected by those whom He loved—those whom He came to save. They did not want His gifts. They put Jesus where they put the rest of their trash, on a heap outside the city. They would not acknowledge what truly made for peace. They did it in hate, He suffered it in love. The things that make for our peace would be scourge and thorns, vinegar and gall, nails and spear, the despised Roman cross hoisting the Word of God up from the earth, to be forsaken by the Father, to draw all people to Himself. There is the peace of God that passes all understanding. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Father, forgive them, for they know not those things that make for their peace.
Knowing all these things, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, grieving over what might have been. He laments over His homeland and its blindness to what would truly bring about the shalom/peace of God: “If only you knew what things belong to your peace …” He weeps over the unbelief that was found in the midst of her. The very nation blessed and favoured by God, His own chosen people, persisted in rejecting and turning away from Him. We can almost hear Our Lord praying Psalm 55: “For it is not an open enemy that hath done me this dishonour – for then I could have borne it; neither was it mine adversary that did magnify himself against me – for then, peradventure, I would have hid myself from him. But it was even thou my companion, my guide and mine own familiar friend. We took sweet counsel together, and walked in the house of God as friends.” (vv.12-15) They had forsaken God’s peace, and instead tried to fashion their own form of peace by bending and twisting the Law of God so that they would have no need of repentance or healing, attempting to minimize the gravity of their sin so that the only help they needed was a smooth word of encouragement and affirmation. In short, they didn’t want to need God. They believed that they were quite capable of saving themselves. They sought the kind of peace that praises the efforts and works of the sinner and demands that God reward one’s endeavours, however misguided. They had sold themselves back into slavery and destruction, seeking peace on their own terms, and rejecting their Lord in the day of His visitation. But ‘Jerusalem,’ in this case, refers not simply to a city in the Middle East, but to that ignorance and blindness to Christ’s kingship which afflicts the entire world, and sadly, even the Church. Our Lord laments our ignorance of the things that make for our peace, and our failure to recognise God’s visitation and presence.
Still grieving, He enters the city and proceeds to the Temple. That sacred place of God’s special presence—a sanctuary in which to withdraw from the pollution of the culture of the world, to offer prayer and sacrifice, and to be in God’s presence—must now be purged of that very corruption. But even more significantly, Jesus has become the new Temple, offering the one perfect sacrifice which would take away the sin of the world once and for all. Through Him, what is corrupt in sinful human flesh will be removed and replaced by ultimate good. It is frighteningly easy to substitute, in our own hearts and souls, the power and place of God with something far less demanding or more agreeable. So our own temples likewise need to be cleansed from time to time. Jesus is Lord and King, not in terms of how long we think we need Him; He claims the whole of creation as His own, and calls us to divest ourselves of what is passing and unworthy of our status as God’s children. Today’s Lessons make it clear that God in Christ is not nearly so concerned with our comfort and pleasure as with our being set free from bondage to misplaced allegiances, idolatrous self-absorbed attitudes, and half-committed lives. C. S. Lewis once commented, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” And the reason why it cannot be moderately important is that God gave everything, because we are of supreme importance to Him.
The Corinthian church had all sorts of problems, but one of the biggest seems to have been that some of its members were in it for themselves. They began ranking God’s gifts in a hierarchy, and claiming that because they had one or another particular gift (such as ‘speaking in tongues’) they were more important and more spiritual than others. Paul addresses this error, speaking of various spiritual gifts, such as knowledge, healing, and prophecy, but the one gift common to all, he stresses, and that which distinguishes us as Christians, is the confession, Jesus is Lord. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” To make Jesus the Lord of our life is the first and foremost gift of the Holy Spirit. We have all been given other spiritual gifts, but what makes us truly spiritual is the singular gift that has turned our hearts to Christ in the first place. Only by God’s grace can we come to believe, to have faith in Christ, and to love and follow Him. It is not something we can come to or do on our own. When Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ the Son of the living God, Our Lord responded, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” And it is the same Holy Spirit at work in us who brings us to like faith. And this gift of the Spirit is the means whereby we receive and know our common salvation. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness: and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom 10.9-10)
Faith in Jesus Christ is the universal gift of the Church. It is what allows the Church to exist and what binds us together. But the Church has more work to do than simply to believe. The confession of Jesus as Lord is what unites us all as Christians. Even so, Our Lord warns that, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Confessing Christ involves both our words and our deeds. And Christian believing and Christian living are only possible by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. And so He gives us each specific gifts. In Corinth—and still today—people had forgotten that these gifts all come from the same source and are intended to serve the common ministry. We have “varieties of gifts … varieties of service … varieties of activities,” but even though we are each equipped differently, there is one Spirit who is the source of all grace, and one Lord whom we serve, and one God who fulfils Himself in all sorts of different ways. As Christians, we need to remember that we are all on the same team, and every one of us is a valuable member of it.
Some of the Spirit’s gifts are of the head: “utterances of wisdom and knowledge.” Some people are called and gifted to be theologians and teachers, to serve the Church as thinkers, as academics, and intellectuals. In the current age in which we live, and especially in today’s Church, people with intellectual and theological gifts seem to be viewed with suspicion. “Doctrine” is a bad word: it divides us, they say, instead of bringing us together. But the fact is that we need these gifts. These are the people who met in the early Church Councils to deal with the heresies that plagued (and still plague) the Church and threatened to lead her away from Christ; who hammered out the Creeds and Canons that are still the touchstone of the Christian Faith. These are the people who educate us, encourage us to grow in our faith, and keep us from falling into error. Think about it: if we are the Body of Christ, what happens to the body if you remove the brain? But the brain is not the whole body. And so Paul describes gifts of the heart, too. These are the people who are caring and compassionate. They are the exact opposite of the intellectuals, and this often sets them at odds. They have no interest in theology or in doctrine, often dismissing it as divisive, a waste of time and distraction from the real mission of the Church. But in reality the Church needs both. The body cannot survive without the brain, but it can’t survive without the heart, either.
And then, as Paul reminds us, some people have been given gifts of the hands and feet. These are the people who are always there ready to do the work. They have been given the faith to move mountains, even if they have to do it one shovelful at a time. They look at the intellectuals and say, “All right, how about less thinking and more working!” They look at the people with gifts of the heart and say, “OK, we’ve prayed and gushed enough, now let’s do something about it!” Each of us has been given gifts, as Paul says, “for the common good,” and we need to honour every gift. The gifts of the head give temper and wisdom to keep the gifts of heart and hands within bounds. The gifts of the heart give compassion to the head and the hands. And the gifts of the hands take the head and heart to the world where they can be of practical use. We are all parts of the same Body and our individual gifts are given to us for the benefit of all. Thus, if we sit on our gifts and don’t use them, we are short-changing and robbing the whole Church.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem for the destruction that would soon come upon her, for she did not recognise the time of God’s visitation in Christ, who had come to bring her peace. Through the prophets, God had incessantly called His people to turn from their deceit and false worship, “But my people know not the judgement of the Lord.” (Jer 7.1–11; 8.4–12) They sought to establish their own righteousness rather than receive Christ’s righteousness through faith (Rom 9.30–10.4). So it was that the long-awaited Lord came suddenly to His temple to cleanse it (Malachi 3.1), a precursor to the once-for-all cleansing from sin which He would accomplish in the temple of His own body upon the cross.
There are ways in which the Church today is no better than Jerusalem and her Temple when Jesus wept over them. There are many professing Christians and churches covered in a thin veneer of religiosity but really dead inside. As David Curry writes:
…The churches of our communities and our country have to be true to what belongs to their spiritual purpose and identity. Without that they become little more than dens of thieves; in short, thieves of the charity of God. When the churches are brain-dead to the understanding which defines them, when they are willfully indifferent to the spirit which animates them, then they become little more than fascist cells defined by the ideological flavour of the day. The institutional churches become ends unto themselves and that is always deadly. And it is deadly at every level – the parish, the diocese, national bureaucracies and international congresses and conferences. It is very much, I fear, where we are now and all because we do not honour these gifts and the giver.
It is easy to point fingers and not examine ourselves. God has made us rich with the gifts of His Spirit. He has given us time and talent and treasure. He has enriched us with His wisdom. He has poured His love into our hearts. But how often do we defraud Him by ignoring His mission or paying Him only lip service, while we use the gifts He has lavished upon us for our own personal benefit and pleasure? Do we seek the peace that Christ brings, or do we try to create peace on our own terms, or buy peace with our works or our money? Do we simply assume that God approves of everything we say and do because we say we are Christians? Have we fallen prey to the temptation to substitute peace with God for peace with the world, by living just as the world lives, with a little religion on Sunday thrown in for good measure? Many churches continue to try to heal the wounds of sin by teaching that there is no sin. And over such false preaching, our Lord—our Peace—still weeps, because such lies blind people to true peace, the peace that passes all human understanding – Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away our sin and conquers death. His Body and His Blood purge our souls and cleanse our hearts. Risen from the grave and seated at the right hand of the Father, our Redeemer and eternal High Priest, He is our peace.
Peace is something most of us are longing for these days. We live amongst threats of nuclear war, civil unrest, terrorist attacks, murders and suicides, plagues and natural disasters. Everywhere we turn there is anxiety and despair. Families are being torn apart every day. The vilest of atrocities are lauded as merciful and loving. And people are looking everywhere, anywhere, for peace – to governments, doctors, pundits, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, sports, money, possessions, pagan spirituality… But we will never find what we are looking for in any of those things. Just as masking the symptoms will not cure the disease, so also papering over the hole and quieting the unrest on the outside does not create peace within. There is only one path to peace, one way to set aside fear and worry and guilt. It is not an ideology or a piece of legislation or a medical advancement. It is a Person—Jesus Christ. It is He who has reconciled all of humanity to God by bearing our sin, and suffering our death upon the cross. Trying to minimize our guilt or hide our sin only deceives ourselves and robs us of the great comfort Christ offers—true and eternal peace, peace that can never be bought or earned, but can only be the free gift of God.
St Paul tells us (I Cor 6.19) that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. But we must also remember what happens when Jesus sees God’s Temple being defiled. Today is the day of His gracious visitation to you, O Jerusalem. Today Christ would gather you and hide you under the shadow of His wings of mercy and compassion. In Him alone is the peace we need—the forgiveness of all our sins and the assurance of God’s grace and love. Today the Lord has visited us with His gifts of eternal peace and salvation. May He grant us the grace and wisdom to know the things that make for our peace, that by the Holy Spirit we may firmly confess, in thought, word, and deed, that “Jesus is Lord,” to the glory of God the Father.
“Thou, O God, art praised in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem.”
Collect: O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.