If I showed up this morning and starting flipping tables and accusing you of being heretics or hypocrites I don’t think you would enjoy it very much. In fact I’m fairly certain that I would wear my welcome out very quickly. To say that you would not appreciate such actions would be an understatement.
Yet, here we have Jesus walking into the temple, fashioning a whip, flipping tables and chasing people out. Jesus is filled with zeal for the temple and he rightly demonstrates it to those assembled that day.
Flipping Tables – Audio Sermon
Note – During the sermon the children are addressed and due to a faulty microphone the audio may be difficult to hear.
Jesus came into the temple that day and saw what no one else was able to see. That the money changers and merchants who first arrived to provide a vital service had taken over the church. No longer was it a place for worship, but a place for commerce which supported the temple cult. Those who supported the status quo were no longer able to see how the current setup created a barrier to God, rather than opening the way to God.
Which reminds me of a story and it may be a story you are already familiar with. One day in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station, a man with an open violin case in front of him played his fiddle for the passersby. Quite a few children and young people stopped and stared but were soon enough hustled off by their parents. About half a dozen people stayed for a minute or two before moving on to catch their train. A couple of dozen people threw money into the open violin case. After a while the violinist had collected a total of $32.17.
But the musician in question was no less than Joshua Bell.
Three weeks earlier he had played to a packed house in Boston where tickets for the good seats went for $100 a pop (and even the cheap seats cost more than Bell collected in the subway station that day). Unbeknownst to the distracted passersby, Bell was playing some of the most difficult and intricate pieces ever composed for the violin, and he played them with not only the world-class skill that Mr. Bell possesses but he played them on a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million. The whole stunt had been orchestrated by The Washington Post to see if anyone would notice. No one truly did, save perhaps for a few children who sensed something was up.
Too often in life we don’t realize what is standing right in front of us.
It can happen rather easily can’t it?
The pile of flyers that come in each week. We mean to go through them, but before long another week’s worth are on top. Or perhaps the book we want to read, but don’t quite get to. Before we know it a friend has recommended a new book and we have stacked it on the first.
What at first is something we need to take care of soon becomes part of the background. We stop seeing these items as something that needs to be taken care of. They just fade into the background. The pile of magazines, a stack of books, papers from a meeting, toys.
Sometimes we to look at things with fresh eyes. That is part of what our passage today does. Jesus forces us to look at the church, at his church, with fresh eyes.
I wonder if we were to take a look around St. Andrew’s would anything cause us to flip a few tables over? Perhaps we might not go that far, but would there be anything that would give us pause? I am not suggesting that there is, but it is a question to be aware of.
Perhaps the kids could give me a hand. I am wondering if you would like to take a look around outside by my study or at the back of the church, which we call the Narthex, and see if there is anything that you have a question about. Perhaps it is a book, a box or a piece of paper. Go and take a look and if you see something you have a question about bring it back here.
Each week I read a variety of articles about church, faith, theology. One of the blogs I read is called New Small Church by Karl Vaters. The article was about church traditions and was called Kill Your Church Traditions Before They Kill Your Church. No doubt a title that is designed to stir your passions in an effort to have you read the article. However, Vaters raises a few interesting points. He talks about the trap of traditions, how we can get stuck in a rut doing something because we have always done it. He argues that when this happens tradition gets in the way of effectiveness.
His response which is practiced at the church he is the minister at is that “When something stops being effective, they stop doing it.”
His test is just as simple. If something helps them to hear and know the Gospel better it is effective. If it doesn’t, it isn’t.
It’s a paraphrase of our passage this morning. Jesus flips the tables, makes a whip and chases the merchants and money changers out of the temple. Today we ask if a practice of the church is getting in the way of sharing the gospel.
In our reading the disciples are reminded of Psalm 69. “My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire.” The writer of that Psalm was being persecuted for his faith. It is a psalm of lament and it is also about suffering for your faith. Right now we are here worshiping God, but much indeed most of Canadian society is not in church today. It takes great faith to believe what we do in the face of so many who do not have time for God. Who are too busy to take the time and ask important spiritual questions about their lives.
It takes faith to believe that what you read in scripture and your relationship with God is more important than anything that any business person or political leader could ever say. This passage tests our spiritual vision. Do we understand what matters in life?
Jesus says the merchants and money changers were a barrier to a full relationship with God. We know that a proper relationship with God is obtained through Jesus Christ.
Last week I asked what do we understand the Messiah to be today? By arriving at an answer to that question we begin to understand what it means for us to be disciples of Christ.
Today, we have a different question before us. Today we consider what it means to be the church of Jesus. So it is good that we are all here, young and old alike.
Lent offers the opportunity to ask the question whether we may be destroying the temple.
You cannot understand Jesus unless you have the whole story. The story of Jesus culminates at the cross, but that is not the end. If we have an incomplete understanding of Jesus we may be left in a temple of our own construction. This temple might be dedicated to God, but without an appropriate understanding of Jesus we may actually stand in opposition to God.
During Lent we reflect on our relationship with God and one of the things we need to reflect on is how the different ways that we can be the church often get in the way of being the church. Are there things which we do, which we have always done which get in the way of doing what we should be doing?
Friends, what does it mean to be the church of Jesus? Amen.
Text: John 2: 13-22