Scripture: John 2:13-25
When we read the story of Jesus clearing out the temple, don’t you wish you had that kind of courage to do the same thing? Don’t you wish you could walk into some place where you are completely frustrated and start flipping tables?
Come on, I know I’m not alone in this am I? Don’t you wish sometimes you could walk into work someday and give your boss or co-workers a piece of your mind? Don’t you wish sometimes you could walk into the bank, or a store, or some other location and just tell them how to do things right? Could this place even be the church on occasion?
There’s nothing wrong with having this feeling once in a while, especially if you feel the organization has wronged you or someone you care about in someway. Or maybe this place has a very special place in your heart and you hate to see it not be all it could be.
There are certainly times when I wish I could walk into the national offices of the United Church of Canada and tell them everything I think they are doing wrong and how to fix it! I might even feel that way about presbytery once in a while too.
What’s the point? How could I, a small town preacher from Cape Breton… what kind of influence, what right do I have, to demand change? Probably not much at all.
But what if… what if several churches came together? What if those churches worked in partnership to influence change in the denomination, or community, or businesses, or government? Wouldn’t that be more impactful? Wouldn’t that carry greater weight for the argument?
In a way we are seeing some of this happen right now. Last fall the Liberal government of Canada made changes to the requirements needed to apply for summer student grants. They made these changes, so they say, to keep extreme organizations from applying for funding. Groups who the government see as infringing upon the values they promote are not welcome to apply. In other words, they didn’t want pro-life groups, those which vocally and actively oppose abortion, to get money for their organizations. It seems a few of them did last year so the government made changes.
They have the right to do this, and I understand why they would want to. Some of these groups can be extreme in their approaches to opposing abortion. But there have been side effects as result of their changes to the application form.
Many churches have depended on these grants to hire students to do things like run Vacation Bible Schools, run summer camps, even programmes for the homeless or immigrants, among many other activities related to the ministry of their churches.
The Federal Government has recently said churches are still very much free to apply for student grants as long as the activities do not infringe upon the rights of Canadians, which is great. But they are still asking churches to check the box which is contrary to their belief systems. In a way they are telling the churches it’s ok to lie on the form. I don’t know many churches willing to take the step to lie and support a government position they do not agree with.
Churches have been vocalizing their opposition to the changes and it’s been getting some news coverage of late, but it seems the government has made its position firm and is not willing to alter the form.
Instead, churches are scrambling as to how to move forward in programs they see as very important in their outreach to the community in which they serve. Some are waiting until the next election to make their frustrations known. Some are writing and calling their MPs to apply pressure. Others are re-evaluating their dependency on tax dollars to support their work.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a follower of Jesus these days. Mention our Saviour outside the church and you’ll most likely face blank stares or possibly even some ridicule.
Yet, we strive forward as best we can. In a way we’ve retreated back into our buildings reevaluating our position in the world. It’s my hope that through this the church will come back out of its shell with a powerful statement of how they see their role in the world in spite of the opposition it will undoubtedly face when it does. And maybe even the church will start flipping some tables and chasing out those who are working against the work of God in the world.
Oh we can’t do that now can we? Jesus preaches love and acceptance, he shares God’s grace and forgiveness. Yes, this is true. He does say these things. But as we saw this morning he’s also calling out those who oppose, or even try and make personal gain from those Jesus is working to reach.
When Jesus walks into the temple courtyard here’s what he sees. He sees people come from far and wide to pay their respects to God as the Law actually requires of them. They need to come and offer gifts and sacrifices to the Lord. They are simply being obedient to God. Many of these people have travelled a very long way to do this.
The other thing Jesus sees are vendors setup around the courtyard. Because many of the people have travelled a very long way, they haven’t brought anything to sacrifice. It would be rather complicated to travel with pigeons or other animals to the temple. So it’s been arranged to have these items available in the temple for people to purchase for their sacrificial offering.
The people making their pilgrimage also come from a variety of areas with different currencies. So there are booths setup so they may exchange money for a temple currency. Think of it like going to the exhibition and needing to buy tickets for rides and other activities.
This is where the problem surfaces. The booths have extremely high exchange rates and are essentially ripping off the people who are trying have an encounter with God. This goes for both the money changers as well as the sellers of the animals, who are charging very high prices for their products. And no doubt there are who people have chosen to not make this pilgrimage based on the fact they cannot afford it.
Jesus has a serious problem with this.
Now this is pretty early on in the ministry of Jesus. Yet we will see in his life and actions he wants to remove any barriers which keep people from having an experience with his Father and our Father in heaven.
Jesus has no problem standing up against those he sees as keeping people from experiencing God in their lives. You don’t want to help people on the sabbath? That’s not right! What does Jesus do? He heals people… on the sabbath!
You want to push people away from society because of their illnesses or disabilities? That’s not right! Jesus heals them and welcomes them back into community!
You want to make a profit off people seeking God? Get out of my Father’s house!! Get OUT!
Jesus has little patience for this stuff. It directly works against why he has come to the earth. Jesus has come to show people there are no barriers to knowing God. He’s showing we don’t need to work through the religious leaders of the temple. We don’t need some priest to encounter God on our behalf. All we need is to know and follow Jesus as the Lord of our lives, the ultimate leader, the king of the earth, the only Son of God who walks among us. No one needs to get in between us and God for this life giving relationship!
Jesus breaks those barriers down! He is God among us, God with us, he is God! And through him we have direct access to the Father.
As you can imagine, the religious leaders don’t take kindly to this threat to their leadership in the community. And as Jesus has chased away people from the temple courtyard, who may have been contributing to the temple financially as part of their sales, i.e. paying some rent, they confront Jesus and ask him by what right does he have the authority to say and do such things!
“Prove it” they challenge Jesus.
“Destroy the temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” Jesus replies.
The religious leaders scoff at him and say it took them 46 years to build this temple. There’s no way he can rebuild it in only 3 days! Impossible!
But of course they don’t understand the meaning of “3 days.” They haven’t killed Jesus yet. They haven’t place him in a tomb. They haven’t waited 3 days to go and check on him. They haven’t seen the tomb is empty.
Jesus is telling the world there is no need of a temple to encounter God. You only need him.
At the temple, you get instruction, you get help, you learn about God, but through Jesus you can know and meet God anywhere, anytime.
You can meet God in your bedroom as you pray. You can meet God in your favourite chair as you read your Bible. You can meet God as you walk on a beautiful day through his creation. Jesus has done this for us this and walks with us in these encounters by the power of the Holy Spirit, another gift from God to his children.
The temple, the church, it’s still important because we gather here as the family of God to fellowship, pray and learn together, but the real work happens in the rest of our week as we seek to live out what we have been learning in the church and through our prayer and devotional times.
Which may be to stand up against the powers which try and exert authority over us in areas in which they have no authority. To stand up to those who seek to profit off of the weak and underprivileged of our communities. And to offer God’s love, peace and grace to a world which needs it desperately.
This is what Jesus did. It’s also what he’s asking us to do as we follow him as Lord and Saviour of our lives. Jesus died for this cause, because God wants his people back into his family. In many ways we’ve become estranged from the family of God, and we need to come back home in him.
We can’t wait for governments to do this, because they won’t. They never will. Government will never give up it’s power and authority, they have too much invested in this power. They’ve been blinded by power and have lost sight of the weak and vulnerable living in the dark corners of society.
When Jesus stood up against the powers of the world, it cost him his life. He died for us all. So we might know the fullness of God’s love.
How far is Christ’s church willing to go?
Will we stand up for those who are weak and marginalized? We will confront the powers that be when injustices are happening around us? Will we preach God’s love and grace when the opportunities arise to hope hope to those in need?
Jesus is the head of the church. He owns this place, it is his. When we realize this, we then understand we are parts of his body and are put in motion by the head to do the work of God in the world. We all have a part to play, and we will see people come to know Jesus when we let him take control.
Through him, let’s push away the oppression and make the world a better place for God’s children, so we all may know together the saving grace of God found in Jesus Christ.
Let us pray,
You are the one who is in charge of our church, our lives, and whatever else we give to you. Help us to see the benefit of this change and give us the courage to offer everything to you.
It’s in your care we are loved and we learn to love those around more deeply, and care for the needs in their lives.
This is what family is truly about. It’s what life in you is truly about.
We come together to learn of God’s love for us, a love found solely in you and the sacrifice you made for us on the cross.
And how in three days, in your resurrection, you showed the world, for all time, there is no need of anything other than the Lord in our lives.
We thank you for this, Jesus. Help us to trust in this life giving message, and give ourselves to you. Amen and amen.