Sermon: A Woman Comes…

alabaster jar

Mark 14: 1 – 11

Jesus is a troublemaker….a rabble-rouser…an instigator. He has created mayhem with the moneychangers in the Temple. He has openly criticized and challenged the Pharisees and the Scribes, the religious rulers of his people, in town after town, synagogue after synagogue.

He has ridden into Jerusalem in a procession mocking Roman pomp and circumstance, the only people who would ride in procession anywhere. But worst of all, Jesus has stirred up the people and brought them into the streets shouting and daring to hope that the Messiah, their promised Savior, has come at last to liberate them from tyranny.

Jesus is dangerous. He is a marked man. The chief priests and scribes are looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. They agree that it can’t be during this time of festival, because they are afraid the people will riot.

This is a very real fear on the part of these Jewish leaders. There were thirty-two riots during Pilate’s ten years as governor of Judea. He put down each one. And he would put them down brutally, with punishing repercussions.

Remember, the Pharisees and Scribes weren’t innately evil. They were human beings, just like us. Yes, they wanted to maintain their own lifestyles and to protect their positions and prestige. Don’t we have similar desires? None of us wants to lose our job, or lose our home, or lose the respect and friendship of our neighbors.

The problem is, the Pharisees and scribes were afraid, so very afraid. And there was so much to be afraid of. They were trying to preserve their nation. Trying to preserve their history. Trying to retain their faith and their way of life in the face of a brutal foreign occupation.

They were trying to keep the peace, and maintain the status-quo. They were trying above all else, to please and appease those who ruled over them. They were in a painfully, precarious position, sitting on a tinderbox…and they could see Jesus was a brightly, burning spark surrounded by dry, discontented tinder.

We can’t ever know what Judas’ reasons were for betraying Jesus. In John’s version of this story, Judas is a thief who has been stealing from the purse that the disciples and Jesus share among themselves for food and supplies. So it could be he betrays Jesus simply for the money.

Some scholars speculate that Judas was a rebel who wanted to lead a revolt and had Jesus arrested hoping to spark an uprising. We can’t know. But it is clear in all four Gospels, that when Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is dangerous…and he is in danger.

Then, in the midst of the scheming, the plotting, the danger and intrigue, a woman comes…

Jesus is eating in the house of Simon the Leper, a place that would be considered unclean. He is eating with a person who would be off-limits, shunned, and avoided. Leper’s were not to be associated with or even touched, much less someone you would sit and have lunch with. And yet, true to his heart, Jesus is at the table with Simon the Leper, sharing a meal.

And a woman comes…

Who is this unnamed woman?

Is it the woman from the well, who was shocked that Jesus even noticed her, much less spoke to her? Is it the Canaanite woman who’s dying daughter was healed because she begged for crumbs from the master’s table? Was it the crippled woman that Jesus claimed as a child of God, who grew straight and tall with the joy of being lifted up? Or is it the adulteress who wasn’t stoned but sent on her way in love, to sin no more?

A woman comes and she could be any woman…and she could be every woman…

In the midst of the male machinations, and politics, and power plays, greed, and betrayal, a woman comes and she brings a priceless gift. Not just the expensive perfume, but her loving devotion.

Powerful men around Jesus are planning his death. One of his chosen is collaborating with Jesus enemies.

And a woman comes with an alabaster jar, a fragile thing of beauty, filled with expensive perfume, and she honors him. A woman comes to Jesus in love and faith and anoints him and offers him succor.

And in anointing Jesus, he who has blessed so many others,

…she now blesses him.

In the midst of betrayal, scheming, greed, desertion, fear, anger, and cowardice…..a woman comes with an alabaster jar. And Jesus is tended and cared for, loved, cherished, and blessed….before he is to be broken.

I wonder if it gives him comfort and strength when he stands in a farce of a fixed trial, facing trumped up charges, accused of things he didn’t do. Perhaps the rich spicy smell of the nard oil lingers on his skin, and in his hair and reminds him that love and compassion is possible…even as he faces all that hatred and endures all that pain….

I wonder if the smell and feel of that aromatic gift, helps him remember what it’s all about, why he came, what his mission and purpose is, even as he hangs in agony on the cross. Perhaps it helps him remember he is dying to bring new life to what is good in people, and to shine light into the evil and oppressive darkness that can be found in every human heart.

I hope that it was a parting gift for him – a reminder that he made a difference in the lives of so many people, a reminder that he brought healing, and comfort, and love… I hope it reminded him that his message would live on…even after he was gone.

A woman came….

…and I hope that her touch and her tears were a gift that reminded him of all the best that human beings can be, a gift that he carried in his heart through all the worst that human beings could do in the coming days.

This story of caring and loving generosity literally in the middle of plotting hatred and betrayal, reminds us that in the midst of the worst we can be, there is also the best we can be. This story reminds us that we have the potential to be any of people we see in this story, so our question today is…

What does Jesus healing and gift of salvation inspire us to do in Jesus name?

We get to choose how we respond to Jesus sacrifice and call – with fear, reluctance, resistance? Stubbornly clinging to the status quo? Or with loving kindness, generosity, faith and devotion?

As we head toward that Last Supper where bread is blessed and broken, As we journey to the cross with Jesus, where his body is broken, we need to listen for Jesus calling us to be broken open like the alabaster jar, so that we can pour love and healing into all the broken places in the world in Jesus name.

Jesus breaks our hearts so that we can bring love into the midst of hate; Joy in the midst of sorrow, Peace into the middle of war; Justice where there is prejudice; welcome where there are closed doors; and hope where there is only despair. Jesus breaks our hearts open, like the alabaster jar, so that we can pour out as blessings on the children of God, bringing love, being love, becoming nothing but love.

Jesus calls….a woman comes…a blessing is given…a body is broken…and our hearts and our world are broken open forever.

Never to be the same.

Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is she who comes in the name of the Lord.

Let us pray,

Jesus, Fill us with the crumbs from your table. Reach out your hand and raise us up. Claim us as your own. Pour us into the world to bring love, healing and comfort in your name. Amen

Con-tent-ment: the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

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Do you remember a catchy little song from the ’80’s that went, “Don’t worry, be happy” for about 10 minutes straight? It would get stuck in my mind and become an unintentional mental mantra. In some ways, it also became a spiritual meditation for me when things were going crazy at work.

It’s actually not a bad mantra in an age when we’ve learned that chronic worry is detrimental to our health. Chronic worry can reduce the quality of our lives. Worry can wear us down and deplete us. Worry can interfere with our ability to live our lives with joy and appreciation for the goodness and beauty that can be found in each day…if we open our hearts and minds and look for it.

The peace activist, Thích Nhất Hạnh says, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” We long for peace in our world, peace in our country, peace among politicians, peace among neighbors, peace in our families. But true peace, begins in our own hearts. Peace grows out of a sense of satisfaction with what and who we are. If even a rock can find peace and contentment in just being, why can’t we?

Jesus says, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25,27.

So, when it’s finally time to climb into bed at the end of the day, give yourself a break! You did the best you could, or maybe you didn’t, doesn’t matter. Tomorrow’s another day. Put yourself in God’s hands and don’t worry…..be happy.

Sermon: A Grain of Wheat

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Jer 31: 31 – 34
John 12: 20 – 36

During the worst of the winter, we had some water start coming in the house because of the ice dams on our roof. One bathroom closet had so much water coming in that I had to spend a frantic morning taking everything out of it so all the stuff wouldn’t get soaked and so I could jam towels against the walls and put buckets on the shelves.

Consequently, our kitchen table has been covered with the entire contents of our sizeable bathroom closet for about a month now. We also have boxes of mementos we took out of Bob’s parents house in the fall still stacked around the kitchen as well.

We have a little path carved through the boxes so that I can water the plants on the windowsills and we can get to the dog’s food bins.  It has overwhelmed me every time I have gone into the kitchen and it has mentally been wearing me down as the weeks have gone by.

Spring fever finally hit me last week, and I started sorting through all the stuff on the table. I discovered a box of soap crayons that the kids used to use to draw on the bathroom wall. I discovered a gallon jug of Mr. Bubble – do they even make that anymore?

And there was a bin of misc. rubber duckys, plastic boats, lego characters, and one baking soda powered submarine. Considering my “kids” have been taking showers now for several years, it was a fairly easy decision to toss these items.

I found medications, unguents, and lotions that had long ago expired, some had solidified and some had separated into slime. I found used ace bandages that were stretched out and ragged. I found Halloween makeup that had melted, …you get the picture.

I was able to reduce four stuffed bathroom shelves down to four small bins mostly filled with a colorful variety of band-aids and a bunch of brand new toothbrushes and small toothpastes collected after years of dentist visits.

I was astounded by how much useless and unusable stuff had accumulated in that closet over the years. It felt good to clear out the clutter. The best reward was that it freed up our kitchen table for its intended purpose, gathering to share a meal as a family where we can sit and look at each other, instead of circling up around the TV as we have been this winter.

l hadn’t realized the emotional and mental weight of that accumulation of stuff until it was bagged up and gone from the house! Now, I feel a wonderful lightness of spirit every time I look at that table top oasis of cleared space in my kitchen!

The weight of accumulated stuff, mental stuff, physical stuff, spiritual, and emotional stuff, can be overwhelming. Like the frozen mountains of snow that surrounded this church for weeks, accumulated stuff can slowly imprison us and paralyze us.

Jesus says, “Anyone who holds on to life just as it is, anyone who clings tenaciously to the stuff of this life, to the familiar, unhealthy patterns in their life, over time, can destroy that very life.”  When we won’t let go of unhealthy habits, when we won’t push our boundaries, or test our assumptions, or expand our horizons, or look at ourselves from a different perspective…

…when we let things build up over time, whether it is plaque on our teeth, or small resentments and frustrations carried in our hearts – our Spirits, become overwhelmed, depleted, and exhausted, and the law and inspiration of God, written into our hearts begins to atrophy.  We go on auto-pilot and we stop embracing God’s world around us and we stop growing God’s world within us.

When we let things pile up, we can no longer see where we are going and, just like in my kitchen, we begin to move through the built up congestion on narrow little paths that hem us in and inhibit freedom of movement, that keep us from doing the meaningful things we want to do, and can eventually stop us, frozen in our tracks….leaving us in a state of life support – alive, but not living life, certainly not living God’s hope and call for our lives.

But Jesus says, “if you let go, if you let go of your life, the clutter and stuff in your life, the things that you have made of your life, if you empty yourself, if you are reckless and unfettered in your love, rooted in God and God’s law written in our hearts, you’ll have life forever, real, vigorous, and eternal.”

Jesus tells us that if we let control of our lives go, if we are reckless in loving, we will discover the life God intends for us – a life rooted in God’s love, and in sharing God’s love with others.  Letting go of our “self”, emptying ourselves, surrendering our lives, means becoming that grain of wheat…

Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

“Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than one grain of wheat. But if it is buried, in God’s word, and nourished with God’s love, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.”

A grain of wheat only emerges in the rich darkness of the earth, just as Jesus emerges from the darkness of the tomb, and the darkness of death. The grain of wheat then grows towards the warmth and light, finally bursting forth bearing fruit to nourish and feed others.

Jesus says, “If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You will be children of light.”

As a church, we are walking in darkness right now, not knowing where we are going, not knowing what lies ahead, as we embark upon this process of discernment. Jesus calls us to leave our ‘selves’ behind and discover God’s intentions for us and discernment is one of the ways we can do that, as individuals, and as a community of faith.

Discernment leads us through a process of dying to “self” and guides us into becoming one mind, and one faithful body in Christ. Discernment is a journey of discovering the life that God intends for us, as individuals, and over the coming weeks, as a community.
Jesus tells us that when we find ourselves walking in darkness, to believe in the light…believe in the light…believe…in the light.

I want to leave you with this poem by Joyce Rupp. It is called “Seed Song.” And I want to invite you to imagine yourself as the seed in this poem. Maybe close your eyes, if you wish. And imagine it is you – your “self” being planted. You, not dead, but dormant, lying beneath the remaining mounds of snow, you waiting for something….

you…yearning for something….

“Seed Song”
Joyce Rupp

I am the seed, so small, so dry,
lifted in the hand of the silent Sower.

into the earth I fearfully fall,
darkness covers me, silence surrounds me.

the terror of my heart is the only sound to keep me company.

all that is me, huddles together, trying desperately not to surrender any part of self.

“why was I planted?” I cry out.

“why am I here?” I entreat.

“take me out into light;
I cannot bear this deathly dark.”

I weary. I weaken.
the days become long.
I can no longer fight.
I surrender in this lonely place of waiting.

quietly, I sense
a penetrating warmth;
it surrounds me;

it fills me
and blesses my pain.

in a moment of peacefulness
I forget my fear.

I let go of my self, and suddenly, the husk that holds me
weakens and breaks.

“No!” I scream.
I am losing my self, but it is too late.
the husk is cracked; I cannot be contained.

It is then that I sense a deep power
deep inside of me, encouraging me:

“let go. let go. let go.”

it is an energy that pushes the husk…until it falls away.

as it slips aside, my eyes behold color.
ah! can it be? a tiny glimpse of green!

“how could that be?” I marvel,
“there was never green in the heart of me.”

yet, it is there;
each day it slowly stretches upwards
to where the warm seems to be.

I become less of a seed. I am losing my self
but the pain I once knew is lost in surprise;
something wonderful is greening and growing
deep within my heart.

days go quickly now.
I become one with the small stem of life.

oh! the glorious moment
when, ah, …breath of Spring…fast fills my face.

I move through the hard earth and taste the world which awaits my arrival.

from within my tender shoot comes a soft sound.
I listen. I hear.
it is a song to the Sower;

O Sower of seeds, did you always see
the gift of green that was hiding in me?

O Sower of seeds, how came you to prize
the beauty within, that I hid from my eyes?

O Sower of seeds,
the husk has been broken;
all praise to you for helping me open.

Accept now my praise,
my thankfulness, too,
for the seed you have sown
and the gift that you grew.

May you lead me to others
who await your good word,

so the seeds within them
can awake and be heard.

Let us pray,

O Silent Sower, nourish the seeds of love and compassion that you have planted in our hearts. Awaken us and send us out into your world to serve in your name. Let your light shine within us, and out through our lives. Let us be your children of light.

Tol-er-ance: To endure without repugnance; put up with;capacity to endure pain or hardship

cops and protester hugging

What is your pain threshold? I can tolerate moderate pain up to a certain point, and then I admit, I get whiney! When I had my emergency eye surgery, one of the most difficult parts of that experience was when the very young residents were trying to insert an IV into my dehydrated and invisible veins. They tried eight different locations on my right arm, wiggling and digging the needle around…well, I know I’ve already shared more than some of you want to know or hear about needles!

The ability to tolerate pain varies widely among people and for each person it’s different. I can tolerate pain, but I certainly don’t seek it out or embrace it. I don’t like it and I pretty much avoid it as much as possible. That’s why Jesus doesn’t teach us to “tolerate” our neighbors and our enemies. A world of tolerance means we will put up with our neighbors when we have to…but we won’t seek them out or embrace them. That’s why Jesus doesn’t talk about tolerance…that creates a world that requires fences and walls in order to make good neighbors. Jesus gives us the much harder task. Jesus tells us that we must learn to love them. To embrace and love them all.

“I say unto you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who insult you and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:45)

Sermon: Emptying Ourselves

Jesus calling disciples

Philippians 2: 1 – 17

What does it mean “to have the same mind in you that was in Jesus Christ”?

Or to put it in a slightly different way, What does it mean to follow in Jesus footsteps? When I think of Jesus footsteps, I think of a giant dinosaur footprint and when I place my foot it in, it doesn’t seem like a very good fit. In this passage, Paul provides some instructions and guidance but I’m not sure how well it translates into our modern day, every day lives.

Let’s start with this instruction – “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend.”

I know that there are faith traditions that include kneeling. Kneeling is not really a part of our church’s tradition, so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. I carried that image of kneeling to Jesus around with me for a few days and I made some discoveries.

For example:

I discovered that I kneel when I put on our dog’s harness in order to walk her on her leash. I kneel when I’m trying to vacuum the dust bunnies from under the beds…or to reach the last box of kleenex in the back of the bathroom vanity. And, I kneel a lot more than I would like to, to clean up food and juice spills off my kitchen floor.

But I think there might be a good reason why kneeling is not a part of our church’s tradition. It’s not comfortable! The floor is hard! My knees hurt!! And I’m embarrassed to admit that the longer I stay down kneeling, the less likely it is that I will be able to stand up! So, kneeling doesn’t feel like a good fit for me.

What else does Paul offer us?

“Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, He humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death.”

Slave!

Some translations let us off the hook and use ‘servant’. I find it much more comfortable to relate to the idea of “servant.” I serve my family meals. I serve them by doing laundry and household chores. I serve in this church. I serve communion. I serve my community.

When I serve, I get to choose when and where and who. You don’t get to say, ‘I’, when you are a slave. A slave is someone who does not get to make their own choices. A slave is someone who has no power over their life. And what is the number one requirement of a slave?

It’s not a trick question, Paul tells us – it’s Obedience to a Master. Well, “Obey” is the first word that I took out of my wedding vows. The only time the word ‘obedience’ has turned up in my house is when we had a dog and we were looking for an ‘obedience’ school. I was brought up in America, the land of the free. I was raised to be self-confident, self-reliant, and self-sufficient….”obedient slave” is not an image that I can easily relate to.

Although…..

I do sometimes slave over a hot stove all day….and recently a friend told me that she feels she is a slave to her IPhone…and sometimes I feel my family has been enslaved by the TV, especially when I find myself planning dinner around Battle of the Nerds, or Red Sox play-offs. So I am starting to wonder about the things in our lives that we do give power over us, sometimes in unhealthy ways…

But Obedience, Humility, slave…I’m still not feeling comfortable with these images. And then we have one more instruction from Paul…he says that Jesus ‘emptied himself’…

I am a middle aged, American woman who is 15…well,…20…all right, 30 pounds overweight! You can look at me and know I don’t spend a lot of time being empty. My kids learned early on that if they tell me they are hungry just before bed time, I will give them a snack because I don’t want them going to bed empty.

Americans have full calendars, we are full of ideas, we want rich full lives…so, how do we wrap ourselves around this idea of emptying ourselves?

I wrestled with this question often during my discernment process in examining my call to a life in Pastoral Ministry. I was having some intense conversations with God about what this decision was going to mean. Being a musician I said, “God, make me your instrument.”

And God said,

“an instrument is empty.
An instrument has no music of it’s own.
An instrument waits in silence for the hand of it’s Master to pick it up and play.”

And I said, “God, I want to give you my life, all that I am, my skills, experience, talents, I give them all to you.”

And God said, “you must leave all that behind.”

And I said, “God, I don’t understand….that is all that I am…all that I have to give to doing your work in the world.”

And God said,

“That is what you have made of your life.
You need to leave all that behind, and see what I will make of your life.”

How do we empty ourselves? How do we set our egos aside? How do we relinquish our illusion of control over events in our lives, and turn our lives over to God?

For me, it’s in fits and starts! In bits and pieces! In moments of pain and brokenness…and in moments of blistering joy. I’m still in the process of discovering what God will make of my life…It’s an ongoing, never-ending challenge giving each day into God’s care.

I have shared this part of my discernment story before but I thought I would offer it again as we prepare to embark on our shared journey of discernment as a church. Part of discerning God’s will for us means stepping out of familiar routines. It means stepping off the familiar road…it means leaving the beaten path and taking the road less travelled.

Like Jesus, we are going to leave behind all that is familiar and cherished and structured and organized and comfortable, and spend some time wandering the unfamiliar wilderness seeking God’s will for our life and ministry together.

It is difficult and scary to set aside all that is familiar and head into the unknown. But don’t forget, we are entering into this process together. Take a look around for a minute…wave at your neighbor….look what good company we are in…the best of company…

Look around at who you will be journeying with to discover or re-discover – God’s singular purpose for us as a faith community today, here and now, us…together.

So let us give ourselves and our church into God’s safe keeping – so that we will be free to see what God will make of us – or re-make of us, so that we can “shine like stars in the world,” to shine like stars FOR the world.

What does it mean to YOU to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?

You know,

Mary knelt in front of Jesus when she anointed him and washed his feet with her hair.

Jesus knelt in the garden when he pleaded with God to show him another way.

Jesus’ mother knelt at the foot of the cross while they crucified her son.

I don’t think we can call any of these places comfortable.

Perhaps the first step in following in Jesus’ footsteps is kneeling. Perhaps the first step toward obedience to God is being UN – comfortable! Perhaps the first step in leaving our ‘selves’ behind is to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and out of our comfortable places!

Obedience….humility….slave….Master.

These were Paul’s steps in following more closely where Jesus was leading him.

What will our steps be?

Re-sur-rect: Rising again, as from decay, disuse, etc.; revival. To bring back to life.

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Did you ever think you would be so happy to see dirt? DIRT! Squishy, muddy, beautiful brown dirt! We have spent the last few weeks entombed in snow and ice, the dreary bleakness seeping into our souls. The soggy weight of winter has bogged us down and we’ve gone into hibernation. We’ve hunkered in our homes waiting for the breath of spring that we had almost believed might never come. As the sun’s warmth begins to melt the frozen mounds at last, we are reminded that Lent is not our season of despair. Lent is our season to remember that God opened a way through the red sea, that Jesus stilled the fiercest storms, that we have been promised that when we turn our hearts towards God, the path will be made straight and God will get us through. We remember that the cross, that death, is not the end of our journey. From the bare, dark earth, new life will push forth. From an empty tomb, love and hope will pour out into the world. We remember that we are not a dying church. We are a resurrection church. We are the church of life, death, and new life, in and through Christ. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17) May you see the world in new and beautiful ways! Happy Spring thaw!!

Sermon: Cleaning House

Cleansing the Temple

Jesus Cleansing the Temple

Psalm 19
John 2: 13 – 23

Jesus is angry.

He arrives at the Temple, the religious heart and soul of his people, the place where God dwells, and he gets really, really angry. What he sees makes him so livid, so enraged, that he fashions a whip of cords, and begins driving the livestock, the sellers, and the money changers out of the temple. Just imagine bulls, cows, sheep, and goats running wild! Imagine pigeons and doves whirling madly about overhead! Think of the chaos that ensued! People would have been shouting and cursing and screaming as the animals started to stampede their way out into the narrow streets.

The streets would have been crowded to the walls with pilgrims and merchants gathered for this annual festival. Many of them would have been slowly making their way up the narrow winding streets to pay their mandatory tithe, to make a sacrifice, and to peacefully worship in God’s holy house.

But Jesus has gone berzerk and there is only bedlam and pandemonium! Jesus pours out the coins of the money changers and knocks over all their tables. I imagine the money changers were scrambling around on their hands and knees desperately trying to gather up all the coins. I imagine a few bystanders also fell to their knees to gather up what coins they could grab as well.

Imagine the Temple officials, the Pharisees, the priests, and the Scribes, standing there in shock and fury as Jesus ran amuck during the highest of holy festivals when all of Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims, travelers, merchants, and Roman soldiers who had come from far and near.

Is it any wonder that Jesus became a marked man in their eyes?

I suspect the disciples were also shocked by what was happening. Were they pressed against the walls, trying to stay out of the way of the panicking animals and confusion of people? Or were they trying to stay close to Jesus in his rampage in case soldiers came or in case the temple authorities tried to grab him. Were they secretly rejoicing at the opportunity to finally fly in the face of this corrupt system that had grown into a voracious predator consuming even the poorest widows’ last two mites…Of course, we can’t really know what they were thinking or feeling but we can be certain of one thing….

Following Jesus was never easy.

We often condemn the disciples for their act of desertion in Gethsemane, but think of all the times they must have been terrified and they stayed. Sometimes we forget what courageous hearts and deep convictions the disciples had in order to stick with Jesus, the rebel, the troublemaker, the rule breaker, and the world changer. They stayed in the face of evil spirits. They stayed in the face of the hostility of their religious authorities. They stayed when Jesus’ own home town threatened to stone him to death. They stayed when Jesus spirit radiated forth in all his unbelievable glory. They stayed when the storms threatened to sink them beneath the waves and Jesus walked on water to rescue them.

We have grown accustomed to thinking only of Jesus meek and mild, Jesus our gentle shepherd, but for the disciples, being with Jesus must have been mostly terrifying.

What was it that made Jesus so very angry?

Jesus arrives at the Temple and he sees a self-serving, “for profit” business in full swing. He sees that the Temple has made worshipping God a transaction, a money maker, much like our commercialization of Christmas and Easter today. He sees a process that has nothing to do with deepening a person’s connection to God, and in fact, emphasizes their unworthiness. Jesus sees that God and God’s law is being ignored in God’s own house.

Can you afford a bull to sacrifice or merely a puny pigeon? You can’t even afford a pigeon or pay your required tithe? Then you are unclean and undeserving of access to God’s love or attention.

What Jesus sees when he enters the Temple is that if you are poor, you are not welcome in God’s house.

So, Jesus starts cleaning up. He knocks down and drives away all that is barring entry and access to God. He tears down the artificial barriers that have been erected and he obliterates the obstacles that have been created to keep out the least, the most helpless, and the most vulnerable. Jesus removes all that stands between God and all God’s people.

And then he goes one step further. He clears the final barrier.

He says, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” and then we learn that he is speaking “of the temple of his body.” He clears the final barrier for all people by saying the Temple isn’t necessary because he, and we, are God’s Temple. Jesus clears the way for them…and for us. When he declares that the Temple is not necessary or needed because God’s people, are God’s dwelling place, that may be his greatest sacrilege in the eyes of his religious leaders, and the one that ultimately gets him killed.

Father Richard Rohr, author, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation says, “When God is seen as ‘outside,‘ the sacrificial system will remain. However, when God moves inside, you are the temple and sacrifice is no longer required. The only sacrifice now, is me.”

Jesus reminds us that the most worthy sacrifice we have to give to God is our devotion, our whole hearts, our daily lives. The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul.” And then Jesus adds, “and love your neighbor as you love yourself…and even love your enemy.” Jesus’ mission among us, is to exemplify the one most important lesson he would have us learn, that the one most important and precious thing for us is our relationship with God.

Lent is our time as Christians to think of how we can clean house. To look inside ourselves and to examine our lives together as a faith community to see what obstacles and barriers we can eliminate in order to more closely connect to God and more faithfully follow Jesus.

As a church, we are in the process of cleaning house.

And I’m not just speaking about the snow mountains! We all know that our church system isn’t working as well as we would like it to. Some of our familiar systems are breaking down, people are burning out, and some days, we feel adrift and disconnected from each other and from the action of God’s spirit.

I love our church building. The sanctuary is warm and cozy – I love the dark beams and the beautiful diffused light that comes through the stained glass windows. But God’s house is here. God’s house is wherever two or more gather in Christ’s name. God’s house is, us, we the people of the Stratford Street United Church.

Following Jesus isn’t easy.

It takes courage and conviction. And it takes something that we all have, it takes heart and compassion. I am filled with hope and optimism for our church because of all of you. The road may seem bumpy right now, but I believe that as we continue to talk, and pray, and listen for God’s voice, together, that the way will be made straight and the path will be made clear for us.

I also believe that where ever our path leads us, where ever we go, God goes…with us…and in us….

Let us pray,

O Loving God, fill us with the Holy Spirit and help us to clean our own house. Make straight the path that will lead us home to you.