Safe in the Sanctuary.
Sunday March 12th, 2017.
Lent 2 Luke 13.31-35, Philippians 3.17-4.1
Sometimes, when night has fallen and quiet prevails, I sit in the dark with only the blush of the candle fire and feel the strain and concern of life drain from me. Just me and the dark and God, sitting still, being close and feeling safe. Sanctuary. This time in prayer with Great Spirit God is sometimes a double-edged sword for me. For it calls me both into quietude and refreshment, but also into action and Gospel responsibility. So sometimes it seems that this place can only be safe if I am doing the work that the Gospels call me to do. I can only be refreshed and reconciled with God when I am working toward, what the Dalai Lama prayerfully tells us, ‘…helping dispel the misery of the world.’ Is it still a sanctuary if I am not in my deep heart place committed to this intention? And is this place, where we come to worship and join together, a sanctuary if we are not also working at and toward a similar purpose?
In this morning’s passage from the book of Luke, Jesus is at his rebellious high point. He dismisses the concerns of the elders, and in his rabbinic wisdom reminds them that, prophets, those confrontational individuals that speak out against the political and social arena of their time, are predominantly persecuted where change is most needed. Places like Jerusalem, the epicenter of 1st century Palestine. A place of corruption, where people can barely breathe because they are so contained by filth and over-population, a Mecca for trade, disease, hunger and complete unsolicited despair. Where people are forgotten and discarded, simply because greed and hatred prevail over kindness and compassion. Jerusalem. We could easily slip in another city. Toronto, Vancouver, Moscow, New York, London, Miami, New Delhi, Paris, Cape Town. Los Angeles. But are these large metropolitan cities the only ones guilty of sacrificing their prophets? Prophets who spring up where change is most required. Change held at great resistance.
Several years ago I had the privilege of seeing the Dalai Lama. His message remains constant-this is the time for a new era of peace-we are hungry for it! The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of both the Tibetan people and the International Tibetan Buddhist community, lives as an exile. He cannot live in his hometown. Both he and his people have been exiled by the Chinese government from their homeland. Most live now in the northern peninsulas of India, trying to create a safe sanctuary.
The Dalai Lama delivers his message of peace throughout the world by renouncing war, social and political atrocities, and ignorance, which so often incites hatred between people with different and varying beliefs. He was born to spiritual lead and enlighten his people, but the world he was born into would have none of it. He has been persecuted, ostracized and outlawed. But he has become an integral part of the world stage that seeks prophetic compassionate change and holds with respect deep caring for all life on our planet.
The words of prophetic change from people who come into our Communities are often received with excitement and anticipation. But for how long? Do we genuinely embrace and share their commitment for social or political or ecological or spiritual transformation? And what happens if they become our neighbours or friends, educators or leaders, or perhaps people who come into our sanctuaries with new ideas, with vision or simply with something different to say? There are those troublesome environmentalists who want everyone to stop using pesticides, oil and burning hectares of rain forest because they are both devastating the natural world and us along with it. There are the social non-conformists, who just don’t want to straighten up and behave like the majority and who insist on doing things a little too differently. There are the political naysayers who continue to remind us that a good portion of our politicians are crooked, corrupt, insensitive and self-motivated and that it is time for visionary leadership. And then there are those groups of pesky persistent people who believe that everyone is deserving, whether they fill out a tax return or not. Whether they live out of grocery cart, are teenage parents, or struggle with one of the countless addictions wrought by a crippled society. And of course, there are some who suggest that all people are equal, in the law, on the land and in the eyes of God. Such a motley crew, who would want any of them as neighbours or even leaders?
Safe in the sanctuary. Are we? If we are, then some of that motley crew is sitting right beside you, otherwise, this is no Gospel House. And that is exactly where Jesus was going when the elders confronted him with Herod’s death threats-to the house of God. Not the house of the Kings, or the house of the Pharisees or the house of Jerusalem; but the house of God, where all people are invited and included in Earthly and Spiritual nourishment.
Jesus has no time for worldly things. “Tell that fox that I’ve not time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up.” Wrapping things up, because the house of God has not been welcomed in Jerusalem. It remained, obstinate in its desire to stay, unchanged.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” says Jesus, “how often I have longed, to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, her brood safe under her wings…”
And what about Toronto or London, Paris or New York, or Peterborough, how welcoming are they to visionary change?
What choices are they making? To remain unmoved by the impetus of the Jesus movement? The Gospel grounded in non-conformity, inclusivity and just, social responsibility. And what about us? What about this sanctuary in East City? What choices are we making? Is this a Gospel house?
Paul’s words to the people of Philippi echo this Gospel truth; God is beckoning us onward, to Christ’s cross, away from easy street. Christ’s cross is the cross carved out for all humanity, where people love people, where lives are transformed by compassionate acts, and the doors to every sanctuary are flung open wide to let in all who stand in wait for the New Jerusalem; heaven on earth. A place for all those who we still have not invited to the table of God. The ones at the door, knocking to get in, the ones lost and alone, the ones without-Jesus is walking right alongside them, shouldn’t we as well? Tearing down the walls of ego and judgment and opening the door to this sanctuary-to your heart, is the beginning of doing just as the Dalai Lama asks; ‘…helping to dispel the misery of the world.’
The candle remains welcoming; here in prayerful meditation my courage is fed. Here where quietude tells me of what is sacred and good in life, in all living, reminding me how intrinsic I am, we all are. And here I also recognize our world is responding to its inherent courage. Pockets of justice driven celebration and action are arising. Here is the place of God filled encouragement and peace- born acceptance that I-that we, can move in to; the spaces that call to us and ask us to please- ‘…help dispel the misery of the world.’