The Right Reverend Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr.
The 90th Anniversary of the Dedication of Christ Church Cranbrook
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Genesis 28:10-17; Psalm 84:1-6; 1 Peter 2:1-5, 9-10; Matthew 21:12-16
I’ve always found today’s gospel a little difficult to hear. Mostly because it presents a side of Jesus that, well, frankly is a little bit contrary to everything else we’ve heard about Jesus. Not only in scripture but all through our lives. After all, the pictures I grew up with Jesus was this sweet, wonderful, docile kind of “oh go along with everything” kind of person, and then all of a sudden, we come up with today’s lesson in the gospel and he’s throwing people out of church. Really? And it’s not just the people selling things, He’s throwing out the people who were buying things. All they were doing was trying to be faithful, good Jews, who were being called forward to make their sacrifices, and they had to have doves and they had to do all this. They were just following the rules, weren’t they?
And so, this somewhat, ooh, dare I say, angry Jesus, walks into the temple and just throws everybody out. Wow. The first time I ever read that I didn’t know what to do with it. And it seems like every time I read it, even though I know so much more, or I’m supposed to know so much more, I still have a difficulty with it. Why is He so upset? They were just following the rules. I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do, right?
Well, Jesus gives us an answer. This house is to be a house of prayer for all people. Hmm. But wasn’t the buying of the doves and the selling of the doves about getting ready for prayer? Obviously not. Clearly Jesus had another idea in mind. The Pharisees weren’t happy about it. I suppose all those people who were losing their money that got turned over with the tables were not happy, and those who were there to sacrifice the doves, they were a little upset. And yet, Jesus went on to heal and to bring people closer to what I believe was His idea behind reminding us that the temple was a house of prayer for all people. Bottom line, the temple is about prayer. Prayer for what? Ah! Now there is where the door cracks open just a bit.
For 18.5 years I have gone around this diocese and I have seen magnificent temples to God. Some as magnificent as this edifice whose dedication we celebrate today. Ninety years, amazing. And you don’t get to 90 years without at least doing what you’re supposed to do, right? Well, ask your doctor. You didn’t get to the age you are without doing a least some of what you were supposed to do, right? So your doctor’s sitting next to you and she knows the truth. Whatever. You still don’t get to where you are without doing most of the truth.
Well, the same is true with the temple of God. Some of our temples in this diocese are little teeny places that seat less than the first six pews on either side put together. And yet they are all houses of prayer for all people, all people. Jesus wasn’t upset about commerce, because commerce is afterall what makes the world go ‘round. What He was upset about, I believe, is that there was more focus on the commerce than the prayer and what the prayer was for. And then He went on a showed us. He healed people. He brought people who were sick and helped them renew and right their relationship with God. The bottom line, it’s about relationship.
All of our temples are about relationship – and most particularly, this temple we call our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit, is about relationship. Relationship with one another, relationship with ourselves, relationship with God, and if we are not about relationship, then I don’t care what anybody tells you about what we’re supposed to be doing inside these brick and cement temples, that we’re not doing what God called us to do here. How often have we heard the words that unless God build the house, they labor in vain who build it. Well, we know God didn’t actually physically build this building. Not brick by brick, stone by stone. But if God was no in the hearts and minds of those who put this together, then it was in vain to do it.
If God is not the center of everything we do here, then it is not right. And that’s what Jesus was about the day He walked into the temple and threw everybody out. The caution here is what if Jesus walked through that door in the next five minutes, would He bring with Him a whip and throw us all out? Or would He come to the front pew, sit where that reserved sign is, and pray with us?
My friends, I don’t have the answer to that question, you do. Only you. Is what we do in this temple about God and our right relationship with God? Everything? Oh, trust me, having dance at liturgy, having jazz, having whatever, if it’s not about relationship with God, if it’s not about bringing people to God, if it’s not about taking that door and opening it as wide as possible for the sinners of the world (that means us) to be able to enter and find God here, then the answer to the question is that Jesus is going to show up in five minutes with a whip and throw us all out.
But if what we’re doing, not only for the last 90 years, but if what we plan for the next 90 is to make sure that this is a house of prayer, yes, but also a temple where those whose hearts and minds and souls need God, need to find God, need to embrace God, need to be reconciled to God, can find a place to be, then by all means let us open the doors and invite Jesus to sit with us in the front row.
Frankly, every time we meet as community and worship, that should be on our minds. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Who’s at the center? Is it about me? Is it about you? Or is it about God? I hope it’s about God. Because if it’s not, then in a few minutes we’re going to totally waste our time and baptize this absolutely gorgeous child up here in the front row. What else would we baptize him to? What else?! A temple that’s not for prayer, not for reconciliation, not for being close to God? What else would be baptize him to? A life that is bereft of the holiness that God offers to each of us? What else would we baptize him to? And you are going to stand and say that you support this child and his life in Christ. Well, gosh, seems to me we have important work to do. Just as I have seen the important work that this community has done at least for the last 18.5 of your 90 years.
I told you that I didn’t have the answer to the question about what Jesus would do when He shows up. I told a little, teeny, tiny lie. I don’t really know the answer but I know in my heart what I think He would do, because I’ve watched you, I’ve walked with you, and even when things were not the best, I believe that this community has always sought to do what God wants in this place. Yes, God is at the center of the community of Christ Church Cranbrook, it’s true. You can feel it. You can see it. And yes, George, it is a good community to which you should be baptized. It is also a good community into which those who will be confirmed today should be confirmed. But they don’t do it alone. And if there is going to be another 90 years, then your focus, your heart, your vision must always be that this is a house of prayer for all people, all people, all people.
Someone asked me during the forum this morning what I saw of the church in the next five to ten years. Well, if in ten years I come to Christ Church Cranbrook and stand here and look out and it isn’t even more diverse than it is today – notice I said even more. If it isn’t even more diverse than it is today, then I will wonder has God been at the center of your work. That’s a question for you.
Chances are I probably won’t be standing here in ten years. It has been a good place to stand with you. One thing I do know is that when those who are guardians of the temple come together, they learn and they teach. You have taught me much. I hope I have taught you a little. Together, let us continue to make all of our temples, even the temples of our bodies, places of prayer, reconciliation, and right relationship with God. That is my prayer for you. That is my blessing for you. Let it be.