Back in the mid-seventies, I was transferred by my company to Chicago, Illinois. While living there for several years, my wife and I would take visiting friends to the Chicago Museum of Art . There, we would look at some of the most important paintings to be found in the U.S. and where, one painting in particular, always got to me. It was a wall mural by Georges Seurat that really got my attention. Seurat painted the most wonderfully detailed impressionist paintings with a technique he called pointillism. He devised this method of painting which uses dots of paint instead of using brush strokes to create a picture. If you look at his paintings up close, all you will see are dots of color, but when you move away from the painting, your eyes form the dots into a picture. For example, when you look at a picture in a newspaper or lithograph with a magnifying glass you will see only dots, but when you take away the glass, your eyes make the dots complete the picture or photograph. Today we use the same technique in pixel technology which adorns the screens of our televisions, computers and Iphones.
I bring this up today because I find that sometimes the lessons we are given for a particular Sunday do not always tell the whole story – and unless we know what came before the verses and what comes after them, the story itself becomes for us a bit vague, just like all those dots under a magnifying glass. Such is the case today, as Jesus enters Jerusalem – for this particular day we celebrate is the day of Visitation. It is this self-same day that we celebrate on Palm Sunday each year in Holy Week where the people of the city have spread out palm branches along the road, singing out ‘Hosanna’ and welcoming Jesus into their midst as the King of the Jews. And yet inside the city there are no tributes, there are no banners, there are no acclamations to this person who the people have proclaimed their King.
No – it was, in fact, business as usual, and Jesus laments the fact that here on this day, entered the King of Glory, and no one there – no one in the City of the Great King – knew who he was or what great event had transpired that day.
And so in today’s gospel lesson, we find out firsthand what happens when people are found to be not right with God, for in this story we see the only time in the gospels that Jesus becomes visibly angry . . . angry with a righteous anger because the priests and the moneychangers were in a league of corruption. And so, because they knew not the day of Visitation – the Temple, the City and all who dwelt within it were cursed into oblivion happening only about thirty years hence when the Roman Army will come in 70 A.D. and totally destroy the city, the temple and everyone who lives there.
And so as the story today we know very well goes . . . the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem as prophesied by Zecharia as it is written ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ But in the city the King found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. So, making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He quotes to them from the prophet Isaiah who wrote, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” His disciples later remembered Psalm 69 where it reads, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The disruption of the moneychangers and the threat of exposure to collusion amongst the temple priests, was of course, ‘the last straw’ . . . which, a week later led directly to Jesus being arrested tried, and finally being crucified – mainly to silence him and his followers.
The Sanhedrin could not expose their corruption to the people so they conspired to charge Jesus with blasphemy by using false witnesses. King Herod Agrippa and the other temple leaders weren’t able to kill Jesus directly so they took him to Pilate who, being a shrewd politician, decided to try to swap him for Barabas, a known criminal, letting the people decide Jesus’ fate. And so, as you know Jesus was convicted and crucified.
Covering up the truth of the messiah by murder was nothing new to the Jewish leaders of the day – in fact – it had happened before. To find out more about this story we need to go way back to first book of the bible – not Genesis . . . as you might suppose- but to the first book ever written in the bible which is the Book of Job.
For within Job we find that the Creative God has laid out in the heaven for all to see a calendar of events stretching out through eternity . . .
8 He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.
9 He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.
11 When he passes me, I cannot see him;
when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.
12 If he snatches away, who can stop him?
Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
13 God does not restrain his anger;
even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet.
And in the Psalm 19 of David we read . . . The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day they speak, and night unto night they show knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race.
For it is in the stars of heaven that prophesied the coming of the great king – and it was astronomers from the east who saw the signs predicted by the prophets and came to greet the king on his arrival. But it was Herod and the chief priests who were shocked to hear that the king had actually come – a king that they themselves were supposed to be looking for, but apparently had become complacent, thinking that ‘that King’ was for another age – not theirs.
And so, when they heard of the new born king coming as prophesied in the town of Bethlehem, that they set out to destroy him by murdering all the first born in that town. Leaving us to remember from the prophet Jeremiah . . . “Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
Today we have the technology to look back at the stars and constellations as they were in the past. This is due to the clockwork nature of God’s creation and the mathematics that make everything work so precisely. We know that the star of Bethlehem occurring on December 25, 2 A.D. was the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter and that the Magi visited Jesus when he was about two years old; and living in a house, as it written in the gospels, and not in manger as we depict the scene every year. We also know that two years before that first December Christmas Jupiter was to circle the star Regulus (the royal star) signifying to the magi that a king would be born to the west.
These and many other celestial events were the prophesies that led to the coming of Jesus the messiah the first time into our world. They were supposed to be kept track of by the priests throughout their generations but instead, the Temple leaders were distracted by power, greed and wealth . . . so when the events actually happened, they were not only unprepared but also fearful of what would actually happen to them if their deeds were to be exposed.
I wanted to bring to you today at least a small piece of the big picture so that you will know how truly great our God really is. For before the earth was formed, the moon was, or life as we know it existed, all of this . . . the beginning, the fall, the redemption and the plan of salvation was worked out precisely in advance for all of us who would eventually be born here.
Evangelicals have always tended to have a good doctrine of redemption, but a bad doctrine of creation. We have always tended to pay lip-service to the truth that God is the Creator of all things, but we have been mainly blind to its many implications. The God we like to worship has been for us, one only concerned with the church and with our religion, as if his main interests were our worship services and prayer meetings attended by believers in the faith.
Don’t misunderstand me: God takes great delight in the prayers and praises of his people. But I think we should now begin to see him also (as the Bible has always portrayed him) as the Creator, who is concerned with the secular world as well as with the church, who loves all people and not Christians only, and who is interested in the whole of life and not merely in religion.
This week, as we look up from our smart phones and view the lunar eclipse let us all consider and remember that it is the creative God who placed the moon in the exact orbit where an eclipse would be possible and made our moon spherical so that it would be absolutely perfect in its projection towards the earth. Through the eclipse, He will give to everyone in the U.S. just a glimpse of the magnitude of his creation. Let us pray that all who experience it will see God’s hand, not only in creation but in their lives as well.
But this isn’t the only sign in the heavens this year – there is another that is far more important. In the weeks ahead there will occur the same sign that saw the birth of Christ that will play out in the night sky after 2,020 years have passed. On September 23, upon Jupiter’s exit from the constellation Virgo, on the Jewish Feast of Trumpets, we will be able to see the constellation Virgo with the sun rise directly behind it (the woman clothed with the sun). At the feet of Virgo, we will see the moon. And upon her head we will see a crown of twelve stars, formed by the usual nine stars of the constellation Leo with the addition of the planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars. If this sounds oddly familiar it was written for us as a vision of Blessed John in the Book of Revelation – Chapter 12 . . . the rest you can read for yourselves . . . it has a surprise ending.
As you know, this will be my last Sunday with you here at Holy Cross. Over the past year it really has been a privilege to worship with you and to share with you the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think we’ve gotten a lot accomplished with the final word on the roof, with the selection and ordination of Tom Stone to the diaconate, and with the calling of Fr. Ludwig as interim priest, I think you are off to a terrific year in this place. There are a few items that I wish that I had had the time for . . . but perhaps Fr. Ludwig can take up the flag for things ‘left undone’ which are mainly evangelistic in nature . . . like a new sign out front, a better functioning website, a parish photographer (which is really important to retain your history) and someday – new vestments. These are all items that have a direct bearing on the perception by new people for they are all the things that attract folks in to hear your message. And they work! How do I know this? – well for past forty years I have seen struggling churches grow because they do outward looking kinds of things . . . and I have seen viable churches fail often because they only think inward and not outward. So, continue as best you can to think outward and I believe everything else will fall into place. I wish you all God’s speed. Amen