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Sermon for November 18, 2018: Divine Presence (The Rev. Walter Ramsey)

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

We human beings constantly seek permanence. We build objects and edifices that give an illusion of permanence. We see buildings and great places of worship across Europe and Asia that appear to us as having been there forever. We see them as permanent as mountains. All these things are supposed to be forever. But then disasters happen that change all this. Things that are not supposed to happen. Towering buildings are not supposed to crumble to the ground. Oceans are not supposed to leap out of their seabeds and flood miles inland. The ground is not supposed to shake and undulate. The sky is not supposed to form a funnel cloud and destroy a town.

We all watched the World Trade Towers collapse, seen a tsunami flood Indonesia. Some of us have experienced the power of an earthquake that brought down a section of the Bay Bridge and the great spires of St. Peter and Paul, our National Cathedral. Those of us who have suffered through the power of a tornado or great hurricane know that such events happen.

Whole towns are not supposed to disappear as a firestorm sweeps across to our land, but we witness it currently through the media and feel it when we take a breath.

It is folly to believe that things are so permanent in our lives, when in fact, they are only temporary. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without those things and those people that give us the sense of security and permanency. The things we own, our wealth, our accomplishments, all the things we think are important are very temporary. In a moment they can be taken away, and the rug pulled out from under us, so to speak.

We discover that the things that we thought were so solid and important are not the things that we can really rely on.

When we directly experience any of these tragedies or witness them through the media, we lose some of our innocence. We find it more and more difficult to trust those settings that we thought immutable. We may even cry out to God, “why do you allow these things to happen?”

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving the Temple a disciple exclaimed “Look teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” The disciple was marveling at the great size and beauty of Herod’s Temple, the second Temple of Jerusalem. You can imagine the utter shock and horror that the disciples felt when Jesus prophesied that the temple would be thrown down and not one stone remain upon the other.

It was traumatic enough for us when we saw the World Trade Center towers, the gleaming monument to our economic system, come crashing down by the hands of evil people. To the Jewish people the Temple was the very center of their belief, spirituality, and national identity. The temple symbolized the covenant with God that set them apart. Without the Temple Judaism as they knew it would cease to exist.

Jesus was not making a prophecy about the culmination of time, but the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that happened nearly 40 years later.

Throughout the Gospels, it is apparent that Jesus had a sort of a love / hate relationship with the Temple. His biggest problem was the way the priests were administering God’s house with little regard for God’s people. It may be that this was caused by the second Temple’s greatest deficiency.

After the destruction of Jerusalem and the formation of rabbinic Judaism, the rabbis looked back on the Temple period and produced a list, with a sense of gloomy acceptance, of all the ways in which the Second Temple was deficient in comparison with the First Temple. Significant on the list of what was missing in the Second Temple was the glorious Divine Presence often symbolized by light. In Jesus’s day, the hope was alive that the Glory would return at last. But nobody knew exactly what that would mean, how it would happen, or what it would look like.

The climax of the book of Exodus is not the giving of the law in chapter 20, but the construction of the tabernacle, the beautiful tent that symbolized the new creation, the place where heaven and earth would come together as God had always intended. The place of meeting where the Ark of the covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies, where God would sit on his mercy seat of forgiveness. This was the Devine Presence placed in the first Temple.

Jesus stood in the Temple and compared his body to it, he was the light of the Divine Presence that stood among them, but he was rejected. Jesus called them again and again to be the light of the world, to accept the new covenant between God and the whole world through him but he was ignored. This brought about the destruction of the world as they knew it.

In the letter or sermon to the Hebrews the author assures us that there we have the confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus and by the new living way that he has open to us through the curtain or his flesh.

He quotes Jeremiah saying “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

and: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

The Holy Spirit is assuring us all believers of the covenant between God and God’s people, with the explanation that as a result of Christ’s work we will naturally be obedient because the Spirit will write God’s laws on our hearts. There will be no need to learn them; they will be part of our spiritual DNA and thus natural behaviors. God’s forgiveness of our sin is total and irrevocable, because the all-knowing God has completely forgotten all the sins we have committed.

The author of Hebrews assures us that we don’t need a special place to enter God’s new covenant. Rather, we need each other, to share God’s Devine presence that is in us.

If we came to this place tomorrow and found that our building had been knocked to the ground, as traumatic as that might be, we would still be the Church, the Body of Christ. He admonishes us to provoke one another or stir up in each other the desire to do good and live constantly in Christ’s covenant of love, the Law written on our hearts, to do good to all people and to our environment that God so lovingly gave us. We believers should support each other in “love and good deeds.” We people must gather for mutual encouragement and support. The gift of Christ is not one that we receive and keep to ourselves. It is meant for the building of the whole body. Amen.

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