Saturday, March 10, 2012

Clear the Way!

Lent 3 Year B 

John 2:13-22

     Wow! We are almost half way to Easter! Can you believe it? I love this time of year when we can actually start to feel things warm up.  Last week was wonderful!  Being able to get out of the house and be out in the sun was wonderful!  And I find that with the warmth in the air, there is that rush of energy.
 And as we begin to approach Easter, at least I know I start thinking of Easter Morning worship.   I love Easter Morning worship!  I love all the flowers. I love sounds and the smells. And I love seeing families gathered together to come to worship.
I know for many families, Easter morning worship is especially important. It is a time for families to gather together and a time to put on one’s best. We tend to dress better for Easter than for other worship services, and that is great! I especially love when the little children show-off they new Easter outfits. I have a picture of me with my little suit on and my little fedora hat.  It just brings back such wonderful memories! 
Usually, there are extra people in worship, and with all the extra people in worship, the Easter offering tends to be bigger than usual. More people in worship usually equals more people putting money into the collection plate. And I am pretty sure the vestry is NOT opposed to more money coming into the church!
But what would you think if, in the midst of all this normal activity on Easter Sunday, a madman from the street came running into the church? He comes running through the fellowship hall, throwing coffee cakes everywhere. Grabbing the collection plates, he tears up all the checks and money. Smashing all the flowers and throwing the dirt on everyone’s new clothes. AND GET THIS! After doing all this destruction, this nut expects us to believe that he was sent by GOD -- to destroy all of this -- and now this guy wants us to follow him!
Why would this madman come into our sanctuary and create all kinds of disturbances when nothing particularly unusual was happening? Why would he ruin our Easter celebration, the celebration where we were honoring and worshipping God and Jesus? What would provoke this madman to destroy so much?
So often, I think we hear the story of the cleansing of the temple and don’t give it much thought. We think that, because Jesus was doing it, it was a good thing to doing. He was getting all those evil people out of the temple. They were being offensive, so then needed to get out of the temple. But we fail to consider what actually happened on that day back in Biblical times.
John, in the gospel, tells us that the Passover was near. Now all good Jews would go to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover. With all these people around, the temple would be quite busy. (We could think of this as the family coming home for Easter.) And the moneychangers? They served a vital function in the temple; the people could not use the coins of the Romans in the temple because the coins had the face of the emperor on them and that was considered a graven image. So for coins to be given in the temple, the Roman coins had to be exchanged for other coins. So the moneychangers were providing a service vital to the temple. Without the moneychangers, there would be no donations to the temple. We may not realize that with Jesus disrupting the moneychangers, there would be no offerings given at the temple on that day.
The same would go for the people selling animals. The pilgrims that traveled to the temple would have difficulty in bringing livestock to the temple. So the sellers were providing a valuable service for the pilgrims, they provided animals for the required sacrifices. With the disruption of the people selling the animals, no sacrificial animals would not be available and the people would not be able to make their Passover sacrifices.  Passover sacrifices were an important part of Jewish worship life.  The sacrifice was an important gift given in thanksgiving to God.  So the animals were there for the sacrifice.
Now, imagine the anger, dismay, offense you would feel if someone came into our midst and began to trash the church here at St. Swithin’s. You would probably not be too happy with the person, would you? Actually you would probably be trying to prevent the guy from leaving while someone was busy calling the cops.
Now, transfer this feeling onto the people of Jesus’ day. Imagine that you have traveled a long distance, across the desert, to get to the temple. You packed up your family and a good chunk of money so you could worship properly at the temple. Now also imagine that after going through all of this, the whole worship service was disrupted by some madman brandishing a whip. I think you can get a feel for what it was like to be one of the people in the temple when Jesus came running in with his whip.
Why should Jesus do this? Why would Jesus want to disrupt the excitement and the worship that was part of the Passover festival? If you think about it, tearing up the temple is not a very good way to win friends and attract followers. If I were to come running in here on Easter brandishing a whip and tearing things apart, you would be looking to send me to a mental hospital -- or jail -- rather than cheering me on for doing God’s work.
To use such shock tactics, Jesus had to be quite sure of himself. He HAD to know what he was doing was going to cause some big problems with some people. But he also would know that his actions were sending the message that a different way of interacting with God was in the works.
At the temple, people would present their sacrifices to the priests and the priests would make the sacrifice for the people. It was through the priest that the people would have access to God. Through his actions, Jesus was telling the people that there was a new authority. The temple and the priests and the Pharisees were not the authority any longer. The institutionalized practices in the temple were no longer to be looked upon as the only way to God. A new way was literally crashing through, right into their midst.
The practice of ritual sacrifice was turning the temple into something that it was never meant to be. In order to fulfill the requirements of the law, the temple was becoming a place of commerce. In order to gain God’s favor, money needed to be changed and animals needed to be bought.
But Christ was redefining the temple. No longer would animal sacrifice need to occur, Christ himself would become the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. No longer would an animal be sacrificed on the hope that the sacrifice would be pleasing to God. Christ was the ultimate “Lamb without blemish,” the truly pleasing sacrifice to God. Jesus, in a way that was pretty hard to ignore, was ushering in a new age.
As you continue on your Lenten journey, have you stumbled over some of those things that are getting in your way of finding God? Have you discovered the merchants and moneychangers that prevent you from being in the presence of God? Have you found those things that seem necessary but, in actuality, only preserve your distance from the one thing that is truly important?
Finding these things in your life is one thing, clearing them is another! We can understand the resistance the people had in the temple, we can understand how we would feel if the madman were to rush through the congregation. But we need to realize that the madman is Jesus, the one we claim to follow! The madman is presented as an example for us to follow! The madman gives us an example of how we can start anew.
Now this can be scary, Jesus is running through the temple doing a fair amount of damage. We may not really want to have this kind of damage done to us! How can this be helpful? The one thing that we need to remember that Jesus is NOT destroying the temple, he is clearing the things that are getting in the way; he is clearing the things that are preventing the temple from functioning properly. When Jesus comes to help us clear the temples of our lives, it may feel like our lives are being destroyed. While thinking about this, we need to realize that Jesus did not hate the temple, and Jesus does not hate us. In trying to clear the temple, Jesus was returning it to its true purpose. In clearing our lives, Jesus is once again trying to return us to our true purpose. Just like we may not understand and fear the madman in the temple, we may be confused by the actions of Jesus in our lives. But considering this seeming madman is our loving lord and savior, this clearing is only for the best.
This clearing is not something that we must do on our own, though. In the temple, we can assume that the people didn’t even realize that the merchants and the moneychangers were getting in their way of experiencing God. It was when Jesus came whipping through, that change began to happen.
Jesus will help us! If we ask, Jesus will help us to find the places where the things of life are coming between us and our experience of God. But I have to warn you! When Jesus starts to clear your temple, you may not like it! When Jesus starts to clear the way for a true relationship with him, we may rebel at the things that are disrupted. We may feel we want to go back to the way things were before. Yet, if we remember, as with the temple, the discomfort of the disruption is only temporary. After the disruption comes the transformation of our lives. After Jesus clears our lives, we will find that the sacrifice has already been made in Christ and that it is a truly pleasing sacrifice to our God.

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