3 Lent B—3/8/15
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Pr. Scott Kramer
Well, what would have been your response if you were one of Jesus’ disciples? There he is, apparently having lost his mind, chasing animals, turning over tables, scattering money everywhere—in church! What would have been going through your mind?
Surprisingly, on this occasion, Jesus’ disciples keep it together. Mark writes that His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” And again, in v.22: After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said.
In the meal we share each Sunday, we hear these words: Take and eat, this is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new covenant in my blood…for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.
Remember, remember, remember. To be a disciple of Jesus means to set aside what we’ve learned and what we think we know and maybe even what we believe. We remember what Jesus did, what he said, and try to allow these teachings to order our lives.
When we remember the life and the words of Jesus, we remember that Christian faith is not “common sense”! It is not God’s rubber stamp on our national or cultural or personal values. No, the choices Jesus made were full of surprises and disappointments for his first disciples. The path that Jesus follows begins by offending nearly everyone, and ends on a cross. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, the message about the cross is “foolishness to those who are perishing.”
Chasing animals, flipping over tables, scattering money everywhere—this must have seemed pretty shocking, pretty nutty to those few who were just beginning their adventure with Jesus…which makes their response all the more remarkable. They would have been as likely as anyone else to be offended by what Jesus did. But instead of trusting their traditions, at least on this occasion they trusted in Jesus! They remembered not what was most comfortable or familiar or even logical; they remembered what the scriptures said.
We may not realize it but when we decide to say “yes” to Jesus we say yes to this Jesus—the same one who overturned the tables and chased out the animals in the temple. Those tables that Jesus overturned represent our beliefs and values and worldviews.
Remembering is hard work! Remembering is hard when every day we are assaulted by a call to defend and protect what we already believe and how we live, a call to guard and enhance our privilege and self-interest. But is this the way of the cross? Is this the path that Jesus took, the path he asks us to follow?
Dear friends, our challenge as American Christians is especially great. You and I have been trained to believe that we can work out the choices of our lives…on our own. Many of us are convinced that faithful living is just a private matter between “me and God.” It’s just a matter of following our traditions, our training and our “tribe.”
Our scriptures, however, have no such confidence in the power of any individual or any tribe to make faithful choices on our own. In the words of the psalmist today, Who can detect one’s own offenses? Cleanse me from my secret faults. In another place, the prophet Jeremiah says, The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? We wouldn’t call ourselves “perverse,” but neither would those folks in the temple whose tables Jesus’ overturned.
The Jesus we speak of is the same Christ who Paul calls a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to non-Jews…For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
This is hard for me to remember. It is easy to forget who we are and who we were created to be!
What do you notice about Jesus’ actions in the temple? One detail I notice is that his words are directed toward people, his actions are directed against things. Jesus shoves no one; he doesn’t throw things at people. No, he turns over tables. He drives out animals. He does all this in the temple. These are things. These are property, and that’s significant, because it’s things—property–that can become more important than God.
Our reading from Exodus uses the term “idol.” You shall not make for yourself an idol—which can be anything that stirs our passions, that consumes our energy and our fears. It’s whatever subverts or distracts us from our relationship with God.
This past week as I gathered for study of today’s readings with other church leaders in our area we found ourselves distracted, as we sometimes are, by the headaches of our church buildings. One congregation recently had a flood in their basement. Another struggles to make their mortgage payments because their once-large congregation is only a third the size it once was. To this conversation I added complaint about our own sizeable annual utility bill because of outdated lights, insulation, architecture and heating system. As Jesus showed in the cleansing of the temple, and as our Ten Commandments teach, when property becomes what stirs our passions and consumes our energy—we may have found ourselves an idol.
It is easy to forget. It is hard to remember who we are. But–we are not without resources. Notice which of the Ten Commandments uses the word “remember.” Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Now, you might think of Sabbath as “going to church” or a “day off.” You might think of rest as something that is the reward for hard work. But our Scriptures teach something quite different. Sabbath is not a reward for hard work but God’s free gift for all people. It is the practice out of which our work arises and takes on meaning. It is an antidote to soul-crushing schedules and routines.
If you are a young parent, if you have a high stress job, if you are a caregiver, you may hear voices within you rising up in protest. But a rhythm of rest is essential to the health of our minds, bodies and spirits. I was at a REACH meeting this past week and the host pastor offered a devotion affirming the value of Lent as an opportunity to hone our spiritual practice. He closed with these words: If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.
Our value to society is based on our productivity. Our value in the eyes of God, on the other hand, is unconditional; Sabbath is given as God’s free gift.
How do we remember who we are? We return week after week, hearing again the “foolishness of God.” We return to a table that can never be overturned, a table generously prepared as a reminder of God’s crazy power, God’s foolish grace and God’s reckless love for you and for all people. We return to a table infinitely larger than the ones Jesus overturned, a table at which there is room for all people, a table that inspires faith, hope, and the courage to hitch ourselves to God’s dream for ourselves…and for all the world.
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