Thinking Outside the Box

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
John 2:13-22

 

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: God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season, that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the healing words of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The Season of Lent is the equivalent to a great spring-cleaning of one’s home for the Christian life. It is a season of prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter. The word Lent is derived from a Saxon word meaning “spring.” In the early church, Lent was viewed as a spiritual spring, a time of light and joy in the renewal of the soul’s life. Well it can’t be Lent because it surely is not yet spring!

 

Sadly, though, we know it is the third Sunday of Lent and we are almost half way to Easter, so Spring really is coming!

 

Speaking of cleaning, Jesus is cleansing the temple in our story today but not in the way you might think. The common assumption about John 2:13-22 is that Jesus was cleansing the temple of moneychangers and commercial abuse. He overturns tables and drives out moneychangers with his words and cords.  The Temple has become a market place but it had to be! The average worshippers didn’t bring doves or rams with them to the temple because they had to travel long distances to worship. So, they had to buy them at the Temple. So, to keep the rules of Torah’s requirement of sacrifice the animals and the money changers had to be there. The moneychangers were there to change pilgrims’ money into the coinage the Temple could receive to purchase sacrifices and also for the payment of the half-shekel tax levied on all Jews.

 

The temple was a complex institution in the first century until its destruction in 70 CE. For Israel the Temple in Jerusalem was God’s permanent dwelling place, a sign of the covenantal promise of eternal presence. So, Jews throughout the diaspora made pilgrimages to the Temple at feast times. The temple was a powerful symbol that bound Jews in a common identity.

 

Under Roman rule the priests were not autonomous in their authority even over religious matters.  Roman officials appointed the chief priest, and he served their interests. Roman coffers benefited from the marketplace that supported sacrificial rites. A disruption at the marketplace at one of the temple courts during a festival season like Passover affected Rome’s revenues. During the Roman occupation, they controlled the temple. Jesus knew his angry demonstration would get the attention of Roman authorities.

 

So why does he do it?

 

The moneychangers weren’t doing anything wrong per say so Jesus is not cleansing the Temple from commercial abuse by the money changers. It’s not that what the moneychangers were doing was wrong, but what they were doing would no longer be necessary in the new order Jesus had come to bring. Jesus is making a statement that their efforts are no longer necessary because the Temple is obsolete now that he has come. John scholar Andrew Lincoln, says, “This is Jesus looking forward to the Day of the Lord and to God’s presence in a renewed Jerusalem. At that time all nations will keep the Feast of Tabernacles and there will be no need for traders in the house of the Lord. The trading associated with the sacrificial system will not be necessary, because all aspects of life will have become sacred” (Lincoln, 138). A new day is coming. A new way of worshipping God and a new way of being and living.

 

Because the Word that was with God and is God and now has become flesh, the Son and he makes the invisible God known. Jesus has come onto the scene precisely to reveal God. Why, because God is present in Jesus and, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, God is present everywhere to believers through the Holy Spirit.

 

Which meant that the Jews no longer had to travel to the temple to find God. Jesus presence meant that God was with them, out on the dusty roads of the Middle East, in the hills and valleys of Palestine and along the sea shore and in the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean Sea, in the villages and encampments of the Israelites. This was a radical proclamation that they no longer had to come to Jerusalem to the Temple to be in the presence of God. Likewise, we don’t have to come to church to experience God. In fact, our churches can’t contain God any more than the Temple could.

 

Why, then, come to church?

Because at worship in church we can hear God’s Word proclaimed in a way that helps us see and experience God in all of life. But the point is to learn to see God everywhere, not to come because church is the one place where God is. Which means that the focus of our congregational life should ultimately be outward from church to the world rather than the other way around. It is more about sending people out from the church to see, identify, and partner with God in the world.

 

So how do we see and believe that God is a part of our lives?

 

Where do you see God?  I imagine that most of us would say in here, the sanctuary, or at the communion rail in the sacrament or in the smile of children in the children’s sermon. Some may say in the act of service, giving for others, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the necked, housing the homeless. How many of you would answer that you see God at work? How many of you would say at the gym or the golf course or the tennis court? How many would say on the beach on in the mountains or while you are on vacation? My point is how many of us think of God outside of this place? So, I invite you to look and see if you find God outside of the box of church and to look for and discover all the other places God is.

So, I invite you today, this week to take notes, write a journal, take a picture of the times and places you see God at work. I know you will find it worth your time and energy, as you identify the presence and activity of the God who cannot be contained in the Temple of Jesus’ day or in our churches today.

 

Let us pray:

 

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