Misunderstanding Jesus Message!

March 4, 2018 (The Third Sunday of Lent)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

8:00 EHE/10:30 Children’s Spring Musical

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

John 2:13-22

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:13-22, NRSV)

 

Let us Pray: Holy God, shape us and transform us by your grace, that we may grow in wisdom and in confidence, pressing forward until your kingdom comes. Amen.

 

Our story begins in Jerusalem, it is the start of the Passover.  Jerusalem is the holy city of that time and the temple the most holy of places.  So, one would expect all kinds of holy activities to happen in the temple — praying, worshiping, caring for the poor and needy, kindness, honesty.  Jerusalem is also the center of power and influence, under Roman rule.  So, it is not the safest place for Jesus to be preaching and teaching a message that calls into question Roman power and influence.  Nevertheless, Jerusalem is the center of religious life and Jesus knows that he must be there.  This confluence of holiness and power is exactly what Jesus encounters that day.

 

Observant Jews were called to go to the temple three times a year to offer sacrifices to God.  They were expected to journey to Jerusalem for three holy feasts: Passover, Tabernacles and Weeks.  Since many of these Jews had to travel great distances it was impractical to bring their sacrificial animals with them.  So, the temple had sacrificial animals available for sale.  However, because of the Roman rule the financial transaction had to be carried out Roman currency.  Inside the temple grounds there were animals for sale, food and supplies for the animals and money changers all available to make the sacrifices possible.  The Roman government also got a cut of the action.

 

So, Jesus enters the temple and finds what one would expect during one of these three pilgrimage festivals.  The vendors; observant Jews, the buying and selling of animals, grains, and the exchange of money were vital for the required sacrifices to take place.  Nothing is out of order at this point.

 

However, this is where we miss the point.  We assume that Jesus gets angry at the business activity and runs them out of the Temple.  We are letting the other gospel writer’s versions of this story bleed into our reading of John’s take.  We miss the point of Jesus’ response, Jesus is not arguing about commerce instead he is focused on the entire sacrificial system of the Jewish Faith.

 

We assume that Jesus is upset and angry at the money changers, but I really think he is more upset because the misguided importance of the temple, than he is at the profit margins being made.  Jesus wants his followers to understand that the “temple” is no longer a place, and followers no longer have to offer specific sacrifices – instead he wants us to understand that he is the sacrifice, the word made flesh.  The temple is no longer in Jerusalem but the temple of his body.

 

When Jesus, the Word made flesh, comes, everything changes.  The first of these changes is that believers no longer need to sacrifice, animals, money, offspring to appease God.  Because God will interact with God’s people in a whole new way.

 

So, how does this impact us today?

 

I think that many of us come to worship on Sunday morning as an end, a destination.  We view worship and church as the place we go to encounter God and receive spiritual things, such as enlightenment, blessings and support.  But, I think Jesus is saying that we’ve got things a little backwards.  Don’t hear me saying that worship and church aren’t important, no they are, they are the very heart of what we do as a church.  Instead, I think Jesus wants us to see worship and church as a place or an experience in which we are sent.  A launching pad, in which we are sent out to meet, and partner with, God in everyday life.

 

We come to church because in the proclamation of the Gospel and sharing of the sacraments we hear and feel and commune with God most clearly.  But then we are sent out to look for God and, even more, to partner with God in carrying out God’s mission in the world.

 

When we walk through these doors on Sunday morning, we know, or should know, that we are not going to the Country club or the lions club or rotary meeting.  The church is different.  We are doing something important and it takes a lot of faith to fully understand this.  It takes faith to believe that what we do here on Sunday morning matters.  It takes faith to believe that hearing the word of God is more important than anything that could happen in any other meeting in all the world — the Oval Office, Congress, the Supreme Court or any business office in all the land.  What happens here has meaning, life and death kind of meaning.

 

Priests, pastors, preachers— and church professionals in general— we think are much more likely to talk about God than the average person in the pew.  However, I believe this is the point Jesus’ story.   We, all of us, not just the paid religious professional are invited to participate with God in God’s mission and work in the world.  This is the foundation of our theology of vocation— the belief that all Christians are called by virtue of our Baptism to participate in God’s work to care for all creation.[1]  This theological understanding is important, that we are all reminded of our baptismal promises and to live them out.

 

We have a hard time imagining that what we spend most of our time doing in our lives really matters to God.  We don’t believe that most of our lives— our families, friends, home, school, work, volunteering, civic responsibilities, even sports, aren’t particularly important to God.  They don’t really count as participating in the work of God or worthy of the church’s attention, but I think we are mistaken.

 

You, see all of life is claimed by God, everything we do is God’s.  We are not called in our baptisms to be followers of Christ only for an hour on Sunday morning, no we are called by God to be Christians everyday and at all times.  From the moment we wake up, joining your spouse at the breakfast table, on the bus to school, at the office, in the classroom, at practice, in the polling place, in our interactions with friends, family, strangers, everywhere and always.   We think that we put on our Christianity, like we are getting dressed for Church or when we participate in church-related things, like “helping others.”   Serving others through volunteering, or full filling our requirement for service hours from school.  We don’t believe that our jobs are connected to our faith.   This is what Jesus is getting at, we no longer have to be confined to the church or to Sunday to live out our faith.  Imagine, that!  We are living our faith in the regular and mundane activities of work, school, family life, etc.

 

One of the things we do during Lent is we examine our lives: as individuals and as a church.  One of the things we can do as we prepare for the cross is we can take Jesus’ words to heart.  We can look at our lives, our church and our ministry and reflect what we care about.  We can look at everything we do:

As a church, is our worship equipping you and others to see God out there?

As a congregation, is our love and care for one another bear witness to God?

As a congregation, is our mission and outreach to the least, the last and the lost an example of God’s love, grace and mercy for all?

Do you see your job, your life away from here as fulfilling your baptismal promises and vows?

 

And then imagine Jesus walking into your work place, your home, your family life?  What would Jesus find?  Would it look like any old market place or would it look like a home for God?

 

Of course, in this story, Jesus was talking about his death and resurrection.  Of course, Jesus was talking about him being the ultimate sacrifice for us.  They did not know it at the time.  We have the benefit of looking back.  We know what three days means.  We know that as we journey toward the cross, three days refers to Jesus’ resurrection.  In three days, there will be a new temple.  But this story is about so much more.  It is about moving the Temple.  From Jerusalem to our hearts and our souls.   That is where God abides now, no longer in a singular place on a hill in the middle east but in your soul and in mine.  That is a dramatic claim that Jesus is making and one that will lead to his death.

 

Let us pray:

 

[1] David Lose