“Seeking Shekinah: the Divine Presence”
March 8, 2015 – Lent 3
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 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. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Think of a nest;
Of a bird settling into that nest.
“Every bird nests with its kind,”
is says in the Talmud Baba Kammah,
a writing of Rabbinic Judaism,
“and man with its like.”
The bird settles.
It hunkers down, nestles in, and wraps the nest around itself.
The bird dwells safe and secure in the nest.
Where does God dwell?
The word Shekinah is an English transliteration
Of the Hebrew noun meaning
It signifies the dwelling or settling of the
Divine Presence of God.
The word Shekinah alone
Is a wonderful springboard to the imagination.
It serves as an invitation for the faithful
To search further,
Listen more closely,
Encourage curiosity in one another,
Especially during this time of Lent, asking
Where does God dwell?
Where is God’s neighborhood?
In the beginning,
God is more of a dis-embodied voice,
Speaking to Adam and Eve,
Noah and Abram.
At most, God is described as a vision in a dream.
God first abides
As near as I can tell,
In the Burning Bush that is not consumed on the mountain top.
God speaks to Moses from the Bush,
Telling him to rescue God’s people from Egyptian captivity.
During the Exodus and conquering the land of Canaan,
The Tabernacle served as a portable dwelling place
- a tent sanctuary, if you will –
For the Divine presence,
As well as the location of the sacred Commandment tablets
Given by God to Moses on the mountain.
It accompanied our Israelite ancestors on the journey from Egypt to Palestine
And was eventually located in the Holy of Holies on the Temple mount;
The inner-most, sacred location of Solomon’s newly constructed Temple.
See the book of Kings, chapter 8,
For a beautiful description of the dedication of the Temple.
The Temple was plundered by Nebuchadnezzar in 598 BCE.
Perhaps during this time
The Psalmist proclaimed,
“I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
The Temple was rebuilt, starting in 536 BCE by Cyrus the Great
As recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah,
Dedicated in 515 BCE, and
Rededicate by Judas Maccabeus in 165 BCE.
Herod the Great renovated and expanded the Temple in 20 BCE.
It is this time period
Which Jesus visited the Temple
And drove out the money changers and merchants from the outer courts
With whips of chords.
“Take these things out of here!
Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
Jesus commanded with zealous consummation.
Where does God dwell?
In the time of Jesus,
It was believed that God abided
Literally in the very Temple
He just cleared.
Jesus answered their criticism with
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
Let’s be clear,
The entire Temple system was holding on by a mere thread.
Organized Judaism had to resort to extortion
and fund raisers
for their very existence.
Selling livestock and changing money were necessary for survival.
And Jesus tells them by words and actions to
Shut it down.
Shut it down?
Where would the Shekinah go?
Where would the Divine presence of God abide?
“That’s just crazy talk, Jesus.
Get hold of yourself, and stay out of our business,”
Was the response Jesus received from religious leaders.
Jesus is asking
Is the Temple necessary?
This begs the fundamental question of God’s location:
Where does God abide?
Where does God abide?
This was the question of the Samaritan woman
When she asked Jesus about worship.
Should we worship at Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem?
“Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
… true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
When the blind man sees who Jesus is, he worships him.
He doesn’t direct his worship to the Holy of Holies.
He worships Jesus.
His blindness, both physical and spiritual, is gone.
The man born blind can now see that
Jesus himself is the presence of God.
John confirms the dwelling place of God
In his opening monologue,
“It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:18)
At the center of Jesus cleansing the Temple is this fundamental question:
Where does God abide?
Jesus proclaimed: the Temple is his body.
The Shekinah has left the Holy of Holies
And resides within his body.
The Body of Christ is the dwelling place of the Divine Presence.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The Body of Christ is the dwelling place of God.
In the post Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension scripture of the New Testament,
The Body of Christ takes on new meaning.
The Body becomes all of Christ’s followers,
All Christ’s disciples,
The localized and globalized community of faith
Known as Christians
Who follow Jesus as the Son of God.
This review of Hebrew and New Testament scripture
Is a wonderful tour down memory lane,
But how does this impact you and me today?
1. God moved into our neighborhood
When we became a member of the Body of Christ.
Peterson, in The Message, uses this phrase,
And I like it a lot:
God moved into our neighborhood.
God has never been so approachable
Or as intimate
As God is right this very moment.
God is with you and is in you.
“Those who love me will keep my word,
and my Father will love them,
and we will come to them and make our home with them,”
You and I have become the vessel for Shekinah,
The dwelling of God.
2. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,”
Love it or hate it.
God dwells in the local church.
We all love those mountain top experiences in worship
When we experience the presence of God.
But how about those experiences
Of conflict and disagreement?
God is here -
For God dwells with us and is in us.
Take the log out of your own eye,
God is able to help you.
Take your complaint directly to the other,
And if that doesn’t work,
Take another witness with you.
If that doesn’t work,
Go before the elders.
Know that God is here to help work it out.
How about when the local church is part of a denomination
With which you or I might disagree?
Yes, God dwells even here:
At district and conference gatherings,
At youth and mission events.
At conferences that threaten to divide
And at gatherings to revive the Holy Spirit,
Shekinah is in the Body of Christ.
3. Once God dwells in you or me,
The presence of God is always with us.
You and I have become the Holy of Holies in the world today.
God dwells in us
God goes where we go
And does what we do.
The world of non-believers and non-followers of Jesus
Comes to God through the Body of Christ.
They experience God through us.
So watch what you say,
Because it reflects upon the God within.
Tell the truth.
Speak positively about one another.
Build up one another.
Follow through on your word.
Pay attention to what you do.
Live a transparent life.
Love the Lord and love your neighbors.
When you sin, say you’re sorry, seek forgiveness, and strive for repentance.
Reach out and lift up those who are in need,
Both here at home, and to those half a world away.
God doesn’t recognize borders,
and neither should Christians.
If we are the only God non-Christians experience,
Then we better be leading with our A game.
As we go forth today,
The Gospel question for you and I to ponder is this:
Are we living responsibly
As vessels of God,
As God’s dwelling place?
Shekinah is within.
Let’s work individually
To share God with the world,
That God might nest in the lives of our neighbors, too.
(This theme is inspired by the excellent commentary of Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, as found at working preacher dot org)