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.

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