3rd Sunday in Lent
March 8, 2015
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Maybe be you’re like me and love those stories where Jesus gets all rowdy and makes a mess of what everyone expects. He doesn’t just do it for the fun of it, and how it plays out in the narratives of the Gospels tends to serve a different purpose. Even though the story of Jesus busting up the marketplace in the forecourt of the Temple in Jerusalem appears in all four Gospels, where it shows up in John’s Gospel, which we have before us this morning is different than the others. The Biblical Scholar part of me wants to talk a little bit about those differences and what they mean, then the pastor part of me wants to answer the “So What?” question.
In the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus tears through the temple calling the money changers and animal sacrifice sellers “robbers” and accuses them of making God’s house a “den of thieves.” This becomes the final straw for the Pharisees and their gang and they go to the authorities for permission to arrest Jesus. In John’s Gospel, this event is quite different. It happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – not at the end. This “marketplace” is not depicted as evil in and of itself here. It has been a necessary part of pilgrimages for a long time, as people came from all over the world to worship in the Temple on the four big feast days. The only coin you could use for offerings or to purchase sacrificial materials was Jewish Shekels, not Roman coins that were used for everything everywhere in the realm. The Jewish diaspora was already extremely large in Jesus’ day, with more Jews living around the Mediterranean than in the actual land of Palestine. When they came as pilgrims they had to change their money, purchase the items that were required for sacrifice, and to be able to do it at the temple itself was helpful. There was nothing evil on the face of it. It was what the Temple represented to the people that was Jesus’ problem, not the system alone.
In the ancient world, temples were the houses of the diety. The Temple in Jerusalem was God’s House. If you want to worship God, you have to go where God lives and offer your sacrifice to be assured of the forgiveness of your sin, and to give God the tithe God requires. It’s your agreement with God, your covenant that God will be your God, and you will be God’s people is sealed by your coming to God’s house and offering your tithe and receiving the blessing of clearing the slate until the next time you come.
So in the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, who worships on Mt Gerizim instead of Mt Zion, Jesus says that in the days to come, it will not matter about the location, but that all believers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The woman responds that she knows that the Messiah is coming, and Jesus tells her that he is it. In John’s Gospel Jesus signs, what we call miracles, point to the power that comes to him as God’s only Son. Jesus himself is God’s presence on earth and there is no longer any need for the Temple as the seat of God’s presence.
OK, so what does that bit of scholarly information have to do with us? I think too often we are still stuck in thinking that the Church is a building. We often think that coming to church is the way to get in touch with God, and that the building itself is the location of our ministry. It’s the centripetal and centrifugal force thing. We are drawn into church by God’s love and God’s Word. It’s a good thing to be here. It’s a good thing to come in to a place of peace and fellowship, and to be fed by Jesus’s words and Jesus’ body and blood. But that’s not all that worship is about or that a church building exists for. We are drawn in to be spun out like those rides at the park, into the world that needs what we find here in each other and in the Word of God that we share.
I know that many of you are already at work in the world to make it a more orderly, generous, safe, and caring place. I know that you come here to refresh and regenerate by what happens here in our worship, so that you can go back out into the world to do your work. We tend to think of mission work and church work as what groups do that are sent out for a specific church purpose. We tend to forget that God is out there as well as in here. We forget that God’s Spirit is at already at work ahead of us, calling people to faith, opening their hearts to see and hear God’s Word. We forget that God uses us to connect the dots for people God is calling, and that our real work as God’s people is out there. We don’t usually think of our daily work as the place where we will meet Jesus, but Jesus says he is present in the “least of these, my brothers”. The power to do what we do everyday is the reason why we come together here on Sundays. We spin in to filled with God’s word and God’s encouragement and then we are spun out into the world to be Jesus and to meet Jesus. That’s what John’s story of Jesus is telling us. Jesus is wherever we meet God, either in here or out there. So keep your eyes open. Where will you meet Jesus this week? Amen.