March 6, 2024

MESSAGE – Third Sunday of Lent – Year B – 3rd March 2024

MESSAGE – Third Sunday of Lent – Year B – 3rd March 2024

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.


How blessed are we, that in our Christian faith we have so many symbols and signs that reveal the word broken open in our daily lives; constant reminders of God’s love and that God’s presence is with us, showing us every single day that he is here, he is guiding us, he is within us and he is all around us. Today we are going to focus on the temple and the dove and we are going to have a good look at the teachings in and around these symbols, but first let’s situate ourselves in the context of the world that we find ourselves in right now.


Part of being in formation for the Priesthood includes weekends away down at St Francis College with our fellow formation students, where we all gather together, we spend a lot of time in prayer, we spend a lot of time being spiritually formed and we have different guest speakers come and share their wisdom and experiences with us. Last weekend we were blessed to have Bishop Jonathan Holland with us, who spoke about a fast changing, contemporary Australian society and he used two words to describe this society: “secular” and “consumer”. Now we don’t have to look far to see how pervasive and permeating those two words really are. Some interesting questions emerge out of this, questions like, “in a world where we have become so materially comfortable, where we have so much certainty, where we know where every meal is coming from and that it will be one of the 15- 20 dishes we regularly make (or in my case the five dishes I always make!),where we know for the most part how  our days unfold, what our jobs entail and weekly pays will be- in that kind of world what kind of need is there for religion anymore? What need is there even for community anymore?”


A few months ago I was reading a research paper that involved an experiment where people were sleeping outside, on the bare earth. And a fascinating this emerged out of this study; every single person reported having a deeper relationship with something that they might be comfortable calling God. In our vulnerability where we don’t even have a piece of canvas tent to seal us in, where else can we go for protection, for the easing of our anxieties and doubts and fears, other than to God? The artist Nick Cave, love or hate his music, has an incredible life story and in his recent book, he describes that it is a very privileged life that doesn’t need God, and that it wasn’t until the death of his son that he realised just how important a relationship with the creator really is.


But what does that mean? Because in this context, we start to think about life as something that is trying to break us, trying to turn us back to the Father. Perhaps this is the gift of suffering. It is a hard pill to swallow and it’s certainly not easy when you are going through but it is often in our sorrow, in our grief and in our vulnerability, in the humility of our brokenness, that we turn to God.


At the same time as becoming secular, we have become dominated with consumerism. We believe that money and possessions equal happiness. We work full time to get the latest phone, the newest model of car, to pull out perfectly, good working kitchens and replace them with the shiny new things…we have become, as a society, so materially focussed. But the beauty of walking with Christ is that he shows us we deserve so much more than to define our well-being through material success alone. We are worthy of spiritual nourishment. Spiritual transformation. And armed with this knowing, we get to experience the trials of life not so much as something that is designed to break us, but as something designed to strengthen us.


We get to be in the world, but not of it.


Yet still, wider society actively delegitimises this way of think and being. What then does that mean in relation to growing the church?


Getting back to where we started around the symbols and signs that God sends us, there are a few good ones in today’s Gospel that can help us answer that question and they are the symbols of the dove: the symbol of God’s presence in our lives and the temple: the dwelling place of God, where heaven and earth meet.


It’s very interesting to note that Jesus singles out the dove, he doesn’t just put it in the same category as the sheep and the cattle and the coins. He actually singles it out and he says: “take these out of here, stop making my father’s house a market place”.


Now, let’s pause on those two words, “father’s house”. We know by the end of this passage that Jesus is talking about not just the physical building, the temple, in front of him, but that he is actually also talking about the consciousness resurrected; this central premise of our teachings that death is not the end, the spirit lives on, that within three days the consciousness, the temple within where God is, is resurrected. Both in our lives and in the cosmos, the word becomes flesh.


So when he says, stop making my father’s house a market place we can look at it from a few different perspectives. The first is this idea that a lot other denominations promote, and that is the idea that you could undertake a huge amount of work to physically attract people to God. You can spend millions on glitzy, trendy marketing, you can pour all of your energy into branding, you can even make church feel like a Taylor Swift concert! The gimmicks, the glitz, the glamour! And I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is present in those settings and I think for a time that approach works because in a world so motivated by consumerism people are conditioned to be drawn to that. But it has its limits, least of all, that is not based on the understanding of growing discipleship in the same way that we see in the humility of the biblical stories. Jesus doesn’t go viral because he unleashed a slick advertising campaign. Rather, he leads us through a process that is a very different kind of call to God; a mutual yearning between the Creator and the created. It is a call to be transformed from within and then to let that transformation seep out of us and into our communities. It’s exactly what Reverend Tania was talking in one of our daily rev ups this week: it’s decreasing ourselves and increasing the spirit, it’s putting our own thoughts aside and allowing God’s thoughts to be our thoughts.


In this context the question how do you specifically grow the Anglican church can feel complex, but it has a simple answer. It grows through each and every one of you. It means walking the resurrected life, now, daily. Because when the sky is falling, when stories of war and waste dominate our news reels, when pandemics happen, when the land is scorched by fire and drenched in flood, your job is to be the light on the hill: to shine the light in the darkness so that when people ask you, “how do stay so calm?”, you can tell them the story of how you came into your faith. You don’t have to sell anyone anything here. You don’t have to over explain it, after all, in Jesus we have a teacher who teaches through story telling and who is very straight forward and succinct.


Because you have been made alive again, especially in a society so asleep at the wheel when it comes to things that really matter, people will feel compelled to ask where your peace comes from, and the story you tell them, the simple truth you share is a tiny seed that grows within them. You don’t have to grow the tree. The Holy Spirit will take of that. But at some point the wisdom you have shared will be fully revealed to them. It might take longer than 3 days (we’re not Jesus after all) but the story you have overturned within them, just as he overturned the tables, will be unable to be ignored.


And that is how we grow the church; by being good disciples and actually journeying with people as they are deeply transformed from within, not just for the few hours that we are church together, or because of a moral justice imperative, but throughout every second of every day of our whole lives. And if perfection is paralysing us from doing that, I know I certainly feel overwhelmed by this at times, Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel that he’s not perfect. We all recognise this scripture because of how direct Jesus is. He doesn’t actually harm anyone but he is angry and he make his message clear. He is both fully human and fully divine, after all. But do you think an all- powerful God would incorporate imperfection into perfection? Yes. Because for an all-powerful, God perfection encompasses everything. So we don’t have to beat ourselves up if we’re not the perfect disciples 24/7, but in Christ we do have a very high standard to aspire to and we do need to take that seriously.


Now there is another part to this and it is the work of our own, ongoing transformation. And here we can recognise that it’s ok that we have these material things in our lives- he’s not asking us to go and give up our houses or sell all of our possessions, they all have their place, but they are of the world and they are not the place where I AM with my Father.


The place that I AM with my father is within the temple: within this house of God, the church, and also the temple within us. Do not fill this temple within with material thoughts. Let this temple within be the house of God also.


I encourage you to take the time to think about the story of why you are so calm amongst the chaos, the story of how you came into your faith, so that when you share it with others, the seed is intentionally and carefully planted.


May we all tend to the temple within, where the Father and I are one, let us gently share our stories of contentment with those who ask, let us listen deeply, let us grow into being true disciples of Christ, remembering that what is within us surrounds us.