Inspired by John 2:13-22
So we are taking a detour from the Gospel of Mark this month, as every Sunday’s Gospel reading this month except for one will be from the Gospel of John. But don’t let that fool you. Remember that we are in the season of Lent, and so these passages from the Gospel of John that we will be exploring are some pretty tough, hard-hitting passages; like the one for today. Also remember that Lent is that time of year when we shake out the cobwebs from our souls, in preparation to recommit our faith journeys at the Great Vigil of Easter service. And so in order to do that, we are provided some Gospel readings that really cause us to take that long hard look at our inner most selves, take stock, refocus, so that we can move forward again as the Easter people we were made for.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Today we have this story from John’s Gospel, that has left many a Christian scratching their heads in confusion. It’s a story that has caused scholars and theologians to debate over for centuries. Like you, I have heard many different takes on this story over the years in sermons. I’ve heard sermons about how if Jesus got angry then it’s ok for me to get angry. I’ve heard sermons on righteous indignation.
I’ve heard sermons on the corruption in the temple or how the money changers were cheating people, or what first century Roman coins looked like. And they weren’t necessarily bad sermons, but those messages just weren’t speaking to me this time around. However, I did hear a preacher say that in this passage Jesus is saying that the Jewish religion was being replaced by Christianity. And just so we’re clear, I wholeheartedly do not believe that for a second.
So, what are we to make of this story? I really don’t think Jesus was overly concerned with people being cheated out of their money in the temple. I also don’t think that Jesus was overly concerned that these transactions were taking place in the temple. And I don’t think that Jesus had anything against cattle and sheep in the temple either. But don’t get any ideas, if you have cattle or sheep at home, and I know some of you do, please leave them there. I think Jesus’ mind was on much bigger things than money transactions, or corruption, or animals in the temple. I think Jesus’ concern was more about why they were there in the first place. They were there, not just to make a transaction with those money changers, but to make a transaction with God in the temple.
Now there’s at least two problems with this: one, because they were operating under a sacrificial system, they believed that blood had to be shed, that some kind of transaction had to be made, in order for God to love them, in order for God to want to have a relationship with them; and two, and even more importantly, they believed that could only take place in the temple, in one temple in the entire world, in one geographical place. And for Jesus this was a ludicrous idea at best, if not outright heretical!
For starters, Jesus knew that God couldn’t be contained by bricks and mortar. But more than that, God now resided in him, in the flesh and bones of Jesus, and getting the world to see that, was a huge job! But he knew it was something worth fighting for, because he knew how badly the world needed God outside of the temple. He knew how badly the holy was needed outside that holy place. And he knew, it was something worth dying for.
But this was foolishness to them! The idea that the God of heaven and Earth could love us unconditionally, without sacrifice, without bloodshed, without some kind of transaction being made between us and God, and all without a temple, a holy place? Preposterous! But not for God. You see, God loved the world so much, that God gave up a place in the heavens, to become flesh and bone like us—to be closer to us than they could have possibly imagined. But the world didn’t understand. And this foolish Jewish carpenter turned preacher quickly went from being an annoyance, to being public enemy number one. And the only way they knew how to deal with him, the only way they knew how to shut him up, for good, was to have him executed. And so that’s what they did, thinking that their troubles were over, the problem of Jesus solved.
And that’s where you come in. Wait pastor, aren’t you forgetting the resurrection? No, you are the reason Jesus was resurrected! You are the ones called to continue the work that Jesus begun! You are the holy place where the Spirit of God now resides! When Christ ascended out of this world, Christ did not abandon the world but instead sends you out those doors, week in and week out, to proclaim to the world that God cannot be contained by a temple, God cannot be contained by a church, God cannot be contained by a theology, God cannot be contained by human decisions, by human behavior, by human weakness! God cannot be contained by human sinfulness! God’s love for the world is without condition, without requirements, it is free, and it is meant to be proclaimed by each and everyone one of us, to the entire world, in thought, word, and deed!
All because Jesus now resides in you. And I don’t just mean in this church, or any church for that matter, I mean that Jesus now resides in you, in your very bodies, in your flesh and bone, because God knows how to do that better than anyone—which is why we call ourselves the body of Christ for the world. And also why we come here, each and every Sunday, week in and week out, to be nourished, at that table, for the work ahead. Now, there are probably a lot of different understandings of communion among you, and that is totally ok.
You won’t get any judgement from me if we believe different things about what really happens at that table. Depending on the day I may have different beliefs about it! But one of the things that I have really come to appreciate about traditional Lutheran theology concerning communion is the belief that somehow, someway, Jesus is present in the bread and wine. No idea how that happens, it is a beautiful mystery.
But what I love about that belief, is that somehow, in someway, we take in the very presence of Christ, in our physical bodies, as we consume the bread and wine. The holiness of what happens at this table, becomes a part of you. You become the holy place where God resides. And you, get the opportunity to take that out into the world—in the way that you love people, welcome people, forgive people, care for people, protect people, do all the things that Christ calls you to do.
|The streets of Old Town Auburn, CA|
As I was writing this sermon, I couldn’t get a certain song out of my head, Takin’ it to the Streets, by the Doobie Brothers. It was really bothering me because I was trying to concentrate on my sermon, so I finally thought, I’ll stop and listen to it so I can just get it out of my head once and for all. And so I’m sitting there listening to this song, singing along, cuz how can you not sing along to that song right? And maybe for the first time I really payed attention to the lyrics and thought, wow, these really speak to what I’m writing about!
These are some of the lyrics: “You don't know me but I'm your brother, I was raised here in this living hell, You don't know my kind in your world, Take this message to my brother, You will find him everywhere, Wherever people live together, Tied in poverty's despair, I ain't blind and I don't like what I think I see, Takin' it to the streets.” Another reason this song may have been on my mind is because of the news lately, and seeing all these amazing, awe-inspiring teenagers, pleading to our lawmakers to do something about gun violence, literally taking it to the streets. Or the many peaceful protestors pleading for equality and justice for women, or our brothers and sisters of color, or our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.
In this crazy story from the Gospel of John, I hear a call to take it to the streets. And from our perspective, it is the love of God, who is Christ. Because God refuses to be contained by these four walls, God calls us to take Christ out into the world, in flesh and bone for the world to see and experience. In your flesh and bone. May we be ever thankful that we have a God who cannot, who will not, be contained, in any one place. And may that thankfulness drive us to take it to the streets. Amen.