Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
After his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus returned to Bethany just on the other side of the Mount of Olives where he was staying. Each morning, this week we now call Holy Week, Jesus would crest the Mount of Olives and come down its western slope toward Jerusalem on his way to the Temple to teach, worship, and pray.
Recall with me that first morning Jesus made this journey. As he approached Jerusalem, he stopped, and looking out over the city, he wept. Today that place is remembered by the church Dominus Flavius, or the Teardrop Chapel. Some of you have been there with me on pilgrimage.
The tears that came to Jesus eyes reveal his broken heart. Infidelity was the trigger. Jerusalem, known as the bride of Christ, had been unfaithful. She had forgotten herself, chasing any shiny object or idea or personality that came to her attention. Jerusalem was flitting here and there, seeking to answer her neighbor’s question: “What’s new with you?” “What’s happening in your life?” She always had an answer. She had to have an answer. To not, might relegate her to the dust bin of “the uninteresting,” or “the unimportant,” or “the irrelevant.”
What if her response to the question: “What’s new with you?” was: “Nothing’s new with me, or my children, or my work, or my house, or my economic status, or my favorite sporting team…I am just myself, breathing, eating, sleeping, walking, praying… just living. Nothing new. I am at peace.”
That was Jesus’ greatest hope for Jerusalem, incidentally… to be at peace; because peace, not only meant the lack of divisiveness and division, but more than that, it meant that Jerusalem was being true to her nature, to her self. Jerusalem means: “The city of peace.” Her name reflects her identity, as well as, the reason for her existence.
As Jesus looked out at Jerusalem from his resting place on the Mount Olives, he saw anything but peace. He saw a Temple filled with pride and power and death. He saw the Roman citadel, called Antonio’s fortress, looking down over the Temple walls, looming as an expression of Rome’s power and control. He saw the priority of commerce. He saw people enslaving people. He saw religious feuds. And all of this brought tears to his eyes. Jesus wept for Jerusalem, not the buildings or the market stalls, or the walls, but for the people seeking to be interesting, and important, and relevant, rather than seeking peace within themselves.
Later as Jesus stumbled toward Golgotha women gathered around him just inside the city gates. It was a common place to pause on the way to execution, for if there was a pardon to be had, it was timed to arrive right before the condemned person left the city gates. The women gathered, ready to sweep up the traumatized victim if he is pardoned and care for him. As they waited, Jesus turned to the women and said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
We are the children of Jerusalem that Jesus is referring to. We are the buildings he looks upon and weeps over. Remember when he said: “Tear down this Temple, and I will raise it up in three days.” Jesus is the Temple he is referring to, and within his heart God resides. We are Temples as well, and our hearts are designed to house God. And so, if the human heart is the Temple for God, the question is, is God home, or is God gone? God never takes a heart by storm; God never breeches it wall; God never invades; God only comes in when invited in. And until then, God sits on the Mount, looking across the valley, weeping, if the life God gazes upon is more interested in being interesting, and important, and relevant, than a Temple for God.
These three words: interesting, important, and relevant maybe compelling—After all, isn’t that what we look for in a friend? someone who is important, interesting and relevant…? Yes and no. Yes, when it is the by-product of their authenticity. No, when it is the reason they act the way they act.
I invite you to wonder this evening: When God gazes out at your life, does God see you living your most authentic self; or does God see you seeking a life that makes you feel interesting, and important, and relevant?
I am reminded of a story I’ve probably told you before. It is about a dear friend of mine, Dr. Ron David. He is Desmond’s God-father, and a member of my small group. Years ago, when he was doing his training in the NICU at the University of Pittsburg, Ron recalled how, one night he was tending a very premature child who was failing fast. The parents hovered near, as Ron worked franticly to save the child’s life. He was dong this, and he was doing that. Then, from across the room, a staff doctor called out: “Dr. David, don’t just do something, stand there.”
Don’t just do something; stand there. The child died. The child was going to die. The child, in that moment, and for every moment there after, was and is and is to be a Temple of God. God was home in that child, in the NICU, and God still is.
I can almost hear Jesus saying the same thing to Jerusalem. I can almost hear Jesus saying the same thing to me. Doyt, don’t just do something; stand there. Breathe, eat, sleep, walk, pray. Nothing new. Be at peace. Be the Temple you were made to be.
What we so easily forget is that God made us well; God made us with purpose; and God made us to be our very best selves when we are keeping the doors of our hearts open to God. That doesn’t mean we don’t do our jobs, or care for our friends, or vote on election day. It simply means we keep God forefront of mind. That when someone asks us: “What’s up,” we say: “All is well with me and my God.” Can you imagine saying that? Can you say that? “All is well with me and my God.”
Do you know that we can actually hurt God’s feelings? It is easy to imagine that we can’t really hurt God. It is easy to think that God is so big and strong and omnipotent, that God sees through us, and by our actions is always smiling, even if it is like the smile of a parent at the indiscretions of a young child.
But that is not true. If we can hurt one another, then, as children of God, we know too, that we can hurt God. God made us. God loves us, and real, authentic love is vulnerable. And God’s love is both real and authentic. So, it is also vulnerable. We can and do hurt God’s feelings. We can and do cause God to weep. The difference between how we hurt one another and how we hurt God is that God is infinitely merciful and forgiving. And so, while God does weeps for us, God is also infinitely prepared to forgive. But know this–before forgiveness is sought and amendment of life attained, there is silence. God’s response to hurt is silence. God is silent when God is closed out of the Temple of our hearts.Is God silent in your life?
The response to this silence is compunction. Good Friday calls for compunction, it calls us to prying open the door of our hard, distracted hearts, and ask God to come in. Today we say, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I am sorry. Forgive me. I am so self-centered. I am so self-centered, that I have made too little room within me for my God. The closed doors to our heart that looks like a cross.
Today I invite you to venerate the cross; to come forward and put your hands on the wood. It is not warm; it has none of the vibrant sensations you might feel were you to lay your hands on a living tree. It is dead. It is dead wood, lashed together as a symbol of our willingness to fill our hearts with dead things. To venerate the cross is an action of contrition. It is an action that offers compunction for having brought tears to the eyes of God.
It is easy to imagine that as Jesus approached Jerusalem, the city of peace, bereft of peace, as he walked through that city, just as he walks through our souls, he saw the junk of self-centered lives stuffed in the room of hearts that were designed for God. It is easy to imagine that God weeps. God wishes to be at home at the center of our being: in our thoughts, and in our actions.
God wants to dance with our souls, not watch them as they seek small self-centered, irrelevant, un-important things. God weeps. Pray on this reality… that God weeps. As you breathe, eat, sleep, walk…pray between now and resurrection day about the tears of God.