March 5, 2018
“Holy Disrupters” ~ sermon for March 4, 2018
Our New Testament reading this morning tells the familiar story of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Jerusalem temple.
What is intriguing about today’s passage is that it comes from John’s gospel and takes place early in Jesus’ ministry.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all place this story toward the end of their gospels on Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem.
John, however, shares this account in the second chapter of his gospel following Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana.
This early placement challenges much of the interpretation of the story that we have heard in the past.
Hear now a reading from John’s gospel 2: 14-22.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Holy One, Creator of the stars and seas, your steadfast love is shown to every living thing; your word calls forth countless worlds and souls; your law revives and refreshes.
Forgive our misuse of your gifts, that we might be transformed by your wisdom to manifest for others the mercy of our crucified and risen Lord.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
I am intrigued by John’s placement of this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
It serves to shine the spotlight on the counter cultural nature of Jesus’ ministry from the start.
This story is often characterized as a final burst of frustration by Jesus after years of trying to get his message across.
The turning of the tables in the temple has been cited as the excuse used by the religious authorities to arrest Jesus in Jerusalem, leading to his crucifixion.
But here, in John’s gospel, Jesus starts his ministry with a visible disruption of the status quo.
Passover occurs in March or April and as many as one hundred thousand people might make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this festival.
The cattle, sheep and doves were animals used for sacrifice, sold to the visitors to Jerusalem.
The moneychangers converted foreign currency into the coins allowed in the temple to purchase the animals for sacrifice.
This activity took place in the outer area of the temple, where non-Jews were permitted.
It is only in John’s gospel that Jesus is described as using a whip to evict the sheep and cattle.
His lament about ‘his father’s house becoming a marketplace’ draws on the words of the prophet Zechariah “And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”
By placing this adventure at the beginning of the gospel, John is letting his readers know that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies of old.
Jesus has come to save the people and to restore the relationship between the people and God.
Isaiah’s first chapter contains these words:
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
These are the words of scripture that would have been familiar to Jesus.
He has heard these lessons in the synagogue of his youth.
He starts out his ministry by declaring that God’s temple is a holy place – a place to bring your genuine self to worship, praise and honor God.
John is clear that Jesus knows what is in the hearts of the people and he doesn’t need the people’s acclaim any more than God needs the people’s burnt offerings.
What do you bring to this temple?
With what do you come before the Lord?
These are the questions for us today.
How does our faith shape our lives?
Is your visit to church on Sunday just a form of burnt offering, a safety deposit to ensure God’s grace?
Or do you come to be in God’s presence, in community with your neighbors seeking to experience the divine?
When you come into this temple are you looking for reassurance of your having been chosen by God or do you come seeking forgiveness, mercy and grace?
Do you come to be reminded of the ten simple commandments we heard in the reading from Exodus?
I hope you come to be strengthened for the journey by the words of our faith.
I hope you are here to be reminded that God is here, active in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit.
I think that Jesus’ disruption in the temple serves as an example to us of how important it is to speak up when you see something that is not right.
I like to think that Jesus’ act of rebellion was directly related to the words from Exodus:
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
We have a responsibility, as followers of Christ, to speak our truth, to turn away from the idols that might tempt us to ignore God and to strive to live in a covenant community.
Earlier this month the Board of Deacons proposed a ‘Behavioral Covenant’ to the Church Council.
A ‘Behavioral Covenant’ is an aspirational document that represents a promise made between members of a community to adhere to a set of principles…actually just like the ten commandments.
A covenant, whether issued by a committee or by God represents promises we make to one another.
As I told the children last week, we might not always live up to the promises we make, but a covenant is based on the commitment to try.
One of the concerns voiced at the Church Council meeting was that the behavioral covenant would squelch dissention and disruption.
We had a fruitful discussion about what causes the need for disruption and concluded that it is most often someone feeling ignored or dismissed.
We focused on the importance of ‘deep listening’ to one another.
If the people in the temple had followed the commandments of God and had refrained from creating a system of idol worship, Jesus would not have had to turn the tables.
When people listen to one another with respect and patience it precludes the need for anyone to yell.
The goal of a behavioral covenant for our church is to guide us on our Christian journey.
The very act of talking about the covenant impacted behavior within the two meetings where it was discussed.
Friends, God has given us clear instructions on how to live.
The psalmists celebrates these commands:
The law of God is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of God are sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of God are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of God is clear, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of God is pure, enduring forever;
the ordinances of God are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
These commandments are not burdensome.
They are life-giving.
Jesus reiterated and modeled a life based on these tenets.
It is up to us in this moment in time to choose to live as Christians or to succumb to the pressures of outside idols.
We are called to follow Christ.
We are called to be holy.
We are called to be disruptive when it is the only choice left.
One poet shared this:
Truth be told, Jesus,
There are lots of tables that need overturning in our lives;
Beneath the veneer of respectability
the tidy rows and neat regulations
hide dark addictions and angry judgements
hungry greeds and heartless rejections.
We know the pain – and so do those around us –
of keeping up the facade;
What a relief it would be to have it all
upset, smashed, scattered, destroyed.
So, perhaps, Jesus, today you could pay us a visit
and help us to radically rearrange
the furniture of our lives.
The question of whose tables need to be turned is one that requires deep reflection.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God we stand in awe of your creation.
You have given us this beautiful earth, loving companions and rules to live by.
You have blessed us with an abundance of riches for which we are grateful.
Be with us this day, we pray, that we might learn to live by your law, modeling ourselves after your Son, Jesus Christ.
Grant us the grace to live as covenant people, honoring our neighbors, spreading your love throughout our community.
Hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those among us who struggle with addiction, mental illness, loneliness and fear, we pray that your Holy Spirit might find them.
O God, shine your light and your love on our troubled world.
Restore us to the covenant community you envisioned thousands of years ago.
Be with us on our journey.
We turn to you now in the sacred stillness of this Meetinghouse with the prayers of our hearts.
Jesus taught them to pray in these words….Our Father