A few days ago, Doan and I drove up to Boston to attend the institution of our friend Father Bret Hays as Rector of St. John’s Church in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Gloucester reminds me of Bordentown if Bordentown was a fishing village. Gloucester is set on a bluff above a series of inlets, and much of the original architecture is from preserved. But where Bordentown is an important little city situated on the way to several important bigger cities, Gloucester is an important little city on the way to nowhere except Gloucester. Instead of Ocean Spray, Gloucester has Gorton’s, as in “Trust the Gorton’s Fisherman.”
Founded in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, much like we were, St. John’s is a pretty little Carpenter Gothic church, which means that it looks much like Christ Church except it’s made of wood instead of stone. St. John’s is important to the people of Gloucester, it’s a hub of activity, of ministry; it’s a place where generations of fisherman could find nourishment for their bodies and souls, and most importantly, it’s a place where Jesus is.
Places are important. Finding a sense of place is part of being human; locating yourself (as opposed to finding yourself) is instinctive to us. Everyone wants a place they can call home, a place where they can go that feels right, smells rights, a place where the important people and important things are gathered.
People also need a place where God can be more easily found. Now, for about a generation it has become fashionable to say things like “God is everywhere, God all around us,” and that’s true, to the extent that God cannot be contained. But God, in His mercy and wisdom, knows that we are finite and fragile; He knows that we need a sense of place, things we can touch, taste, and feel, maybe even a house, a holy house, where we can go to be with Him.
And so God gave us one. He started with the Ark of the Covenant, a fancy box in which holy things were laid, and He went as far as to call that box His home on earth. Can God fit in a box? I think that might be like asking if God can create a hot dog so big that even God can’t eat it. The box, the Ark, wasn’t for God, it was for us.
The Temple was for us as well, and we went through a couple of them before God’s Son showed up to inspect the place. Jesus was there for the Passover, not for a building inspection, but when He arrived, he found that some rather unsavory types had set up shop on the Temple grounds. Now, people needed the things that these merchants sold; to make a proper sacrifice, you needed an ox or a lamb or a couple pigeons. But what you didn’t need was to be swindled. Think of it this way: you know when you go to the boardwalk and you want to play skee ball, but the skee ball machine doesn’t take quarters, it takes tokens? And you know how those tokens are otherwise worthless and you can’t get real money back for them? Now think ‘moneychangers’. You need two pigeons for the sacrifice? OK, you need to get the red tokens, which are five for ten dollars. You find that the pigeons cost three red tokens, which is fine, except that you can’t get anything else in the place for the two red tokens you have left, so you have two useless tokens in your pocket, no money left, and oh, by the way, tomorrow they only take blue tokens, so your red ones are doubly useless.
Jesus found this type of thing, let’s say, bothersome, bothersome enough that He started a Temple brawl, a religious ballroom blitz, and being zealous and divine, He won. The Temple was, at least for a while, returned to God, and since God didn’t really need it, maybe more importantly, it was returned to God’s people.
To be most proper, I should talk about how Jesus was and is the true Temple, and how He has made it possible for us to be temples, dwelling places for our God. That is true; I have talked about that before and in three years, when this lesson comes up again, I will most likely talk about it again. But being at Fr. Bret’s institution, worshiping in his lovely church, reminded me of what has been entrusted to him in Gloucester, and what has been entrusted to us here in Bordentown. We have a place, a place that we can call home, a holy house; we have a Tabernacle in which rests the very Presence of God, in line with the Ark of the Covenant; we have a place that we have set apart for God, but it’s also a place God has set apart for us, because He knows we all need it so much. I ask your prayers today for Fr. Bret and for St. John’s Gloucester, and for your continued prayers for this place, our home, that at His coming, Jesus will find this place, and all of us, prepared for Him.