Sermon for Lent, Three, Year B
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
Jesus turns the tables over and Jesus turns the world around.
Today’s gospel lesson shows Jesus in a very different light from the way we usually see him. And frankly, it is a little scary. We like to think of the Jesus in the picture behind me with the cute little lamb in his arms. We like to think of adorable baby Jesus in a manger, when the cattle are lowing, no crying he makes. We like to think of kindly Jesus holding little children on his lap.
In C. S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the lion, Aslan, is the Christ figure. At one point in the story a child wonders why the lion has gone off and where he went. One of the others reminds them that Aslan is not a tame lion. He isn’t domesticated like my house cat.
Sometimes we would like Jesus to be more like my cat than like a wild lion. But Jesus isn’t tame. He is actually more like us than we care to admit. He gets really angry. Instead of cuddling a little lamb, in this story, he is chasing the lambs and cows and birds all over the place.
Just picture it. The place is crowded with tourists from all over the world. They came to celebrate Passover, so every family needs a lamb for the sacrifice. There are pens of lambs and cattle, and crates of doves and pigeons. It looked more like the county fair than a place of worship. I don’t even want to think about what it smelled like.
Before you even get to the place with the animals, there are tables and tables of money changers. Since all the Roman coins bore graven images of the emperor, they had to be changed into the Temple currency, before any other transactions could be made. The money changers made their living by taking a percentage on each exchange. And of course, the government got a cut of the profits from both the money changers and the animal sales.
All this was just part of business as usual. It was a marketplace economy, supply and demand capitalism. The religion required sacrifices. The commandments forbid graven images. What was Jesus thinking? What was his problem?
The relationship between government and religion was complicated during the Roman occupation. The priests had inherited their jobs and their status. But the chief priest in the Temple was appointed from among them by the Roman authorities. The priests had in effect, civil service jobs, because they had to answer to the Roman government. When Jesus turned over the tables in the Temple he was confronting both the religious and government institutions.
It could be said that the Temple marketplace served the community much like holiday shopping boosts the US economy each year. Both are only superficially related to religious observances. It has been said that the temple marketplace was to Passover as Black Friday shopping is to Christmas.
Jesus turned everything around. He changed the focus back to where it belongs. For the Jews, the Temple was the place where God was found. The Holy of Holies, the center of the Temple was the dwelling place of God.
Jesus turned everything around. God doesn’t live in a building any more. God has come to earth in the person of Jesus. If you want to find God, look at Jesus. That’s what Jesus is saying when he tells the Jews that they will destroy the Temple and he will build it up in three days.
We will celebrate those great three days in our worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter. We will remember and relive those days with Jesus – through our Maundy Thursday communion service, Good Friday adoration of the cross, and our Saturday candlelight vigil.
Jesus turned everything around. He confronted the religious and government authorities. He was consumed with anger about the temple marketplace.
What does it mean to follow this Jesus?
We don’t live in an occupied country. We have religious freedom. We are happy our church is tax exempt. We have separation of church and state, but things don’t always fit in those neat little categories. Church Street and State Street do intersect.
Our church has always taught that it is appropriate for Christians to participate in government. We have social statements that guide us in responding to a number of issues. We have an office of governmental affairs in Washington, DC. Our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, often writes open letters to the president and other political leaders.
When we follow this Jesus who turned over the tables in the Temple marketplace, we must be careful to speak up for the same values he spoke for. We use the Bible as our guide and speak up for the Biblical values of peacemaking, hospitality to strangers, care for creation, concern for people living in poverty, and care for people struggling with hunger and disease.
Which of these biblical values is currently causing you to get angry? Are you concerned about peace in the world? Peace in our homes, peace in our schools? Do you speak up when someone is being attacked, either physically or verbally? What is the best way to keep everyone safe?
Are you concerned about hospitality to strangers? Are you friendly and welcoming when you see people who may be immigrants in the stores in Grand Island? Are you friendly and welcoming to people who haven’t lived in St. Paul their whole lives?
Are you concerned about creation? I love shorter winters, but I know that global climate change has potentially dire consequences. God has given us dominion over the earth. Dominion means lordship. It means we should love the earth and care for it the same way our Lord, its Creator does.
I see evidence right in front of the altar of your concern for the poor all over the world. As followers of the Jesus who turned everything around, we can also use our voices to advocate for policies that help the poor and hungry, by providing food, clean water, education, and jobs that pay a living wage.
Are you concerned about people living with disease? Are you concerned that everyone has access to adequate healthcare? As followers of the Jesus who turned everything around, we can use our resources and our voices to help the sick and prevent disease.
These are complex issues and responsible Christians may not always agree about the best course of action. None of us is called to be personally involved in every issue. We are all called to pray for God’s will to be done. We are all called to work wherever and whenever possible to uphold these biblical values.
This Jesus who turns over the tables and turns the world around is with us now. He is present when we hear the word and we share this meal. He gives his own body and blood to save us and strengthen us to follow him. Amen.