Harrowing Of Hell
March 8, 2021

Aunt Maria and Zeal

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

“Zeal for your house will consume me.” That is a word I get excited about, zeal. It is a word that gets a bad rap—a zealot, a person blindly compelled by an idea, irrespective of its costs, particularly cost to relationship. I believe zeal means just the opposite. I believe zeal is all about relationship.

Zeal is the opposite of apathy, it is the antithesis of indifference, in fact, it is the antidote to lethargy and neglect and division. Zeal means to be ALIVE. With alertness…and fervor…and joy. My hope today is for you to enthusiastically claim zeal as your own! There are three types of zeal we will examine: zeal for your body; zeal for this parish; and zeal for justice in the community. 

But I want to start this conversation about zeal by telling you about my Aunt Maria. She died recently at age 94, and as all the cousins gathered on-line, I was reminded of her zeal. She was wonderfully robust in body and mind.

She lived on a farm her whole life and worked on it until she was in her eighties. She was vigorous, to say the least. She had a fervency of mind, and a heart filled with wisdom, as well. There was not a bone of indifference, or lethargy, or neglect in her body.

And, for her entire life she attended Gering (NE) United Methodist Church. Her ministry was teaching Sunday School, a ministry she started at 18 and continued on until she was 89. She had a zeal for children and this church, and there are families in Gering today for whom four generations were taught to love Jesus by Aunt Maria. That is work that matters.

One of Aunt Maria’s signature moves in managing kindergartners was putting them in “Time-in”… not “Time-out,” but “Time-in.” What that meant was that in the face of bad behavior justice was meted out by Aunt Maria by doubling down on relationship, by inviting the child to “be with” Aunt Maria. The child sat next to her and did their art project next to her and had snack next to her, and when it was time to go up to the big church they got to walk with her and sit with her in the pew; and you can bet sing with her as well. Justice meant more connection, more relationship, and more community.

Now I want to draw some lines between the zeal Aunt Maria possessed and the zeal we hear about in today’s Gospel. The Bible tells us that Jesus displayed “zeal for his father’s house.” This is a quote from Psalm 69. Now when the Psalmist wrote that sentence, a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, he was talking about the Temple where people came to worship God. What happens through Jesus is that this piece of scripture got re-visioned, shifting from zeal for a building, to zeal for a body, Jesus’ resurrected body, and from there to zeal for the body of Christ, which includes you and me, both individually and as a church.

Jesus has a zeal for your body; and Jesus has zeal for the body of Christ, the church. What that means is that Jesus actually cares about our bodies. Jesus considers each one of these bodies to be a Temple made to house the Holy Spirit.

You and I are Temple Masters, and as Temple masters we have two jobs:
                   1) continually making space here, in our hearts, for the Holy Spirit
                   2) taking care of these Temples so they can be of good service as long as they can be of good service.

For me that means riding my exercise bike four days a week, with zeal. I get that thing moving so fast the dresser bangs against the wall, and in my mind’s eye I’m in seventh grade skating blue line red line drills at hockey practice– pushing so hard that by the end I’m ready to heave over the side of the boards. Back then, I was working out to win games, now I work out so I can do four services on a Sunday and still get in an afternoon tennis match with that kid who mocks me for working out with zeal.

Jesus wants us to be healthy in body so we can be fully the Temple of the Holy Spirit we were created to be. That means sleeping well, eating right, exercising, studying, praying, worshiping, fasting and all the other things that are required for good physical and mental health…including getting your vaccines as soon as you can.

And when we are of healthy constitution, we are better able to employ zeal for our church. The church was made with zeal to be the place where the Temples reside, together becoming the body of Christ.

Now I’ve talked about zeal for the body, and I’ve talked about zeal for the church, the body of Christ, and now I want to talk about zeal for justice in our community; I want to do so under a neon light that reads JUSTICE, flashing out over the public square named Time-in, like Aunt Maria’s Time-in.

Time-in is about justice, and justice is about community, and community is about the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is about these bodies, mine and yours, right here, right now, made with zeal by God to house the Holy Spirit. That is what Jesus is expressing in today’s Gospel: “zeal for his father’s house.” 

So, let me say it again: A Time-in is about justice, and justice is about community, and community is about the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is about these bodies, mine and yours, right here, right now, made with zeal by God to house the Holy Spirit.

Every single body that there is was made by God to house the Holy Spirit. Look around. Temples… and Jesus has zeal for these Temples. And if Jesus does, so should we. When you are walking down the street, look around: you are on a sacred blue green plot of land, a public square filled with 7 billion Temples made to house the Holy Spirit.

This Great Time-out I have spoken about during this pandemic is coming to an end. The Great Time-out, the much needed Time-out, brought to stark relief inequalities baked into our system. Education, employment, criminal justice, and health equity were all highlighted by COVID-19.

Now that we have seen what we need to see, now that we have learned what we need to learn, now it is all about Time-in; just like Aunt Maria…when the community is in need, when justice is required, the most important thing we can do is connect, not disconnect. The most important thing we can say is: “It is time for Time-in.”

It is time for vigorous, new connection with zeal. That is the point of being the body of Christ: To be in. To be connected. To be inclusive. To have zeal for our Father’s house(s). You are invited to step into the Great Time-in, into the light of the neon sign that reads JUSTICE…

There are no shortage of things to do. We have a group right here at Epiphany forming right now to become involved with prison reform. This is work close to my heart. During college I tutored prisoners at Cook County Jail in Chicago, and when I was in California, I heard confessions at LA County Jail. I have met men of grace and redemption. Prison reform is work that matters. We also have a group right here at Epiphany right now involved in helping people find permanent housing. To date we have helped three families…that is work that matters.

But, as you step out into the public square of Time-in, illuminated by the light of justice, I invite you to read my letter in this Sunday’s bulletin. Now is also the time to consider your own life in the milieu of pandemic as you step back into your communal calling as a mission critical body in the body of Christ. 

The world needs people like you out there right now; to encounter injustice wherever you find it, and then work to honor whatever Temple Master you meet as a home made for the Holy Spirit.

Now, I’ll say it again, so no one misunderstand me, I am not encouraging you to do anything that is unsafe, nor am I encouraging you to go out before you are ready, but I am encouraging you to consider the Great Time-in and the bright light of justice that is beckoning us…I am asking you to consider what role Jesus is calling you to; because you matter; what you do matters.                 

This Great Time-in is a time to double down on the kingdom of God. This Great Time-in is a time to double down on relationship like Aunt Maria did.  Let yourself be drawn close to Jesus with zeal. You and I are bodies that matter to Jesus, and together our bodies make up the body of Christ, the church, to realize justice in our community as our defining duty in the Great Time-in that we embrace with zeal.

To read Doyt’s bulletin letter click here.