Friday, February 1, 2019

The Wisdom of the Pinyon Pine

"The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.”
— Joseph Wood Krutch,       .
American writer and naturalist
February is not an easy month to love.  Average temperatures in Reno range from lows of 26° to meager highs of 51°.  In February, you can expect just about the same amount of precipitation as you saw in January, except by now, you are really tired of it.
In Nevada’s winter, trees and plants go dormant.  Even our hardy pinyon pines slow the process of photosynthesis in favor of resting and conserving energy.  If trees and plants tried to force growth during the winter, it would damage them.  The roots of all plants and trees, however, never truly go dormant but are in a resting state called quiescence as they watch for signals — longer days, more moisture, higher temperatures — that tell them it is time for new growth.
Americans are a hard-charging lot.  We make grand resolutions in January, and try to forge ahead relentlessly.  The drive is always to produce more, get ahead, set more goals.  When asked how we are doing, many of us are likely to answer, “Busy!”
Perhaps we could learn something about living in February from the wisdom of the pinyon pine.  Isaiah writes, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  This kind of thing does not come naturally to many of us.  What would our February be like if we focus on returning and rest, on quietness and trust.  God assures us our roots are never quite dormant; it is okay to just rest and return to God.   There is plenty of time.  Sitting quietly in the presence of our loving God, we gather strength and Spirit for the next vibrant green, growing season of our lives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Slowing Down for Advent

     A few days before Halloween, I went grocery shopping, and there were aisles of Christmas
ornaments, tree lights, banners, and wreaths being stocked by somewhat frantic store elves.  I thought to myself in irritation, "It's not even Halloween!"

     For much of our lives, we never live in the moment because we are too eagerly anticipating what comes next.  I remember when I was younger thinking, "When I am 16 and can get my driver's license, then  I'll be happy."  And then after I got my license, I was thinking, "When I graduate from high school and get to college, that's when life will really begin for me!"  And then it was, "When I graduate from college... when I finish my masters degree... when my kids are a little older... when my kids are out of college..."  And so it goes.  Sound familiar to you?

     If you are like me, then Advent, that begins Sun., Dec. 2, is a season tailor made for you!  It is the time when the Church urges us to slow down, wait, rest... something wonderful is right around the corner.  We try not to get too busy or  distracted by all the ads and the tinsel and the parties.  For Episcopalians, it is a quiet time of joyful anticipation.

     While we still put up our Christmas lights and trim our trees and shop, we balance all that with peace and waiting... because we know there is a great miracle right around the corner, and we don't want to miss it.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Have you done any miracles lately?

     So, have you ever raised someone from the dead?  No?  How about miraculously healed someone?  Not recently?  How about something simpler like preached a dynamite sermon or written a book that changed the hearts of thousands?  Still working on that?  Sometimes, I’m afraid because most of us will never do any such dramatic spiritual acts of power we begin to think God does not use ordinary, everyday Christians to act in this world.
Caring for others, showing pastoral care for folks both in and outside the Church, is not very  showy or spectacular.

     When I came to Trinity twenty-two years ago, you know what really made me feel I had made a personal connection?  Just one parishioner made it a point to smile and nod at me every Sunday when he saw me.  That’s it.  Nothing very fancy, but in that simple act I knew I was seen and welcomed.  Especially at that point in my life, it meant the world to me.

     There are so many people in our Church and in the world who are broken-hearted, lonely, and sick, and I’ll tell you a secret — they don’t need a miracle… they just need another human being to really see them and care.  You can do that with a smile and a nod.  You can do that by really listening.  You can do that with a card or going out to coffee with them.  They don’t need the Bishop; they don’t need a priest, they don’t need the deacon… they need you.

     Jesus said in John 13, “I give you a new command: Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

     Maybe we get blinded by the flash-bang of miracles in the Gospel like walking on water and feeding the 5,000, and we forget, when you show care for another person, it is every bit as powerful and spectacular and life-changing as any other miracle.  So... have you done any miracles lately?

Friday, January 20, 2017

A poem for today...

A poem for today...

“The Beauty”
by Jane Hirshfield

Let them not say: we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something:
A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Lepers and Thin Places

“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him…”       — Luke 17 
 Farnoosh Brock, a blogger, writes about standing right at the edge of the ocean:
"My schedule and agenda fell by the way side and my whole body and mind fell into a reverie.  This is why I don’t live near the ocean, I told myself, because I would get nothing done… The ocean wins every time and like every other soul on the planet, I dream of a day that I can commune daily with the ocean."
I've lived in Nevada most of my life, and when I think of going on vacation, I think just like this writer.  All I can think about is going somewhere near the ocean.  People I've known who live by the ocean, when they think of going on vacation, they often think of going up to the mountains, to Tahoe.  As human beings we seem to be drawn to places where earth meets water or earth meets sky... borderlands, edges, doorways, what the ancient Celtic Christians called "thin" places.  Places where heaven and earth meet, where this world and the next are touching. 

The Gaelic name for these thin places was Caol Áit (pronounced “keel awtch".) In Celtic folklore, a thin place was always about being in that boundary between the two elements. Riverbanks, lakeshores, bogs, ocean and the shore, turning points of the seasons, all were considered thin places.  The Celts believed amazing things happened when you set foot in a thin place.

If you look sharp, you can see that today's Gospel is filled with thin places, borders, edges between our world and the next.  It is filled with both true thin places where earth and heaven meet — true doorways — and also false boundaries; those edges and borders and walls that only humans seem to love to create.

In the very first verse of the passage, Luke sets this entire story in a thin place, on a border.  In verse 11 it says: "On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee."  Jesus is on the border, the first Caol Áit, the first thin place. 

And then immediately in the next verse, we come to the second thin place.  Jesus is halfway between the countryside and the city. It states:  "As he entered a village…" — Not even in the village, partway in, at the threshold.  In that strange in-between place, Jesus encounters ten people who have been forced to live their lives in a thin place: They were Lepers.  They were trapped in that place between life and death because of their disease. 

And they physically lived in an in-between place, on the border: They could neither enter the city nor go too far from it.  Biblical law required these “unclean” souls to live near the town dump (Lev 13:46).   Yet, they had to live close enough to cities to receive charity.  What torture!  To be rejected and yet have to stay close to the people who reject you so you could survive!  The passage goes on: "… ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!'”  Biblical law demanded that they announce their sickness to all passersby (Lev 13:45).  Their skin disease was potentially contagious and was considered to be God’s judgment; lepers were shunned and treated as invisible people.

That was the amazing thing in this passage:  Not that they had this dread disease, not that they had the courage to beg healing from Jesus, but that Jesus “saw” them.  While the rest of the world treated them as invisible, Jesus in a great act of compassion stood in the thin place with those ten human beings whose skin was being eaten away by leprosy, and he actually saw them.

And Jesus does an amazing thing: In other healing miracles he touches a person, or speaks words of healing, here, he simply tells them to move into another thin place, "Go show yourselves to the priest…"  That was the only way, according to Levitical Law you could go from being a leper, outcast, and reenter society, you showed yourself as healed to the priest.  And so they moved off into that new thin place, and as they went, their lives as lepers and outcasts came to an end, and healing began.

I have to be honest, if I were a leper, my instinct would be to keep running into that thin place away from Jesus, because as I ran, the skin sores and huge, disfiguring lumps under my skin would begin to soften and heal and disappear.  And the nerve damage of leprosy in my feet would slowly vanish, and I could actually feel the dust of the road between my toes once again.  As I kept running away from Jesus, the almost total blindness of leprosy's attack on the nerves in my eyes would withdraw, and all of a sudden, the colors of the leaves on the trees and the searing blue of the sky would be so beautiful it would break my heart.  But most of all, as the constant muscle fatigue of leprosy left me, and I could run like I was sixteen again, every step, every stride, every yard, every mile, would bring me closer to a home I had not seen in many years, and loved ones who would welcome me.  I do not know that I would have the willpower to stop, and turn, go back, and fall to my knees to thank Jesus, like the Samaritan did.

The guy who stopped his race toward life, turned and fell in gratitude before Jesus' feet was a person who lived on the margins his whole life, he was one of the quasi-Jews that true Jews hated; he was a Samaritan.  It was more than a trivial act of gratitude; it was an act of supreme self-denial.   In essence, he was saying, "Health can wait, the green leaves and the sky can wait, my beloved family can wait, those children I never got to see growing up can wait, my life can wait, right now, nothing is as important as giving thanks to God." 

People like me who probably would've kept running, were apparently the good Jews.

I wonder, maybe when you've lived your life on the margins, in the thin places, maybe it's easier to show gratitude, maybe it comes more naturally.  I know over the years, I've seen many people come to Trinity who would not be welcomed elsewhere, me included, who were overwhelmed with gratitude at the acceptance and welcome they found here.  We don't always do it perfectly, unlike Jesus, we don't always see everyone we should see, those hurting folks on the margins who feel invisible.  But we're still pretty good at it, radical welcome is part of our DNA here in this thin place.

There are real thin places, Caol Áit, and they appear in different locations, and moments, in relationships, and in different seasons of our lives.  Holy moments and places where you suddenly realize you're in a place where heaven and earth are touching.  Something is going on, something wonderful and mysterious and tingling with the healing power of God.

But there are other in-between places that are artificial, human made, and they don't cause wonder and joy, they cause fear and despair.  We don't call them Caol Áit, we call them fences, and borders, and walls… and we call them "those" people.  It's where we keep our lepers, the people we don't want to see, but over and over in Scripture God refuses to recognize the boundaries we draw between each other.  It is running rampant in America todayAnd, it saddens me to admit that it is even the tendency in the church to confine the boundaries of God’s kingdom to the church.

I can imagine those twelve disciples thinking, “We’re special. Jesus has called us to follow him. We are his first friends, his best friends, his only friends, judging by some of the resistance Jesus has received. We’ve left everything and followed him on his way. Surely Jesus ought to be pleased with what he’s achieved with us.”  But then Jesus leads them outside their comfort zone, out into foreign territory, out to the borderland of Samaria.  There he doesn’t even go into the safe confines of town; he stops because he recognizes a thin place at the edge of town, and engages ten poor souls who, because of their sickness, have been thrown out.

And Jesus is going to lead us there too.

I don't get down to the ocean very often, but that first moment I stand on the shore and look out, the seagulls crying overhead, I know I am in a thin place.  Maybe that's why we touch the holy water in the font and cross ourselves, it reminds us when we stood on that vast shore of the ocean of our baptism, and we are drawn back again and again to that thin place where we hear the words again, “You are my beloved child;” that place where miracles happen.

“Heaven and earth,” the Celtic saying goes, “are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

When we trust, and step into that thin place of faith, the longer we keep walking with Jesus, the more we will see the function of faith as crossing human made boundaries and breaking down human walls.  Not just the ones we construct to keep other people out, but also those terrible walls we build inside ourselves.  Those ugly walls that convince us we aren't worth much, walls that separate us from others, walls that keep us from giving to others, walls that make us afraid be the people we can be.

The amazing thing about what Jesus did in this Gospel today is right from the start, he saw those lepers as they truly were: already healed, the walls had already been broken down, and they were free to go on their way and live their lives in joy as Children of God.

And you know what?  If you step into this thin place of faith, you'll realize Jesus has seen you that same way all along.  Amen.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Gospel of Fred the Fig

“Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none…’”    — Luke 13

Once upon a time… a time not so long ago, in a small valley in Nevada not too far from here, there was a beautiful vineyard.   And it did well in Nevada’s sandy soil.  It was not just a vineyard that produced wine, but one that produced champagne.  You have to grow three kinds of grapes to make champagne.  Two of them are black with white juice, the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Meunier.  The other one is a white grape with white juice, the Chardonnay.  But this is not a story about the grapes.

There was a fig tree planted in one corner, and his name was Fred.  He wasn’t beautiful and delicate like the vines.  He had flat, broad leaves, and stalks going everywhere.  Sometimes he was jealous of the grapes that people gathered with such care and praised.  You see, Fred had no fruit.  He also knew he wasn’t as important because he was stuck in the corner.  Secretly, he wished he could be a grapevine.

Fred had two friends: God and the Gardener.  God sent the sunshine, and water, and gentle breezes.  And the Gardener?  Well, Fred loved him.  He would come out some days and sit in Fred’s shade and have lunch.  Sometimes they would talk . . . well, mostly the Gardner would talk, or he would read to Fred after lunch.  You may already know that fig trees are very good listeners because they rarely interrupt you.  Just every now and then, Fred would say, “Is that so,” or “How interesting,” or “Tell me more.”  All those nice things friends say when they’re really listening to you and want to help you tell your stories.  The Gardener never seemed to tire of Fred’s company, and never said a mean thing to him about not growing any fruit.  Still, Fred never confided his sense of failure or secret wish to his friend, the Gardener.

No, Fred tried to go it alone . . . grow it alone.  He had curious roots.   His soil in the corner was not as carefully tilled as the floor of the vineyard, but there was some chalky subsoil added, and he tried to break up the tough Nevada soil beneath, but it was hard.  Any of you who’ve tried to dig in your own back yard here know that mostly of what we grow in Nevada are rocks.  He knew he had to spread his roots if he was ever going to produce fruit, so he didn’t give up… but it wasn’t much good.  He actually grew quite large, although fig trees tend to spread out sideways, not get tall.  But still, there was no fruit.

Unfortunately, the kindhearted gardener wasn’t the only visitor.  There was a road on the other side of the vineyard.  Sometimes people would pass by after champagne tasting trips and stop for a rest.  Sometimes they would talk with each other of strange things: terrible accidents that had happened in the town, and even acts of violence in the news.  Sometimes they would attribute these terrible things to God.  Fred couldn’t understand that kind of thinking: God was his friend who sent the sun and the rain and the warm breezes.  The Good Gardener would shake his head sadly when Fred told him about these conversations.  He explained that good happens to the good and the bad; bad happens to the good and the bad.  God didn’t cause the accidents or violence, people did.  What God did was send help:  bystanders who stepped in; police and Firefighters to protect; doctors and nurses to heal; Friends and neighbors to pray and listen.  That made a lot more sense to Fred. 

Some of these strangers were looking for maybe a ripe fig or two for lunch.  When they found no fruit, they would get angry and say rude things to him, and that would discourage him more than ever.  A few people had gotten so upset with Fred they snapped a couple branches, and just to be even meaner, they didn’t break them cleanly off, and the broken branches dangled there, and it hurt.

One man in particular had stopped by only once a year during the three years of Fred’s young life.  Fred always trembled when he came close.  He knew he was important.  He had heard he was the owner of the vineyard.  The owner would look at him disapprovingly for a few moments, and then walk away to look at his prize-winning champagne grapes.  This year, however, after looking at him disapprovingly for a while, he muttered three words: “What a waste!”  Those three words were the final blow to Fred’s gentle figgy soul, and he wept.  It’s one thing to have others disapprove of you, but when someone who’s really important to you is disappointed it’s almost too painful to bear. 

The kind Gardener, passing by, heard Fred weeping, and asked, “Why are you weeping?”  Fred told him about what the owner had said.  The Gardener quietly said, “Yes, there are impatient people like that in the world.  Don’t worry, I’ll handle it.”  The Gardener went and talked to the owner.  Fred couldn’t quite hear what was said.  Finally, the owner walked away, and the Gardener returned to Fred and reassured him it was all handled.

While the Gardener sat down in Fred’s shade, took out his lunch and began to eat, Fred, for once, began to talk.  He told him of all the sadness in his heart because he had not grown any fruit.  He told him about people who had hurt him and broken off branches.  He even told him his darkest secret: that he was sometimes jealous of the grapes and wished he too could be a grapevine.

The only time the Gardener interrupted was when Fred mentioned he also knew he wasn’t important because he was planted in a corner.  The Gardener looked surprised, “Don’t you remember?  I planted you here.”  Fred didn’t… you must remember he was only a little twig at the time.
“Why?”  Fred asked
The Gardner said, “For a vine, the corner is wasted.  Only you could grow and produce fruit here.  Vines wouldn’t have even made it a season.  You’ve been here three years.  You’re right where I want you.”

They were quiet for a while, and then the Gardener asked, “Do you really want to produce fruit?” 
Fred whispered, “Yes!”
The Gardner continued, “I can help, but you have to let me do the work.”
“Oh, thank you!”  Fred exclaimed.
The Gardner added, “Your fruit won’t be like the grapes.” 
“That’s OK,” Fred said.
The Gardener warned, “Sometimes it’ll hurt.  I’ll have to do some deep digging, and some pruning.” 
Fred was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “I’m ready.”

So, the next day, the kind Gardener got to work.  It took a long time.  Sometimes it was
painful, and it smelled bad when the Gardener spread manure around him.  But Fred trusted the Good Gardner and time passed.  One day in early spring, Fred woke to a warm sun and a gentle breeze.  He yawned and looked down, and he gasped — he was covered in delicate yellow fig blossoms!  It had begun.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a champagne grape.  I’m more of a fig tree… I suspect most of us are.  Although I work to grow and bear fruit, it’s a great comfort to know that the Good Gardener is willing to take on most of the hard labor in my life: breaking up the hard, rocky soil of my heart to let the fresh air of the Spirit and the Water of Life get to my very roots.  He will give me everything I need to grow and bear fruit.  My fruits may not be champagne grapes, but figs are good too … yes, they’re good.

This is the Gospel of the Kind Gardener,
and the Gospel of Fred the Fig Tree,
and… the Gospel of the loving God who always gives you and me another chance.  Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Silence Between the Wings of the Cherubim

“Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”   — John 2

The people of Minnesota have given us some great things. Scotch tape was invented there,
lutefisk (if you don't know what that is, you can check it out on your Google machine here ), Garrison Keillor, and the Mall of America.  I once had a conference in Minneapolis and we got some free time and went to the Mall of America.  We went there three days in a row and walked, and walked, and walked.  At the end of our last day, I looked at the map of the mall and realized that in three days, we had only covered one tiny portion.  If you haven't seen it, you can't imagine how big it is.  258 Statues of Liberty could lie inside the Mall.  If Mount Rushmore was divided into individual monuments, a president could reside in each of the Mall’s four courts. Annually, it is estimated the Mall of America generates two billion dollars for Minnesota’s economy.  Yeah. it's big.

In Jesus' time, the Temple in Jerusalem was one of the greatest malls of its day.  What began as a temple of worship — a place of prayer — had become something quite different.  It had become a shopping mall, bank, government building, and revolutionary symbol all wrapped into one.  And all of these were in the outer courtyard of the temple.  

What is it that caused Jesus to become so angry? It can only be one thing: injustice.  Have you ever bought popcorn at the movies?  Have you ever filled your tank at a gas station right off the freeway?  You know because of their location they're going to charge you more.  The merchants in the temple had that all figured out, and they were the only game in town.  The sacrificial system in the temple had evolved, over the centuries, into an efficient machine for fleecing rich and poor alike.  
 If you went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, your goal was to sacrifice an animal, according to the Law of Moses. You could bring your own sacrificial animal, of course, but if you came from far away, it was easier to purchase a beast locally, at a steep markup.  The law said you had to present a perfect animal, without mark or blemish. Unless you purchased a pre-approved animal within the temple precincts, you had to bring your offering before an inspector, who would tell you whether or not it met the grade. And guess what? The inspectors were in cahoots with the animal-sellers, who knew how to grease their palms with silver. Rarely did they grant approval for a sacrificial animal brought in from the outside.

There was something else. If you had journeyed from one of the lands of the Jewish diaspora —
Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, even distant Rome — the coins jingling in your purse would have been imperial coins, engraved with the Emperor's likeness. Such graven images violated the Second Commandment, and so were forbidden within the temple precincts. In order to buy yourself a sacrificial animal, you had to first exchange your Roman money for image-free Judean coins. The money changers, who had a monopoly, charged exorbitant commissions, but the poor pilgrims had no recourse. They got them coming and going, those temple merchants.

You can see why when Jesus walked into that chaos of the free market, he didn't see a house of prayer. he saw a den of thieves.  It was not enough that Rome was oppressing Israel. The leaders of Israel were oppressing their own people.

For the longest time I read this passage as Jesus losing his temper and flying into a rage. But there is a detail in verse 15 that suggests this was a more deliberate action that Jesus took time to prepare for.  "Making a whip of cords" would take some time and gathering of materials, wouldn't it?  If Jesus had merely lost his temper, he would have grabbed the nearest blunt object and started flailing away.  But this detail suggests that there was a time lapse between noticing the money changing going on and reacting to it.  His followers and the people of Jerusalem were all watching him. And he was going to teach a lesson.

And do you notice, that not a word was said, nor a hand raised against him, as He poured out the
changers’ money, overthrew their tables, and drove out the livestock.  His Presence awed his opponents, and the people who had been ripped off all their lives were on his side.  The only challenge his opponents could come up was to ask him for a sign. A symbol of authority that gave him the right to do all this. And Jesus replied, "Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up."

Let’s just pause for a wonderful quote by Garrett Keizer: "I am unable to commit to any messiah who doesn’t knock over tables."  Don't you love that? [Garret Keizer in The Enigma of Anger (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004)]

Then came the calm aftermath spoken of in the Gospel of Matthew 21 — Jesus began to teach every day in the temple and it says there were "children who were crying in the temple, "Hosanna to the son of David!" And since the temple officials couldn't win the argument, they decided to become indignant about the kids, and in Matthew 21:16 said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?"  And a very calm Jesus replies, "Yes. Did you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing babies you have perfected praise?'"  Oh, don't you know that ticked them off!

Former Presiding Bishop John E. Hines said it's so well: “They did not crucify Jesus for saying ‘Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow.’ They crucified him for saying, ‘Consider the thieves of the temple, and how they steal.’”

Do you think what happened to the Jewish Temple could ever happen to us?  How would we know if we've stopped being the Church and become a mall?  I've sometimes heard people say, "The Church needs to be run more like a business."  It isn't that we can’t take some lessons from business, but when we make business our model I think we're in trouble.  When we judge our success as a church the same way Apple does, we've got a problem.  John's first readers would have known that the temple was already a smoking crater by the time they read his gospel, since it was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.  Jesus' words and actions were thus not only prophetic, but a stark reminder that any institution that claims to be of God is doomed to failure if it refuses to pay attention to God's own core purpose and values.  Jesus' action in the Temple this morning challenges us to look at Trinity to determine whether we're being faithful to his call, or whether like the Temple in Jerusalem, we’re due for some table flipping. some spring cleaning. For example:

·      Do we measure the church's success like a business? Are we so focused on our attendance figures, buildings, budget, programs, that we fail to question whether we're doing what Jesus wants?
·      Do we talk in our meetings more about property and budgets or about people and what we are doing and can do for people within our walls and outside our walls?
·      Do we avoid the risk of being prophetic and challenging people with the Gospel of the Kingdom, and instead play it safe and not talk about controversial subjects? About justice for the poor and a living wage and fairness for workers; equality in our nation for women, people of color, immigrants, gays and lesbians; and safety for all our children from pollution, global warming, and gun violence?
·      Have we started to look to human beings to take care of all of our problems and make this church what we want it to be. Instead of we ourselves truly becoming disciples of the Christ the way Jesus intended to change the world, do we sit back and look to the Vestry. or the priests. or our new rector to solve everything?

We don't need to be able to answer each one of those questions, but I think we do need to keep asking them.  As long as we keep our eyes focused on the one who said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations." and keep asking those questions, I think we're on the right track.

The noise in the outer courtyard must have been deafening: Moneychangers and merchants haggling, sheep baa'aing, cattle mooing, doves cooing, people talking, laughing, getting upset with each other.  Jesus stopped all that in today's Gospel, and what was left was a silence so profound that the people there could hear the voices of the children crying in the temple, "Hosanna to the son of David!"

In the very deepest room of the temple. The Holy of Holies. was the Ark of the Covenant.  The High Priest only went in there once a year.  Arching over the mercy seat were two cherubim, their golden wings reaching toward each other at the top. But the mercy seat itself was empty. Yet it was that space that was considered the very presence of the Almighty.  Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury talks about this emptiness: "The cherubim did not reside on the mercy seat. God's presence was nowhere portrayed within this "Holy of Holies" — or anywhere else within the temple. All that greeted the high priest was a blank slab of open space, a void, "the great speaking absence between the images".

Lent is a time of stripping away of all the noise — letting go of things that are holding us back from life, real life.  Before we can be ready for the joy of Easter, we take this time to examine ourselves, to examine our church, and to seek the silence between the wings of the cherubim.