John 2: 13-22 Sunday March 7, 2021 Not Reformed, Transformed!

Not Reformed, Transformed!

(preached March 7, 2021)

 Introduction to the gospel

To understand our gospel passage for today, from John, it helps to have a little background to set the scene.  The passage takes place at the feast of Passover, one of the most important events of the Jewish religious year.  For faithful Jews, a Passover pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem was the dream of a lifetime.  Like all travelers, these pilgrims brought money with them: currency that would have to be changed to the local currency.

So for the convenience of travelers, there were booths in the temple where they could change their money.  The money changers had quite a racket going.  They charged a fee for every coin they changed.   They made a nice profit on every transaction.  These money changers, and other religious entrepreneurs, are on the scene as our passage begins.

John 2: 13 – 22

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover.  Entering the temple, he’s shocked to find the place teeming with profiteers.  He reacts quickly and angrily, and not only with words.  He takes some strips of leather and makes a whip to drive them out of the temple.  This anger is a side of Jesus we don’t see very much. He’s furious.  He’s outraged by all the buying and selling in God’s house.

He can see that the pilgrims at the temple are being fleeced as they change their money.  He can see that another kind of fleecing is going on as well.  It involves the animals that the pilgrims brought to sacrifice as part of their worship.  The pilgrims believed that this sacrifice would make amends to God for the bad things they had done.  They believed that an animal sacrificed on the holy altar would reconcile them with God.  So they brought animals.  The rich people brought sheep or cattle.  The poor folks brought doves.  All the animals had to be without blemish: no bumps or bruises or bald spots.

Pilgrims could bring animals from home to sacrifice, or buy them when they got to the temple.  And here is where the temple authorities had a real racket going.  They appointed inspectors, people to check the animals that were brought for sacrifice.  The inspectors almost never approved for sacrifice an animal that had been brought in from outside.  They would reject these animals.  They would require the pilgrims to purchase one of their own temple-sanctioned animals.  Of course the temple sanctioned animals were much more costly.  It was pure and simple exploitation in the name of religion.  The religious leaders were taking advantage of the people who came to worship God with their hard-earned sacrifices.

No wonder Jesus is furious.  No wonder he goes ballistic at the sight of all those coins rolling into the cash drawers of the temple authorities.  No wonder he turns their tables over, starting a stampede of terrified sheep and cows, sending hundreds of doves flying in a panic out of their cages.

And it’s no wonder that the temple authorities are upset by his rage.  They ask, “What credentials can you present to justify this outrageous behavior?”  Jesus responds, “Tear down this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”  In the middle of the sheep bleating and feathers flying, Jesus says, “This temple is not such a big deal.  Destroy it, and in three days I will raise it up again.”

At the time, nobody knew what he was talking about.  But in fact, the temple would be destroyed in just a few decades.  The Roman rulers destroyed the temple and laid waste to Jerusalem, to put an end to the uprisings of the Jewish people, trying to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression.

Here, as they question Jesus, the temple authorities may be thinking he’s out to reform their religion.  They see his anger and his actions as an effort to get rid of the greed and abuses of power that have become common practice.

But Jesus isn’t talking about reform here.  When he says he’ll raise the temple up again, in only three days, he’s not talking about building a bricks and mortar temple.  He’s not talking about reforming the faith.  He’s talking about transforming the faith completely, bringing a whole new way for the faithful to come to God.

For hundreds of years, his people had been coming to the temple to worship God, to pray and be reconciled to God through sacrifice.  Now, in Jesus, they will find a whole new way to come to God.  In his life, death, and resurrection, they will see the living, breathing God in human form.  From Jesus, they will learn God’s loving ways.

No longer will they need to bring animals for sacrifice on an altar.  No longer will they need to make sacrifices to be reconciled with God.  Jesus himself will be the sacrifice that will reconcile all humanity with God.  No longer will they need a bricks and mortar building for a meeting place with God.  Jesus brings something more lasting than a brick and mortar temple.  He brings a relationship with God through him.  That’s that the church has been about, down through the ages.

Because of Jesus, you and I have a way to meet God.  In him, the altar of God has come down to us.  The altar of God has become a table where we gather in remembrance.  The only sacrifice we need to reconcile with God is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  The altar of God has become a table where we share the bread of life and the cup of salvation.  God’s high altar has become a dinner table.

Because of Jesus and his sacrifice of love, we are reconciled with God through a person, not a place.  Of course, because we’re human, we still need a place.  We need a place to come together, to hear God’s word, to draw strength from one another.  We need a place whose beauty lifts our spirits, a place where music moves us to praise and settles us into prayer.  But the purpose of our building is simply to shelter us as we praise Jesus, who dwells among us.

As we remember him, Jesus will hallow this place.  He will transform this church into his very body.  He will take our feeble, fumbling attempts to praise, and transform them into true worship, worship free of our self-serving ways.  Through his sacrifice of love, we will receive God’s forgiveness.  In his hands our broken lives will be made whole again.  As forgiven, whole people, we will go forth from this place to serve God in the world.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Lent 3

“Consider the Lilies” John Prindle Scott
Maria Ferrante, Soprano
Joyce Carpenter-Henderson,  Pianist