Today is the third Sunday in Lent and once again we are being given the opportunity to stop in the rush of our daily lives and consider our journey to the cross. We begin todays journey in Jerusalem with Jesus and the disciples in the temple as seen through the eyes of gospel writer John.
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.
May God bless to our understanding the words that we hear today.
This story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple is a familiar one, and it is one of the few stories that we find in all four gospels. However, when the story is told and how the story is told is very different. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke this story of Jesus and the moneychangers comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry, right after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the day that we celebrate as Palm Sunday.
So why does John have it in a different place? All of the gospel writers had different points of view that they were sharing with their communities. This is part of John’s message to his readers. By placing this story early in the Gospel, the clearing of the temple underscores what has already been made clear in the Prologue and in the first miracle Jesus did by turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. The message as John sees it is that we all need to recognize Jesus as God’s presence on earth. When we see Jesus, we are seeing God. What John wants his readers, us, to understand is that God is no longer exclusively available through the Temple; that Jesus invites us to experience God’s grace for ourselves.
This is a big deal; we need to remember from our 21st century Christian viewpoint that before Jesus, the road to redemption and reconciliation with God was not a direct route. If you wanted to get on God’s good side, if you wanted to ask for forgiveness and atone for your sins you did so with animal sacrifice, and the intercession of the Priests. There were hoops that had to be jumped through. There were dues that had to be paid. There were temple officials who had to be recognized. The road to personal redemption, the road to God was filled with stop-lights. But Jesus changed all that, through his ministry he changed that by showing that love and not law was much more important and that we could have our very own relationship with God without having to rely on anyone else to do it for us.
Will you pray with me please? May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
When I was in my kid-hood I could never understand why we were celebrating “Lint” I thought the stuff that you found in your dryer vent, or in your bellybutton, was stuff to get rid of, not something to pay attention to for 40 days! As I got older I finally figured out that we were observing Lent not Lint, but I still didn’t get why we had to give stuff up, I really did not understand what that had to do with God. How did denying myself something bring me into a closer relationship to God?
As I got older, I began to get a clearer sense of Lent and its purpose, but it was not until I read and understood John’s telling of the clearing of the temple that I began to get a grasp on the whole lint/lent thing. Lent lets us get rid of the lint in our lives, that stuff that clogs things up. Jesus was getting rid of a whole lot of lint that day in the temple, the stuff that had been hanging around clogging things up for years. When Jesus drives the animals out of the Temple, overturns tables and demands that they stop the buying and selling, he is announcing an end. It is the end of relating to God in that particular way. But it is not an end of relating to God, it is an assurance that his community then, our community now will find God’s mercy in Christ rather than through the temple system or through church dogma.
That was good news then and I think it continues to be good news today.
Here’s why I think it’s’ good news, for us today. I think that many people tend to look at the church as a destination, a place that we go to, to get spiritual things, or to have fellowship. But I wonder if we don’t have that backwards. Don’t get me wrong, I think worship is important, coming together in community to worship is important. But I wonder if instead of thinking of church as a place that we go to, to experience God I wonder if we should not be thinking of church as the place we are sent from in order to meet and partner with God in everyday life.
In C.S. Lewis’s third book The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’ from his Narnia series there is a wonderful example of this idea. If you have not read the books, you need to know that in the first book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund are brothers and sisters who are sent to the safety of the country from war time London. A magical trip through a wardrobe lands them in Narnia where they meet the great lion and Christ figure Aslan and with his help they defeat the White Witch who has held Narnia captive in an endless winter.
At the end of the second book, Aslan tells Peter and Susan, the two oldest children that they will not return to Narnia and now at the end of the third book Aslan meets Lucy and Edmund and tells them that this is their last trip to Narnia.
Lucy is upset that she will not get to see her beloved lion again, but he reassures her that she will see him in her own world. When she is surprised that Aslan is in her world, he tells her that the whole reason that he brought her to Narnia was, so she would get to know him well, and in knowing him, would be able recognize him more easily in her world.
And isn’t that the image of the church. We come to church because we are given the chance to hear and believe the good news of the gospel; we share in the sacraments of baptism and communion in order to see God’s grace more clearly. But we are sent out into the world to look for God and to partner with God and to love and bless the people and the world that God loves so much. Because we know God and Jesus we are the ones who should be able to recognize them more easily in our world.
How many of us here today experience church that way? How many of us understand that our homes, the places that we work, the other parts of our lives are places where God is present. How many of us find God, are able to recognize God in our world? Where have you encountered God this week? I know sometimes that may seem very difficult in this day and age because in some ways it feels like the world around us is pretty godless…I wonder if that is true or if we have just stopped expecting to see God. Maybe we aren’t seeing as clearly as we should, or could it be that too much lint has built up around us? I ask again, “Where have you encountered God this week?” (Share)
My challenge for us all this week is to take some time this Lent to clean out our Lint traps, to find those things that are clogging up the system, that are keeping us from having a closer relationship with God, that keep us from seeing God in the world around us.