“Surely the Lord is in This Place”

26th Anniversary of the ICCEC Diocese in Europe, 18 September 2022

Genesis 28:10-17, Psalm 84:1-7, Matthew 21:12-16

Many things are happening in the world around us, and questions arise in people’s minds about God and His existence.  Scientifically, the existence of God cannot be either proven or disproven.  Even Christians question where God is in the midst of these things.  Many Europeans have lost faith in God because of two worlds wars; but as Martin Luther King, Jnr. said, it was not God but man who invented the atomic bomb.  It’s ok to ask a question because you are seeking an answer, rather than because you are questioning – those are two different things.

“This is the gate of heaven”

Jacob embarked on a journey at his father’s instruction, and at night he had a dream.  He saw a stairway or ladder reaching heaven, where angels of God were ascending and descending – an activity between the human and the divine.  The Lord was beside him and repeated to him the promise He had made to Abraham and Isaac, Jacob’s grandfather and father: “The land on which you are lying I will give to you, and your descendants will be many.”  Many of us know what Christian faith is, but we come to church because we forget and always need to be reminded;[i] there are many things we forget.

When Jacob awoke, he spoke these staggering words:

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”[ii]

God’s presence may be in our midst, but some people miss it completely.  Jacob would not have known apart from his dream.  For the same reason God told Moses,

“Take off your sandals, because the place you are standing on is holy ground”:[iii]

Moses did not know it was holy.  Jacob said,

““How awesome is this place!” This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”[iv]

That was long before basilicas and cathedrals were built.  If we apply Jacob’s words today, during the Mass we supersede space and time, and we are at the gate of heaven.  Unfortunately, some of us think we are only in a physical location; but if you want a glimpse of heaven, this is where you might see it.

“I did not know it”

Was Jacob hallucinating, or was God speaking to him through a dream?  This story answers many questions.  God wants to do something in your life, but you have to open your heart to Him – He does not force anyone.

Dennis Prager asks,

“Does God make Himself known to individuals?” 

Who of you have seen God?  Who of you have known God?  The answer is yes.  He desires to make Himself known to all, but unfortunately it is only to some, because they desire to know Him.

“Does God make known His presence when His people call out to Him? Yes.

Do humans recognise when God has acted in their lives? Yes.

Does God act in human lives and nations unaware? Yes.”

This is the subject of divine providence. There are many moments and occasions when God is with you, from when you wake up until you lay your head to rest – and even during sleep, otherwise you will never wake up.[v]  But we are unaware of God’s presence and activity; we’re more focused on self and what is happening in the world around us.

This is the house of God

God is everywhere, however not everyone is aware of His presence.  He also designates a certain place on earth to embody His presence, for His presence to be more pronounced.  God permeates the creation with His presence, but He also designates a special place, such as places of worship.

Psalm 84 describes God’s presence in poetic fashion; His tabernacle is worth longing and even fainting for.[vi]  If we believe what the psalmist says, do you look forward to Sunday when you can worship God?  Is it the highest point of the week?  Sunday is not the last but the first day of the week.  I start the week with God, and I always look forward to touching Him in the Eucharist and hearing His voice: Jesus said,

“My sheep hear My voice… and they follow Me.”[vii]

God is a better guide than you are, even if you’re a tour guide; He’s better than a GPS.  I prefer to listen to what God says, and I say, “Jesus, I will follow Your lead.”

The psalmist paints a beautiful picture of someone who loves God: “I want to stay in Your tabernacle, because that’s where I meet You, and where I know that You are with us and Your presence is with us.”  He says in his heart and flesh he will rejoice in God’s presence, which is a secure resting place:[viii]

“For the sparrow has found herself a haven, and the turtle-dove a nest for herself where she may lay her young: even Your altars, o Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.”[ix]

Jews and Christians alike love an ancient record about a bird constructing a nest in the wall of Solomon’s temple.  Why would you not?  If a bird has that sense to be in God’s tabernacle, why not humans?

A house of prayer

In today’s Gospel, after Jesus entered Jerusalem, He acted in a provocative manner by cleansing the temple.  This made many people angry and shocked.  Why such a provocative action and display of righteous anger on the Lord’s part?  God is not always angry, but patient.  The cleansing of the temple is a statement of Jesus’ Kingly authority:

“Why are you making My house a house of merchandise?”[x]

Similarly, He asked Saul of Tarsus,

“Why are you persecuting Me?”[xi]

It is also a statement of what would take place, where Jesus said,

“Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.”[xii]

Humans can concoct from their imagination what a church is or what it should not be; for many of us, it is a place where we fulfil our religious obligation; but unfortunately, we forget that it is where we meet with God, and where He assures us of His presence.  Regardless of what you and I think about it, let us be reminded of what Jesus said:

“My house shall be called a house of prayer”.[xiii]

If we are to be a church, we need to be a prayerful church, because the world needs the Church’s prayer.  His house is also a house of power where the lame and the blind are healed.[xiv]  I pray we will again see that the house of God is a place of power.  Many people, the least, the lost, and the lonely, need a touch of God, the assurance that in difficult times God will never leave or forsake us.  This is where we’re reminded, like Jacob, that I am at the gate of heaven and God is with me.

My favourite Collect, from the Easter Vigil, says,

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favourably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

Empires come and go, but God’s Kingdom will remain.  C.S. Lewis said that the universe one day will end, but the Church will remain if she is connected with her Head, Jesus Christ, because He will remain forever.  We celebrate God’s work in our Church and in the Church universal.

May there be a more intense desire in us to pray.  Life is very difficult, and we come to God; however, some people only come to God when they have problems, but otherwise they don’t go to church.  If you have one problem after another, perhaps God is calling you to come closer to Him.  You don’t have to have problems in order to come to God, but if that is what will cause you to come to Him, I pray that you will have many.

Expect to meet God in worship

When we gather to worship, God’s presence is among us.  But there are people with cancer, people who are struggling for their lives, people who are depressed and seeking solace, and people whose hearts are sorrowful.  We come before God with all our emptiness. 

Sometimes I ask, “Where are You?”  One of our problems is that we don’t understand we are entering into God’s presence; we bring our world into heaven, but the two don’t mix: they cannot merge.  We don’t realise we are entering a holy place.  We are beyond space and time, in the very presence of God, and He wants to do something in your life; but our hearts are closed, our eyes are blind, our ears are deaf.  We need to repent from that: “Lord, we have taken for granted Your presence in our midst.”  No wonder we leave emptier than when we came, more sorrowful, more in need, because for many people coming to church is only a religious ritual, and they have forgotten whom they’re meeting.  I want to see people healed. 

Lord, pour Your power again in our midst.  For those who are struggling, anxious, or who have lost their jobs, we want to see Your activity in our midst.  We have made worship for us rather than for You.

There are people who cannot pay their bills.  The world is suffering and at war, and a recession is looming.  Every Sunday, have a heart of expectation.  There’s nothing in this world you need, but God.  What you’re looking for is not in the world: it’s not in your job or your bank account.  What your heart is seeking is in Christ.  But unfortunately, Jesus is number five or ten on our list; He should be number one, at the very centre.  We’ve made Him too little in our eyes.  No wonder we no longer see His power in our midst. 

We want the lame, the blind, those who are suffering, and the lost, to come to Jesus, and to leave a different person because they have met the King of kings and Lord of lords.  There is power in meeting Christ in the Eucharist; but often we are here physically but not in our hearts.  Be present not only physically but also in your heart, and seek God in your heart.  Lift your hands to God, worship Him, and acknowledge His presence in our midst.

We worship You, almighty God.  Thank You for being with us, for letting Yourself be known to us.  Fill this place with Your glory, heal those who are sick, touch the hearts of those who are in despair, illumine the hearts and minds of those who are doubting.  Give us the hope and the peace that the world cannot give.  Be blessed with our praise in acknowledging Your presence.

God is so present in our midst that you even get to touch Him, and to receive Him in your heart.  If God meets you in worship, may it give you a desire to meet Him again the next Sunday.  When you leave after the Mass, never forget that God goes with you.

Study questions:

  1. If you ask questions about God, do you seek to confirm your doubt or to grow in your faith?
  2. How aware or unaware are you of God’s presence and activity?  To what extent do we need to be aware, and why?  What prevents you from being aware, and what could help you become more aware?
  3. Do you regard Sunday as the first and most important day of the week, and look forward to worship as the highest point of the week; or do you see it as the last day, and worship as less important than your other activities?  Is there any reason why you don’t want to be in the church, as the special place of God’s presence?
  4. Do you draw near to God and go to church when you have a problem, or because you want to meet with Him?  Is it better to be without problems, or to be closer to God?
  5. Do you go to church on Sunday with a sense of entering a holy place (not the building, but God’s presence)?  Have you learned to set aside your activities in the world to focus on meeting with Him? What would help you to do so more effectively?
  6. When you go to church, do you expect to encounter God and to be transformed?  Do you leave the same as you were before, or having encountered Him?  Do you believe God will solve your problem?  If not, why not?  What would help to raise your level of preparation and expectation?
  7. Do you see the church to which you belong as a house of prayer and a house of power where the (physically and spiritually) blind and the lame are healed and where God transforms people’s lives?  How can you contribute to it becoming more so?

[i] II Peter 1:12-15

[ii] Genesis 28:16, NKJV

[iii] Exodus 3:5

[iv] Genesis 28:17, NKJV

[v] see Psalm 3:5

[vi] Psalm 84:2

[vii] John 10:27

[viii] i Fr. Patrick Reardon, Christ in the Psalms

[ix] Psalm 84:3

[x] see Matthew 21:13, John 2:16

[xi] Acts 9:4, emphasis added

[xii] John 2:19

[xiii] Matthew 21:13

[xiv] Matthew 21:14

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