16.3.15

Shekinah

There are certain things in life that are just supposed to be together: strawberries and cream, salt and vinegar, Adam and Eve, ….a bride and a bridegroom later today in a wedding celebrated here, Christ and his church, and we pray: heaven and earth every time we pray the Lord's Prayer.

One of the problems that can befall Christianity is a separation of what belongs together, a heresy called gnosticism which can separate body from soul saying flesh is bad when in actual fact through his incarnation in Jesus, God declares this stuff – good.

Separations when we over-spiritualise, when church is escape from the world rather than the fuel to send us into it.

Splits between the secular and sacred when we forget that there is not an inch of the cosmos over which Jesus does not declare 'mine.'

Significant in the context of our reading today we explore how Christ brings two of the most important things together in his very own body: Heaven and Earth. In our gospel reading this morning he announces this dramatically through his behaviour in the temple.

To understand what Jesus says today, we must understand the purpose of the temple which develops through the Bible like a jigsaw picture over time. Adam is in the first temple: the garden of Eden, where everything there seeks the glory of God. All is good for a while until God is replaced and right praise is corrupted.

But through the Old testament God continues to re-establish points of contact between heaven and earth. Jacob sees a ladder which bridges heaven and earth upon which angels descend and ascend and Jacob anoints the place where God's presence has dwelt. In our Old Testament scripture for today the laws that we read about were carried in a moving temple that the people take with them through the desert and the Shekinah glory of God descends through fire and cloud. The ark is carried then to Jerusalem where later Solomon's temple will contain it and the glory of God fills the house of the Lord (1 Kings 8:10). Plundered and destroyed this temple is rebuilt by Herod over 46 years & becomes in John's gospel today unfit for purpose again, a shell of a place taken over by greed & corruption.

Is there love for the temple? Each prophet loves the temple - Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel but too much to leave it as it is, they love it and they challenge it to become restored again in its purpose – just as Jesus loves each one of us – but too much to leave us as we are and through his Spirit is restoring us more fully to right praise.


It is appropriate then that what is chaotic is driven from the temple, that what doesn't bring God glory is chased out with his whip. Ezekiel who had so loved the temple had spoken long ago of the moment when the Shekinah glory of God simply upped and left the temple but he prophesied too that one day it would return and life-giving water would flow from its side.

What we're to understand today is that Jesus is the one through whom this temple is re-established, he's the missing piece in the jigsaw that unfolds. And so much more than just the touching point between heaven and earth, Jesus launches God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven – no escaping planet earth in the story that is the scriptures. In the book of Revelation we're not beamed up instead heaven comes down in the new city filled with praise. In Isaiah we hear The whole earth is full of his glory... and this is what has been forgotten in the very place where God was said to dwell: the Temple in John's gospel that we read about this morning.

John's gospel is all about the dwelling of God with humans and so it's about time the people remember again that true worship is as Jesus describes it, when worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth and not in a temple that has lost its way. The temple has become exploitative – there are people making profit, setting up trading stations in the area where those from all the nations came to worship, the Jews in the inner areas but the Gentiles in the courtyards but these quarters are now like marketplaces and there are divisions between those who praise.

And so Jesus turns the tables on all that's wrong about their worship. There's an outward show but inner disregard for God that Jesus is confronting. It's supposed to be the place where earth and heaven come to dwell but instead it's money traders with profits to make and sacrifices to sell.

Paul reminds us in his letter to Corinth that the Jews demand signs and in their temple that day they demand a sign from Jesus – this is their way of saying – how is it you dare come here and do this? and by whose authority are you doing this? - questioning everything we are doing and our ways of being religious?

And what Jesus says in response seems foolish to them – Jesus has only cleared the temple that day – but he will make this permanent – the temple will be superfluous to requirement once his mission is complete – the physical temple is being swept away by God because God is building an eternal temple through the body of his Son, making Jesus himself the centre of all worship. God, will, by his Spirit, turn future worshippers into a very living temple, Jesus doesn't just clear tables – or restore right practice to tired worship, he comes to replace it entirely because it will find fulfilment in him – he asks that we start over with him as the centre of our worship. He turns over tables and doesn't set them up again.

No offerings we make can cause God to turn towards us – only Jesus offered once for all upon the cross for every sin. In Matthew's gospel (12:6) we hear him say 'I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple!' I am the place from where your healing and forgiveness come. We are those approaching God through the temple of his Son.

And so have you ever cleared a room, swept the decks, gutted a house, cleared a garden?... Have you ever started over? Jesus comes to say to us that like those tables he can wipe us clean, clear our slate, renew us and replace whatever was consuming us, the temple that day so corrupted by consumption – he asks us afresh where we are trading his image for something that falls short?

The disciples remember after the event that Jesus' actions are prophetic – they speak a bigger reality than in that present moment they can know – they quote Psalm 69 and the words Zeal for your house will consume me. It will consume him and destroy him, this passion for his Father's name. And upon the cross we head towards this Easter, the Shekinah glory will temporarily leave as the Father turns his face away just for a moment at our sin – but that Shekinah Glory, he'll raise up again and establish firm forever in the resurrected body of a Father's only Son.

And the Jews demand a sign – when it's all been played our before them – Have you ever missed a sign when it's been there all along? Left a junction late on the motorway and added half an hour to your journey?

The clearing of the temple – the sign was there before them, Jesus stared them in the face and they failed to understand – the cleansing of the temple and it's replacement in God-man - blood and flesh. The sanctuary that is Jesus – if destroyed, will in three days be raised again.

And so what is really so offensive then is not a scattering of coins or the clearing of bleating animals but the claims that Jesus makes about himself that day so early on in John. 

And for us then the point perhaps is that less aggrieved is God when churches exchange a little money, sell a thing or two to replace the lead that's left the roof. God is more concerned when we fail to hear the claims of Jesus – that he's the centre of our worship and we are now a living temple by the presence of his Spirit and his word: the truth!

And so what must we do then?– well, become each a sign and expect a little opposition – we are a living temple, the place where the divine meets human flesh. We are not to miss the signs this year as we head to another Easter – "behold the man upon the cross my sin upon his shoulders" but also have you missed something? – we understand the blood and as we drink the wine in a moment it becomes for us his blood again through the action of the Spirit but don't forget that there upon the cross our Lord becomes the temple, I add water to the wine and perhaps will do so with more aplomb because as Ezekiel prophesied the water will flow out again from the sides of the Holy temple, the Shikinah Glory will return and God's praises fill the earth.

When he is there upon the cross and "blood flows mingled down" it is with water from his side, it's pierced and out it flows: water from the side of him who is for us the true temple just as Ezekiel prophesied

So let's pray that in our worship here we become ever more attentive to these signs. The good news is that Jesus was so consumed with zeal for his Father's house, he made a way for us to consume –the blood and water of the true temple – as we come to Holy Communion – we commune with Shekinah Glory and a glory that will never leave made eternal in the Son.

Remember in the Eucharist today that there is water with the blood - because through Jesus and the Spirit we are reconciled to God. It's wine and water here for you – the Spirit and the Son and we are those who worship now in Spirit and in truth and after this the most sacred words are the ones at the end of worship that tell you to just to go from here – the power of dismissal– because then you become the temple out there in the world, the place where earth meets heaven in the stuff of flesh that God calls good.

The challenge then - you are in turn to join with God to turn the whole world into a temple – so that everything rightly praises him for that's what happens in the end – the new city descends to earth and is in itself a temple because everything within it is given over in praise to God and so you are to conform the world, the spheres that you inhabit, to rightly praise your Lord in whatever way you can - by being Christ in that place and that will look a little different for each one of us - but it's the task that lies before us as we are shaped here by the Son - if we are to avoid the splits our faith can soon fall into – remember pray not for escape but that Your Kingdom Come - Your will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven - make your lives a contact place for the Kingdom breaking in. Amen.



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