This Lenten season we at Resurrection Lutheran Church embark on a sermon series entitled, “God is on the Move…” based on a ideas developed by Jessica LaGrone in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series.
For a first century Jew, God lived in the temple at Jerusalem. As a result there were places in the temple that you could not go, not because you were a gentile, or woman, or a child, or even a man.
You couldn’t go into the inner part of the temple, the Holy of Holies, because that was where God was. This is the place that God touched the earth.
This God is so great that just a small portion of the hem of his tunic filled the entire temple, as described in Isaiah.
This God is so feared, one misstep could cost you your life if you were a priest attending the Holy of Holies. Your fellow priests tied a rope around your ankle. If you didn’t come out after a prescribed time, they would drag your body from area.
This God is so feared, his punishments are described throughout the Bible with vivid detail. Oppose him and you could see your whole army destroyed in minutes. Make him angry and your entire life could go up in the smoke and fires of hell including being tossed to the outer darkness complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
These ideas of a vengeful and capricious God continues into the 18th century. Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” pietistic Massachusetts of 1741. Beginning with a passage in Deuteronomy 32, he warns that we could go to hell at any time and that we better shape up and fast.
Is it little wonder that all through the ages, humans have tried to contain God in one form or another.
In ancient times they put God in a box – at least the tablets of the ten commandments — hauling him around from place to place, keeping him tucked into a tent when and where ever the Israelites stopped. This is known as the Ark of the Covenant.
Later, Solomon, after completing his building projects, built a temple for God and put the ark of the covenant in there. He assigned priests who knew how to keep God satiated and under control if you will.
When the Jews returned from the diaspora to find the original temple destroyed, history again repeated itself. They built their homes first and then God’s home second. By this time the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared but there was still was the Holy of Holies and a place where only the most holy could go, if they dared.
We all try to put God in a box for our own security, attributing to him things that just are not attributable to God, such as hating humans so much as to destroy them, completely and utterly with offer no chance of redemption.
Perhaps we are just scared of losing God, or God’s favor. We push him away before God has the chance to do the same to us.
And that’s where Jesus comes in, offering corrective after corrective after corrective, beginning with the announcement of his impending birth, the response of his mother through song, his birth, death and right on through resurrection and ascension.
This text from Matthew, which is always assigned for Ash Wednesday, is from the sermon on the mount described in Matthew. It is a three-chapter sermon that begins with the Beatitudes in Chapter 5, includes instruction on how to pray and the Lord’s Prayer (it appears in the middle of this passage in Chapter 6 and concludes with at the end of Chapter 7.
Focusing on these verses that we have before us, I’m going to go a bit Greek on you and talk about this “secret” that is juxtaposed with “seeing.”
In Greek, the word “secret” is “kryptos,” which sounds like a lot of words that we used today, such as krypton, kryptonite, cryptology and crypt.
Krypton is an element on the periodic table Kr and its atomic number is 36. It is a gas, not a metal. It is known as the “hidden one”.
Kryptonite, of course, renders Superman helpless by diminishing his superpowers.
Cryptology is the art of writing codes and solving codes.
Crypt is where we bury people after they have died, hiding them away as they rot and return to dust.
It is into the hidden places of our heart and mind, the stinky part, the rotten parts that causes God to move out of the temple into our lives.
And God has moved out of the temple and has joined us in the hidden parts of our lives, that which we want to keep secret from others…
That which, if known, we fear would be used against us to render us helpless
That which, if seen, buries us in shame, sorrow, and loneliness.
All of the messy parts of our lives that scare other people, God has come to us rather than waiting for us to come to God.
God moved out of the temple, slipped on human skin and joined us in the humanness of our existence through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Emmanuel, the “with us God,” is not content to look from afar and instead insists on joining us in our lives—the good, the bad and the ugly.
Nothing is secret or hidden from God, because God knows what it means to be human.
God knows what it means to be lonely, lost, least, left behind, forgotten, forsaken.
In all parts of our lives, especially the messy, emotion filled ones,
God was there and…
God is here and…
God will always be there.
God has come in the form of Jesus, to sit in the ashes of our lives, in the dark, lonely, stinking parts, casting a light of mercy, forgiveness and love.
God moves…out and into our lives.