Worship and the walnut

by Bruce Gilberd

(Based on John 2:13-22, and Exodus 20:1-7, Psalm 19, and I Corinthians 1:18-25)


What an abundance of truths and themes there are in today’s readings.

  • In Exodus the arresting reminder from God to the Hebrews, recently freed from Egypt: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of Slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”
    And, six hundred years later, Isaiah declares there are no other gods!
  • We have the psalmist accenting the glory of God visible in the created order, and emphasising this bounteous holy God requires holy living from his people, and the awareness that it is the “meditation of our hearts”, our inner life, that ultimately counts.
  • We have St Paul telling the Corinthian Church, and us, that God’s second great action, ‘the second exodus’, the Jesus episode, is not accessed by knowledge, or convincing signals, but by faith in the crucified and risen Divine Man Jesus.
  • And fourthly we have John’s vivid description of Jesus’s dramatic actions to cleanse the temple of corrupted worship in Sacred Space.  Not only this … the first hint of his death and resurrection – using the language of ‘temple’ with reference to his risen body of incorruptible physicality.  And use of the word ‘temple’ of Creation, our bodies, and of buildings.

I now offer you (only) three points that, for me, have emerged from these four enriching readings.

  1. There is such a thing as Sacred Space.
    • Creation itself.
    • In Hebrew history: the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments.  (And I’m thinking of how men died just touching the Ark unwisely; and King David danced naked before the Ark in exultant worship!)
    • The Temple of Solomon and in its rebuilt form.
    • Then, after house churches, Christian buildings down the centuries, where believers gather.
    • Places of great spiritual significance: I think of Haggia Sophia, for example, in Constantinople; Iona Abbey; Oihi and Waitangi, perhaps.
    • Here – this very building – is Sacred Space, where with joy we, together, celebrate the presence, beauty and mystery of God – beyond us and amongst us.
    • And, as Christ regarded his own body, our bodies are and shall be temples of God … Sacred Space.
  2. There is an outer and an inner reality in our own worship.
    • Here is a walnut (from Sue’s property in Whenuakite).
    • The outer shell protects the inner edible and tasty nut.  I am reminded of Julian of Norwich’s meditation on a hazel nut:
      1. God made it
      2. God loves it
      3. God keeps (protects) it
    • The inner nut – our hearts and on whom they are fixed – is the core of worship.  Jesus’s action in the Temple was to keep that primary, not the outer form.
    • Christian churches have many liturgies and forms of worship – and that is of great help, because we are sensate beings.  We need external handrails, clothing, for our worship.  But it is the inner life of believers, and the church, that is what ultimately counts.
      Jesus gives absolute primacy to the spiritual and prophetic conception of worship … priority to motive, intention, the heart.  Any form or liturgy must feed that – otherwise we are left with only a shell!
  3. Worship: that is what all today’s four readings, and my reflections, lead to.  Worth – the worth of God provokes our joyful, awe-filled, self-giving, profound thanks and praise – worship!  Worship of God is not about us … although true worship does transform, bestow grace, and equips the worshipper.
    Because, ‘True worship disinfects our egos’.  So our humble service of God in the wider community becomes the only true service.

True worship is about recognising God, and God’s disclosure of himself in Jesus, being of ultimate worth, and worthy of worship.  It is about abandoning ourselves to this vision of truth.  And, as said, this also expresses itself in humble service, in offering costly love to others – knowing Christ is always with us and everywhere – this is also our worship.

So …

  • Sacred Space
  • Inner and outer aspects of worship and service
  • Worship, epitomised in this selfless and joyful exclamation:

Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Glory be to you, O God Most High.

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