Sermons at Union Congregational Church
Preached by The Reverend Gail L. Miller, Pastor
March 4, 2018 Third Sunday in Lent
What is Necessary?
Approaching the house on a mission…. He moves from room to room… a table over here overflowing with stuff, an alcove over there…the same. It’s too much…. And so he turns his attention to the table at hand and with undistractable focus, picks up the alabaster bowl, and asks, “Does this spark joy?”
Perhaps you’ve heard of the KonMarie method of de-cluttering our homes? Marie Kondo burst on the scene in October 2014 with her best selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
It suggests that we approach our clutter by asking if a particular item “sparks joy” for us, and if not, out it goes! The premise is if we can get to the heart – our own hearts – of why we hold onto things until our houses are overflowing and overcrowded, we cannot only declutter our homes, but we can also have our lives changed. That’s quite a claim!
Our house is as cluttered as the next:
There is my desk overflowing with years of papers, theater playbills, drawings and stories that Sophia has written through the years that are worth saving…
There are the shelves by Mike’s desk bulging with boxes and disks from software he’s installed through the years, catalogs for airplane supplies and building materials…
Then there’s Sophia’s dresser top, covered with mementos from travels and birthday parties, jewelry gifts and purchases….
Both Mike and Sophia were away over February break and I had every intention of getting to that piled up desk of mine…. But after getting through the piles on the piano, the piles next to my desk, and on Sophia’s desk, I felt quite accomplished, and I thought I’d made some real progress even though the whole the house doesn’t look much different than before, so I gave up.
We could use a little KonMarie at our place…keeping only what sparks joy.
And here at church too! If you’ve been in my office, you’ve seen the “messy corner” by my bookshelves, where not just stuff, but boxes of stuff piles up. From time to time I’ll make some progress in sorting through it and putting things away or getting rid of stuff, but it never fully disappears.
And Tom is constantly managing and moving the church’s “stuff” around. Some of you from time to time will let us know what you think of the cluttered coat closet downstairs. All the stuff from the cupboard in the women’s bathroom got put on the shelf there when we redid the bathroom last year, and never got put back, so there it sits. Then there’s the corner in the Parlor where we slide things under the table with the tablecloth that meets the floor. Even up here, the last row behind where the men sit in the choir has become storage.
We could use a little KonMarie around here as well.
Maybe that’s what Jesus was doing that day when he visited the Temple in Jerusalem – the very place where God could be found – the Holy of Holies they called it. Jews would make pilgrimages for weeks before their Holy Festivals to make the required sacrifices for atonement for their sins and to remove their guilt.
But when Jesus arrived he was about more than cleaning off the surfaces. This is no ordinary house cleaning. It’s KonMarie with Jesus’ own spin. Because Jesus wants more for us than a spark of joy or nostalgia when we hold a tattered hymnal in our hands, or see a figurine that’s been on the shelf since we can remember.
Jesus goes beyond the joy, to the heart of our joy, which are hearts which are focused on him, decluttered from all that piles up to distract and obscure him…stuff that can even replace him, both in our lives and in our church.
Truth be told, we could all use a little KonMarie with Jesus….a little cleaning out of the junk that gets in the way of God. With Marie Kondo focus he spots the stuff we call good and calls it for what it is – an idol.
We all have our Temples, our holy ground…places where God has met us – good and wonderful places or events. This room is a Temple – just think of the wonderful things that have happened here! Baptisms, Confirmations, Weddings, Funerals where we’ve celebrated the lives of loved ones. And there are other rooms in this church which hold memories or relationships, meaningful in their significance and unforgettable.
And Jesus visits this house and sees the good that happens here. After all, he promises to be with us when we gather, which is what makes this place holy. He has been right close since 1826, hearing the prayers, warming hearts through the prayer shawls, feeding people through our sandwich runs, teaching our children through the teachers, encouraging folks through the flowers delivered after worship each week…. Changing lives in all sorts of ways.
But he knows about the other stuff too. He smells the musty odor that comes from windows shut to fresh experience. He sees when our faith has faded – held or stuck in times long past.
Holy places in our hearts that were once roomy, spacious and inviting, can become cluttered with stuff. He sees where our ambition and desires become misdirected; and when we put mirrors everywhere to serve ourselves, to feel better about ourselves. Like the dove sellers we first hauled in to help our holy place, but now it’s clutter that gets in the way of holy things. We mean well, but the truth is that not all of our stuff – or the stuff of our hearts – serves God’s purposes.
Is there something in the church, where if we changed it, or moved it, or reupholstered it, or repainted it – it would just be too much for you? If so then it has gained “idol” status, and is cluttering what is holy about it, and has gotten in the way of the mission of the church and its purpose. And that is a matter of our hearts.
Simply said, idolatry is some of our stuff cluttering holy ground. Idolatry is caring more about a thing than what it is for or what it symbolizes. And we are no less prone to this than the men and women who lived with Jesus, who heard his voice and saw his mighty acts and yet could scarcely see their spiritual hand in front of their faces.
Which is why we need Jesus. Whip in hand, fire in his eyes he comes to our Temples, all of them and cries, “Get those things out of there!” This is not an easy thing to hear. We’ve spent years, worked hard on building these temples.
Well when Jesus said this, about all his enemies could think of to say was, “Show us a sign.” And he gave them one; but not what they were wanting to hear, “Destroy this temple,” he said, “and I will raise it in three days” (2:19).
Obviously, Jesus wasn’t referring to the physical temple he was standing in. Even though more than once he predicted it would fall; and like all temples, it did. But what he really meant was his own death and resurrection. You destroy me and I will rise up.
What if our Temple, the shrine we build on our holy ground, is Jesus himself?
What if our buildings and traditions, all of it, is a person raised from the dead?
What if our faith, our experiences, our life itself is given new shape daily?
What if our church is being made new, all the time?
Because in the decluttering of our lives and our church, when we ask Jesus What is necessary? His answer is simple and clear – I am. That’s it – that’s all we (or any church) need.
The Jews thought they needed to make animal sacrifices to receive God’s forgiveness. But then Jesus says, No…I’ll do it for you. You don’t need all this – All you need is me.
All the temples we build over holy ground are doomed to die. But Jesus is in the business of resurrection. He delights in raising the dead and freeing his people from the grave clothes of cluttered temples.
What Jesus was saying, sounded heretical (and eventually got him killed). And you may think it is still heretical for me to say it also, but we do not need the Temple at all. Why? Because Jesus’ body – his physical incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Holy Spirit – was sufficient and is sufficient to bring God’s grace and mercy to the world. Jesus is the one who introduces us to the parental heart of God, the one who makes the unknowable God knowable and approachable. Then…and ever since…and still today.
What is your Temple, your holiest ground, your sacred place? Is it in some way this church? And are the doors still open for fresh breezes of the risen one?
What about the temple of your heart? Keep checking those doors to make sure they’re open.
Because that’s the temple Jesus really came for. And he comes again and again cleaning house and converting our Temples from graveyards to places of resurrection. And it more than sparks joy – it changes our lives!
Thanks be to God!