Preached August 12, 2012
1 Corinthians 12:1–11
St. Luke 19:41–47a
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
As background, we start this morning with a short history lesson taken almost verbatim from Wikipedia regarding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Roman army, led by the man who would become the Emperor Titus, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem. The city and the Temple were destroyed.
Titus surrounded the city, with three legions on the west side and a fourth on the Mount of Olives to the east. He put pressure on the food and water supplies of the inhabitants by allowing pilgrims to enter the city to celebrate Passover in the spring, and then refusing to let them leave. After Jewish sallies killed a number of Roman soldiers, Titus sent Josephus, the Jewish historian, to negotiate with the defenders. This ended when the Jews wounded Josephus with an arrow, and another sally from the city was soon begun.
After failing to breach the walls of the Antonia Fortress, the Romans finally launched a secret attack, overwhelming sleeping Zealot guards and taking the Fortress. This was the second highest ground in the city, after the Temple Mount, and provided a good point from which to attack the Temple itself. Battering rams made little progress, but the fighting itself eventually set the walls on fire when a Roman soldier threw a burning stick onto one of the Temple’s walls.
The flames spread quite quickly and were soon unquenchable. The Temple was destroyed at the end of August, and the flames spread into the residential sections of the city. The Roman legions quickly crushed the remaining Jewish resistance. Part of the remaining Jews escaped through hidden underground tunnels, while others made a final stand in the Upper City. The city was completely under Roman control by September 7 and the Romans continued to hunt down the Jews that had fled the city.
The Christian Church at Jerusalem did not perish, however, because it remembered Jesus’ warning and obeyed Him, fleeing across the Jordan River to a city called Pella. Thus no Christians perished in the fall of Jerusalem. But 1.1 million Jews were killed; and another 97,000 were taken captive in one of the worst calamities ever to strike the Jewish people. So much for the history lesson, now on to the Gospel.
The Gospel lesson for today begins as Jesus is approaching the city of Jerusalem for the last time in His earthly ministry. This is the beginning of the Passion Week narrative, as Jesus journeys from Bethany to Jerusalem with a joyful crowd, until they reach the top of the Mount of Olives, where we read: Luke 19:41–42 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 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. The procession stops, and Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem! But why? To the casual observer, the city is at peace, it is prosperous, there is an air of festivity as the city prepares for the celebration of the Passover Feast, so what is there to weep over? It is true that Jesus knows what awaits Him there, but it not for Himself that Jesus weeps, but for Jerusalem. 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. The apparent peace of Jerusalem is a false peace, not a true and lasting peace, because the city has departed from the ways of God. As was written in Baruch 3:12–13: Thou hast forsaken the fountain of wisdom. For if thou hadst walked in the way of God, thou shouldest have dwelled in peace forever. But they have turned aside, and their complete destruction was coming, the total destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.
This is indicated when Jesus speaks the following verses: Luke 19:43–44 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, 44 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. Jesus, of course, not only knows what lies waiting for Him in Jerusalem, but He also knows the future for the city itself and for the whole Jewish nation. Jesus paused to weep at the thought of the destruction of all those people, of all that had been central to the Jewish nation and culture and would be so totally and irrevocably destroyed. Notice the imagery used here:”(they) shall lay thee even with the ground and thy children within thee;” and again, “they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another.” This is a description of utter destruction, complete desolation. The city is to be completely destroyed, and the inhabitants are to be killed inside the city. There is not to be one stone left on top of another stone, meaning that absolutely nothing is to be left standing.
All of this comes about because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. The Lord comes to visit every people, every individual, at some time. As a warning of this, we have the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2 Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In our Gospel lesson, these people, the city of Jerusalem, are about to be visited by the Son of God, God Himself in human form, and most of them will have no idea what has happened. It will seal their fate, and that of the whole city. And it all comes about from a lack of awareness, a lack of knowledge, and Jesus has spoken twice thus far about knowledge in the lesson: “if thou hadst known in thy day …” and again “because thou knewest not …” Being unaware of God has deadly consequences!
The Gospel narrative then jumps rather abruptly to relate Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, driving out the money changers and those that sold animals for sacrifice. 45 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; 46 Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Right away this tells us something about the reverence due to the holy places where the Lord God has placed his Name. There should be nothing of the everyday world to be found in them. This does not mean that commerce, in and of itself, fairly and properly conducted, is evil, but it is not holy. The things that are found in the holy places must only be holy things. This includes all the buildings and grounds of a place of worship; it is all to be considered a consecrated place. It is to be a place of worship, awe, wonder, peace, where God may be worshiped in spirit and in truth. Is this possible if there is a gift shop or coffee bar in the foyer of the Church? To use the words of the popular phrase of our day, “what would Jesus do” in that Church foyer?
It is not only traffic in merchandise that is offensive to God, but also the wrong kinds of discourse. In our worship, do we speak to God with proper respect, or do we speak to Him as an old buddy, and old pal? Someone with whom we can be really casual? Or do we remember that this is the Creator of the Universe that we are addressing, the Lord of All? That is one part of the discourse problem, but the other part is how we speak to each other, particularly outside of the worship service proper. What do we talk about at coffee hour? Do we talk about things that bring people together and continue to offer praise and glory to God? Or do we discuss business, or politics, or scandal, or other matters strictly of this world? Some of these are things that Christians should discuss only in the most limited ways, such as scandal, but the others simply do not belong at Church because they do not give glory to God and are not appropriate for His house.
Perhaps the most critical is the observation that the Christian is called upon to keep his heart and mind as the temple of God, to keep himself holy, so that nothing can sever his constant communion with God. Jesus cleanses this temple as well, and demands that we keep it clean, that we love God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength, keeping the world out of this temple, the sanctuary of God. We must live in the world, we must carry on our daily affairs in the world, but we must not allow anything of the world to displace God from our hearts. The man who does this is not like the man of the world, but rather he has God’s inner peace, a peace that prepares him for the time of his visitation. If he has that inner peace, and is thus prepared for his visitation, then Jesus is not weeping for him. May we be among those so prepared.
The closing half verse of our Gospel lesson reads, 47a And he taught daily in the temple. After the temple is cleaned, it is possible for Jesus to teach daily, and so it is with us if we will have Him do so. If we have truly put out our unclean thoughts and desires and are receptive to His words, then we will be ready to learn from Him everyday. He will daily teach us more things that increase our peace, giving us more confidence with every passing day. We have only to listen to what He says, to ponder it, think on it, apply it to our lives, and make it our own.
Now is the time when we have the opportunity to learn, to gain that knowledge that leads to peace, when Christ sits in the Temple teaching. We have much to learn in order to obtain “the mind of Christ” so let us not miss this, our chance to obtain that knowledge. Whether we are young or old, our days stretch out towards the evening of our lives, and who knows exactly how long the day of grace will last for each of us? Without the peace of God, the darkness beyond the sunset is far darker than the grave.
Now no doubt some of you may be thinking, “But that will require that I change a lot of things that I am pretty comfortable with as they are. I don’t think I like that idea very much.” To address this in closing, let me offer some words from hymn #437 from the Episcopal Hymnal, 1940, words written by William Alexander Percy.
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisher folk,
Before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
Before they ever knew
The peace of God that filled their hearts
Brimful, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing —
The marvelous peace of God.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.