John is a wonderful gospel, don't you think? The evangelist gives us a vivid view of Jesus that is both simple and yet complex to understand. The gospel opens with a great description of Jesus’ divinity. And then he contrasts it quickly with Jesus' humanity. (Jesus is at wedding with his mother). This is typical of John's style. Today’s lectionary text is one that gives us both views. But it is one that is particularly hard for us to see Jesus as…well, Jesus.
We don’t like to envision our Divine savior behaving like one of us. We see human Jesus is the one who gets a bit frustrated like so many of us do. The one who finds it difficult to always contain his emotions, especially when there is death or in this case injustice that is present. For many of us, human Jesus is irresistibly attractive...when he is confronting the bad guys and one-upping the wise. But when he shifts from human mode to a prophetic or divine mode, we get an uncomfortable sneaking fear in the pit of our stomach. For Divine Jesus makes us realize...we might have more in common with the targets of his judgment than with the righteous one himself.
Historically, this passage has been used to justify violence against others, especially the Jewish race. But to read Jesus’ actions in this story as violent rage would grossly misrepresent the Good News of God’s love. I believe this is a story about God’s radical presence among us, and the changes that must occur in God’s Kingdom. This is not a story about getting rid of people per se, at least not by violent means. Instead, I see a story of how God welcomes all people into God’s house, because God’s love and passion and mercy is for us all.
Moving forward in our Lenten sermon series ‘Hope and Resurrection,’ John offers us a clear picture of the hope that is to come...from the human violence of Good Friday. That is, the divine joy of the Easter celebration. I have entitled this sermon “Home Renovations” not just to keep the theme of words that begin with H & R, but because our hope relies on a willingness to tear down the walls within ourselves, and let Christ completely renovate us, to make us new again. For Christ himself, the very Word of the Father, is the new Temple. And through him all are welcomed.
You have heard me say that the Temple is the place where God meets his people. It was called "The House of many nations.” This is reflective of God’s covenant promise made with us through Abraham, the father of many nations. It's no surprise then...that Jesus begins the restoration process in the Court of the Gentiles. It was here the priest of the Temple allowed the local merchants to set up shop. It is here Jesus sees the things in his father’s house are no longer in order. People are being kept out and God wants these barriers removed.
Years and years ago...I used to work at Joe’s Record Paradise...an eclectic record store just outside Washington, DC. This was in the late 80's and Compact Discs were just being introduced. In order to usher in this new digital future, Joe needed to remodel the record store. Now, we worked with this guy Billy Ropple. Billy Ropple was a big, hulking punk rocker of a guy. When Joe asked Billy to take down the back wall this 6 foot 2 inch chunk of muscle and rage happily went to work.
For those of you who have done demo work you know that certain tools are often used. Crowbars, sledgehammers, drop cloths, gloves… and so on. This was not the case with Billy. He just threw his body into the wall, smashing holes in the drywall and ripping out wood studs. With zero regard to the mess he was making...Billy’s pent up rage exploded like a wrecking ball of aggression. Using only his bare hands and body, Billy took down the wall in no time flat. To an outsider, it probably looked like a violent rampage, but for those who knew what was going on it was exciting to watch. Joe needed a wall removed...and Billy was more than happy to do it.
In like manner, the Temple was in need of renovation. It had become more and more exclusive…not inclusive. The Court of the Gentiles was no longer a quiet, sacred space. There was no longer a place for outsiders to worship God in peace. For those who grew up on farms it's easy to imagine the distraction such a place would be for prayer.
Imagine what would our sanctuary would smell and sound like if it was filled with the bleating of sheep, and the loud haggling of the merchants and bankers. I am sure there are some Sunday's you might believe that it is...but I have talked with Trudi and she assures me that my microphone is on mute when I sing. Look, God knows that human beings have a way of putting up human barriers. But God wants those barriers gone. Jesus was the one who was asked to do it.
Like Billy Ropple, Jesus’ aggression and his anger were not hostile or belligerent, but instead more assertive and energetic. What we see here is not a violent act, but a restorative act of passion. Our God is a passionate God. His great passion of course would culminate on the cross. Isn't it ironic that God would use violence as a means to restore all people from our violent ways? We are not called to be violent...any more than we are called to put up barriers between us.
We are called to love, and to love, like God calls us to love, means we must be open to accept all people. I am sure if any one of us saw Jesus running wildly with a whip of cords in his hand or heard the righteous judgments of God pouring from his lips, we’d find it a bit disarming. For we know that when he speaks for us and even with us, he can also speak to us and at times, even against us.
The activity Jesus was interrupting was necessary for the functioning of the temple. The scriptures clearly stated that temple tax had to be paid in temple coinage, free of idols. Therefore moneychangers were necessary. Because sacrificial animals had to be without blemish, and a variety had to be offered for affordability purposes, a sellers of sacrificial animals were necessary. But did they need to be in the sacred space of the temple precinct? Wasn't there space outside the Temple walls to conduct their commerce?
For those on the inside the Temple appeared to fulfill its function. But a closer inspection reveals that many of those insiders had forgotten its purpose. Jesus was outraged by what he saw happening inside his Father’s home. Instead of being a place of prayer, or a place to meet with God, the Temple had become tainted with economic exploitation. Tom Wright says, “In the eyes of Jesus this was the epitome of how all of Jerusalem had become.” God’s holy city, God’s holy house, and God’s chosen people were doing things their way, instead of what God called them to do.
So my question to you is, "Have we forgotten too?" Have any of us built up walls or kept people out of our lives? While the Church seems to be welcoming and hospitable I must ask, are we? It's not hard to see how the shadow of the cross falls over this narrative. Jesus warns us that we are the ones who destroy the Temple. “Destroy it,” he said, “And I will build it again in three days.”
When we do things our way instead of God’s, When we put greed or fear before God and peace we begin to destroy the very essence of God’s heavenly home. I’m not talking about making changes to the way we worship, but making major renovations in our heart. Jesus warns us not to be caught up in the human spaces we have constructed. But to keep our eye sharply focused on God’s divine call. To faithfully follow Jesus means we must be open and be willing follow him in all ways...And all the way to the cross.
During Lent we can never lose sight of the Good Friday cross if we are to hold fast to the hope that comes three days later. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus transforms the Divine Temple of God. In him and through him...all people are welcomed. Christ has torn down the walls that divide us.
No longer is a temple tax is needed, because Christ paid the ultimate price with his own flesh and blood. No longer will sacrifices be needed because Christ, our paschal lamb, atoned for all sin. No longer do we need to make a pilgrimage to meet with God because through Jesus Christ, God comes to us.
No matter where we are, or who we are, we too are renewed, renovated and restored by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.
And this, sisters and brothers is why we say… Amen.