Making room for the Sacred

Yesterday was Holy Monday. The traditional read on this day is the Cleansing of the Temple, in which Christ cleans the house of the Lord. He calls it like he sees it:

He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers! (Matthew 12)

I like Marcus Borg‘s read on this happening. He clarifies that it is not so much that Jesus finds the mixing of “business” in the Temple courtyard to be making the life in the Temple impure, but, he says:El_Greco_ Purification of the Temple

Rather, his act was an indictment, a public protest, against what the temple had become. In words that echo Jeremiah 7.11, it had become “a den of robbers,” a robber’s cave, a center of injustice and complacent affirmation of God, as the fuller context of Jeremiah 7.1-11 makes clear. (see below for full text)

So it was in the time of Jesus: the Roman governor ruled Judea through the temple authorities whom he appointed. So long as they collaborated with Roman authority, they remained in office.

That is what had turned the temple into “a den of robbers.” Because of the collaboration of temple authorities with Roman rule, it had become the center of an economically exploitative domination system and thus a center of injustice, as in the time of Jeremiah six centuries earlier. That was not what it was meant to be.

(read the full article at: )

Jesus was turning over more than tables… he was trying to reopen access to living spirit to everyone by cleansing the power structures that had insinuated themselves into this holy place.

I also like the simple clarity of his the act–one that surprises us a bit, coming from the one we now call the Prince of Peace–Jesus Christ gets angry because there are activities which clutter up the joint and degrade the house of God, which is to be an intentional space for the sacred activities of human life. We could all use a bit of this holy anger to make room for that which is actually important to us.

Houses–the ones we live in, the ones we work in and the ones we pray in–are meant to serve the life for which they are built. Every house in which people live and move through is bound to get cluttered and choked up with remnants of the past, corpses of yesterday’s intentions. ALL houses need some upkeep and the occasional deep clean. Sometimes it really takes quite a bit of fire to get to it!

It is Holy Week in so many serious ways out there in the world and in our personal lives–but one of the holiest tasks we can start with (ever and again) is ‘cleaning house.’ Organization experts all say the same thing: clear off the flat surfaces in your office and your home. Make space for the real life that wants to unfold there. Sometimes the holiest work is just dealing with whatever is in your way! Every workspace or kitchen table can become an altar, a place of sacramental encounter.

Jeremiah 7  (NASB translation)

Message at the Temple Gate

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 you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.

“Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, 10 then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the Lord.

Conversations during Holy Week

sprouting-seedThis week at the church in Hillsdale, NY, we are holding conversations every morning after the Act of Consecration of Man about the story of Lazarus/John. Today, this led us to look at what happens before the Raising of Lazarus in John 11 to the passage in John 10: 31-39, when the Christ speaks of the true power out of which he lives, speaks, and acts–and not only he–but that out of which all human beings can live and speak and act. The authorities want to stone him, they say, “because of blasphemy. You are a human being and are making yourself a god.”

His answer: “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? (Psalm 82) 35 If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be annulled), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

Here Jesus is actually entering into the circle of religious authority and pointing to the divine intention that all earthly human beings become like God. What makes it possible that we fulfill the original intention of Creation?

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27) The human being is meant to become like God. The mystery for us to unravel and awaken to is the further question: in what way are we to be like God? One can work with this question ad infinitum–however, there is something in this passage which gives us a way in.

“…he called them gods to whom the Word of God came…”

The Word of God can come to all human beings. This means that the divine creative power is accessible to every individual. We can make a relationship to the Word that is always life-giving and speaks in awareness of its own authority: “Behold, I make all things new!”

Of course the powers that felt themselves to be the keeper of God’s Word at the time felt their power threatened. What would it mean for every person to be connected to the power of the divine Word? Their only possible response: to quash the source of such a revolution, to stone the one who could lead people to this source of power.

The Power of Vulnerability

Holy Week begins with the Son of God, living as a man on earth, entering into Jerusalem on a donkey to go to the cross and his crucifixion. The many in the crowd who cry out call for him to take up his throne as king—for he comes in tFeatured imagehe name of the Lord, surely, to finally exert his heavenly power on earth.

But no, he goes to the cross. And just days later, those same voices will cry out for his crucifixion. He willingly enters the den of his disempowerment. This is not the first time. At the beginning of his time on earth, having entered human form and taken on all the challenges of the human condition, he was led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the adversarial powers—the same ones that human beings struggle with on a daily basis. They tried to tempt him to use his divine powers on earth, to rule over the people and change the earth from without. He refused. He chose instead not to rule over but to enter into, to accompany us on our way, and to try to awaken a new power within us in freedom.

Christ shows us a whole new kind of power, the kind that scares us all–especially those clamoring to hold onto control: the power to be vulnerable. To be willing to be vulnerable is to dare to be fully alive and fully ourselves. It is something the researcher Brené Brown calls Wholehearted Living in her new book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She says: Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. (Gotham Books, New York, 2012)

Christ does not come to earth only to rule over a human experiment gone terribly awry. He does not come to just to “fix it” in a way that makes us dependent on him. He comes to give us something that we don’t already have, but by engaging and uniting himself with us and with all we suffer in our fear, shame, guilt, and humiliation. At the heart of his presence is a new kind of power that we can unite ourselves with: going to the cross is the way to his peace, his resurrection, his love. Learning to be at peace with ourselves in our vulnerability is the way to understanding divine love. We can recognize this as the true birthplace of our wholehearted selves, of a daring creativity that can make the world new.