The complications of having Jesus as a guest preacher – as revealed in John 2: 13-22

On a day when Scripture draws our attention to habits of faith,

as it certainly does in our reading from Exodus,

it is troubling that John invites us to see Jesus at his most  controversial.

 

This is one of those stories about Jesus that appear in all four gospels (a rarity).

It comes at different points in the story for Matthew, Mark and Luke than for John.

This is the first of Jesus’ three (recorded) visits to Jerusalem, at the Passover,

and look at the impression he makes!

 

Off to the temple – presumably to celebrate the holy festival –

only to begin by rearranging the furniture, and upsetting the order of things.

And imagine the distress Jesus causes

for  the traditionalists and the ordinary faithful who “just want to worship”…

 

Let’s put this in context:   a man of faith,

following a personal experience of the presence of God

(at his baptism and subsequent temptation,

arrives to engage in worship, according to the habit of the day,

and tears the place apart!

He scatters the props used in worship

He accuses the faithful – the ordinary and the ordained –

of corrupting the idea of worship, and ignoring the call of God.

He kicks over the table in the entryway – smashes a vase full of flowers –

Starts a stampede of animals and insists that we change our ways…

How would we react?

Would we be as sympathetic if someone we did not know

mounted the pulpit and proceeded to demand (with a not so subtle hint of violence)

that we alter our procedures (and our understanding of what is necessary in service of/to God…)?

 

What is needed for worship?  Where can it happen?

What should it look like?  Who is in charge?

To whom is worship due?

Without asking these questions, Jesus raises the ideas behind them.

This exchange doesn’t lead directly to his arrest (not in John’s version, at least)

but it does spark some conversation (after the fact)

about who is in control, and about the place of the temple,

and the order of things as God seems to understand them (according to Jesus…)

 

John gives us Jesus who is prophetic (and problematic), right from the start;

proclaiming a bold new order of things.

When asked for a sign of his authority to speak so boldly,

Jesus talks of destruction and rebuilding –

Of death and resurrection, says John from the editors desk –

And it isn’t until Jesus had risen that any of his disciples (or anyone else, for that matter)

really understood what  Jesus was talking about.

 

 

 

So -to review:

A stranger, posing as a person of faith, enters a worshipping community,

condemns their practices, upsets the day-to-day routine,

and then suggests that a complete rebuild is in order.

How do we respond?

 

In John’s account, the response is silent disbelief.

In fact, they seem to push the incident aside – forget about it.

But what do we make of this display of Jesus indignation

in a time when worship habits are changing (or disappearing),

and people of faith are struggling to understand  their place in a changing world?

Have we been fooled into thinking that worship is just another activity in an already busy calendar?

Have we collectively committed the sin of turning faith into a commodity;

one more thing to be offered at a price?

We say that the gift of God that we call salvation is free – (Christ picked up the tab) –

But our strongest impulse these days

is to convince (recruit) people willing to join us in our struggle to meet the budget.

 

Let’s be honest –although we would love for more people to join us on Sunday;

Though we are eager for our neighbours and friends to feel as good about God as we (say that we) do,

our rational minds have made the quick calculation: more bodies = more money.

It’s not wrong to say that this is part of what concerns us –

it is wrong when this is all that concerns us.

 

A marketplace, Jesus said –  the temple courts was still a place where God could be found,

but only by those who could pay the price.

The system of sacrifice had become tied to the economic necessities of those in charge –

and don’t think that I am not very nervous about the implications here… –

Because isn’t that just  what we have?

A place where the poor are mentioned in prayer, or as a mission field,

but are rarely present as part of the worshipping community.

A place where young people are dreamt of –

but it is so hard to know what to do with them when they come…

(in both instances, it is because they can’t pull their financial weight –

bottom line – we don’t know how to include people who can’t “help us foot the bill”)

 

What became of the faith community –

remember, those whom Jesus accused were not pagans – they  considered themselves called by God; and were being faithful to their understanding of God’s call on their lives –

People who sought God’s intervention in the world;

People who longed for God’s mercy and justice and peace –

What happened to them when Jesus, by his presence and his persistence

(and his unyielding  belief in the nearness of God),

confronted them with their failings, and pushed them to change?

They were transformed into a movement of compassion, curiosity, and community outreach.

The followers of Jesus took their  message of the coming kingdom,

and the promise (and hope) offered in Christ’s resurrection, to the streets –

to the poor – to the powerful –

and when they gathered for themselves,

it was to give thanks for the way this new understanding allowed them to see the world.

That is the opportunity that Jesus challenge offers us

For, rest assured, we too are convicted by Jesus’ accusations.

We have lost our way – the whispered call of God has been overwhelmed by the noise of”necessity”

But it is not too late – never too late

To reach out in faith; to offer help and hope to the poor

To proclaim by our witness that the peace and promise of God

Revealed in Jesus Christ, can help this broken world make sense of itself.

Now that Jesus has cleared away the clutter (with his outburst in the temple…)

We can return to God’s purpose for us.

Let us – together – rediscover the joy of serving our neighbour;

May we offer, with God’s help, a message of hope to everyone we meet.

Let the church take up the challenge – live for the promise – demonstrate hope –

that the world might be changed for God.

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