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Where there is no Shrine there is no Home

Lent 3, 11 March, 2012
The Most Reverend Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth and Metropolitan of Western Australia

Exodus 20: 1-17 Then God spoke all these words 'I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery'.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 'For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.'
John 2:16 'Stop making my Father's house a market place. Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.'

I bring you greetings from the National Bishops' Conference. Thank you for hosting us. We are grateful to Bishop Rutherford and the team in the parish for all that you have done in preparation for our visit. I bring you greetings from the land across the Nullabor, the State of Western Australia and the clergy and people of the Diocese of Perth. I am grateful to Bishop Graeme who I served with in the Diocese of Newcastle for his invitation for me to preach at this High Mass. It is the first time I have been invited to this parish in Melbourne which, rumour has it, is the model of good Anglo-Catholic worship and theological exploration in the Australian Church.

This church has a special significance given that it was here in 1847 that Charles Perry was appointed Bishop, giving Melbourne "city" status. I imagined St Peter's Eastern Hill to be like the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham — a space for a unique expression of a High Church Anglican ethos in the best eccentric and unpredictable tradition of the Anglo-Catholic movement. I am sure for each of you this sacred space, this House of God, this shrine/temple, is a special place — a home which you inhabit. It is said that where there is no shrine there is no home. What shrine do you worship at? What space calls you to transcendence — to the holy — to a reality outside of oneself? I know for many in Melbourne the "G" is the place for experiencing muscular transcendence!

A holy place is a space of otherness where we learn to exercise the intimacy of relationships, the complexity and unconditional acceptance of the myriad of encounters called forth from a home and household. What is true for a home is true for the community, church, nation and world. Where there is no shrine there is no home. The transcendent "other" makes authentic living a reality.

Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, in understanding transcendent "space" in the City of London, describes the march he made with the Lambeth bishops for the Millennium Development Goals. As he marched through the streets of London, his granddaughter by his side, he came across the Houses of Parliament, Westminster. The little girl enquired, 'Granddad what's this about?' and he said, 'Well, that's a special covenant that the people of Britain have with their powers. This is where power is accumulated and power is distributed.' She nodded her head wisely. As they went a little further on, she saw the Bank of England. She said to him, 'Granddad, what happens there?'. Jonathan Sacks responded, 'That's where wealth is accumulated and distributed hopefully with integrity'. They came to St Paul's Cathedral. The quizzing continued, 'Granddad, what's that place? What happens?' And her Granddad said, 'What is accumulated here and what is distributed is not love forced upon people by power, or love bought and sold, but love as it is — God's covenant of wisdom distributed to bring dignity to all.' Three shrines in a city, each with a responsibility to gather and distribute for the common good. Today's readings speak to the three shrines that we may well worship at.

First, (1) the shrine of commandments. Australian theologian Scott Cowdell in his book on the Ten Commandments describes the religion of his grand-aunts who insisted that Christianity was simply the keeping of these commandments. When he suggested that grace and love were more important he was castigated. "Christianity is about laws, rules, and rubrics based on the Ten Commandments." Many religious people are imprisoned within the rule books of faith.

The Ten Commandments come to us in the context of a people under the yoke of Pharaoh. They are on a journey from slavery and oppression to freedom. God had lifted them up on eagles' wings to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. It is the God who frees and liberates, who demands they have no other gods, no idols, no using God's name without purpose, keeping the Sabbath, honouring parents, no murder, no using sexual power to exploit. No greed to steal, covet or bear false witness.

Law and commandments are linked to a covenant relationship with the God who breaks the chains of slavery. To worship at this shrine is to know freedom and to distribute this freedom to others. In discussing the Australian movie Red Dog set in the Pilbara with Year 12 students recently, they identified the caravan owners who despise the mining community as sub-human as the religious ones!

Author Lawrence Jaffe in Liberating the Heart tells a story. Several pious Jews once asked their rabbi about a passage in the Torah that states the fundamental creed of the Jews; "Hear O Israel, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart." And the Jews asked him: "Rabbi, Rabbi, why is it written that these words shall be UPON your heart? Why not rather IN your heart?" The rabbi replied "Because it is not within the power of man (or woman) to put those words into their heart. All we can do is lay these words upon our hearts, so that when our hearts break, they can drop in."

It is to a people whose hearts are broken and hopes shattered that the commandments are given. The shrine of commandments can only truly be kept by broken hearts into which the commandments come as healing and blessing, not as burden.

(2) St Paul encounters in the Church in Corinth shrines set up to the gods of rationality — intellectual rhetoric and abstract argument, shrines to the god of power who would ultimately overpower all of creation. His response is simple — preach Christ crucified — foolishness to the Greeks, weakness and an offence to the Scribes, but to those being saved the wisdom and power of God.

Many in our world worship at the shrines of rationality and power yet find these shrines empty, devoid of meaning that enriches and enhances.

We live as a Church on the margins of society, of national life — the shrines we build in exile are often built out of fear. We have a deep anxiety for survival. St Paul calls forth a different truth built on the one excluded on the Cross. Weak and powerless from this shrine of utter self-emptying God gifts us with a love beyond precepts and power.

I hope each day
to offer less to you.
Each day
by your great love to be
diminished,
until at last I am
so decreased by your hand,
and you so grown in me,
that my whole offering
is just an emptiness
for you to fill.
Or not
According to your will.
        Oblation, Elizabeth Rooney

The God who reveals God's being on a Cross is an offence to our senses, an obstacle to our intellect, a weakness to our desire to survive — a fragility that saves us from ourselves, that bears brokenness with dignity.

And (3), the Temple Jerusalem stood as a shrine to faithfulness and perseverance — a tangible symbol of God's presence in the world. Built, damaged, restored it rose up as a testament to the accumulation of memory, of reconciliation, of whole-hearted devotion to the law.

In the Gospel of John the clearing of the Temple follows from the miracle at Cana of Galilee of Jesus making water into wine. It is placed at the beginning of the Gospel as a symbol of the radical reshrining in Jesus. Jesus makes a whip, drives out those who sold animals, and overturns the tables of the money changers. The disturbance brings out the managers who ask "What's all this mess?" Jesus points out that the primary purpose of the Temple is to worship God and to offer hospitality to the stranger. The people had revised the purpose of the Temple, making sacrifice an organised contractual system that displaced God's activity — God's worship that frees people to be merciful. Jesus' response is astounding: God's temple will be built in three days. "My body will be the temple — crucified, dead and buried. God will raise this new temple in Resurrection power to make every person a temple for God to inhabit."

Etty Hillesun was gassed by the Nazis in Auschwitz. Her vision was to see each person as a house of God, one in whom God finds a house, a shrine of living, pulsating energy. A few days before her death she prays: "I promise you that many empty houses will have you as their guest of honour".

Jesus, in his dying and rising, fills every life with the promise of becoming a house for God. When there is no shrine there is no home. What shrine do you worship at? In this shrine dedicated to the crucified, Risen and ascended one, do we find a home not only for ourselves but for the stranger, the broken, the searching? A shrine that takes us beyond rules, beyond abstractions and rituals, beyond fabric and buildings.

We are the body of Christ we proclaim in our liturgy — a claim that is radical in its absurdity. You and I are temples of the God who in Christ has brought us out of darkness into his marvellous light. Shine as a light in the world.


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