Year B, 3rd Sunday in Lent
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always pleasing to you, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
You hear me start my sermons with this prayer almost every week. Did you notice that we said almost these exact words earlier in the service? This prayer is an adaptation of the last verse of Psalm 19. Psalm 19 is a beautiful poem that begins with the heavens, the day and the night declaring the glory of God. The psalmist goes on to praise God’s law, and ends with this beautiful prayer of love and faith. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, My strength and my redeemer.”
That is my prayer and my hope as I preach to you.
Today we heard the story from John’s Gospel of Jesus driving the moneychangers and animal-sellers from the courtyard of the Temple. In the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, this story happens at the end of Jesus’ ministry and it is the very thing that convinces the chief priests that they need to have Jesus put to death. In John’s Gospel, the story happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I want to start by looking at what Jesus actually says and does. He makes a whip and then drives the sheep and the cattle from the Temple. He tells the vendors selling doves to leave, and he knocks over the tables of the moneychangers.
This is really a puzzling story for several reasons. First, those people were performing a necessary service to the Jews who visited the Temple. The moneychangers were necessary because the Roman coins were not allowed in the Temple. Roman coins contained the image of Cesar and the words, “Son of God.” So people changed their Roman coins for Temple coins to make their offerings.
The animal-sellers were vital as well. People would buy a cow or a sheep or a dove in order to make sacrifices at the Temple. Most did not have their own animals, and even those who did were better off buying one there than transporting a beast from wherever they lived to Jerusalem and to the Temple.
So why did Jesus drive the animal-sellers and moneychangers from the Temple? The first clue comes in verse 17: His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This verse refers to a prophesy in Zechariah 14:21, “And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.” The day Zechariah is referring to is the last day in which all the nations attack Israel and the Lord intervenes and saves Israel from all her foes.
The second clue as to why Jesus is driving the moneychangers and animal-sellers from the Temple is in his response to the Jews who ask him for a sign. Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ (John 2:19) The people challenging Jesus were skeptical, to say the least. “This Temple has been under construction for 47 years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But we know that Jesus is referring to his own body. This is a prediction of the resurrection, but this is also a clear statement that God is found in Christ. Christ is the Temple.
Jesus is showing the people in the Temple that that day has come. God has come in the person of Jesus himself. This is the great claim of John’s Gospel, that God is present in Jesus and revealed in Jesus. Jesus is showing, through the prophetic action of driving the animal-sellers and moneychangers from the Temple, that the Temple is not the place where God is found, or not the only place.
We will see more of this develop later when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. One of the greatest conflicts between the Jews and the Samaritans was the argument about whether sacrifices could be made and worship held in Samaria, or only at the Temple in Jerusalem. (John 4:19-26)
The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. Jesus teaches us to look for God outside the Temple, and even outside the church. We are accustomed to thinking of church as being the place where we go to encounter God, and I certainly hope that you have that blessing, but that is only part of the story. Church is the place where we encounter God and where we learn to see God in the other parts of our lives.
I would like you to engage in a spiritual exercise with me this week. Please take out the yellow Weekly Announcements insert from your bulletin. Now, I want you to write down a few of the important places you will be in the next week. Maybe you will be at work. Write that down. You will be at home, wherever that is for you, so write that down. Perhaps you know you will be at the doctor’s office. You could write that down. Are you going to the Library? The supermarket? The metro-station? Write down a few of the places that you know you will be this week.
Now, what I want you to do is to look for God at work in each of these places. Look for Christ in the people you encounter. Look for the spirit in each of these places and in the people you meet. Then, I want you to share with me what you found. Where did you see God at work? I would love it if you could take pictures of the places where you see the spirit at work and share them with me. Send me your stories, your pictures and your experiences of God at work. I will collect them and share them. If you want to share your story or your picture with me but you don’t want me to share them, just tell me so and I will keep them private.
Church is the place where we learn to recognize God at work in the world. Church is the place where we experience encouragement and then are sent out into the world to do God’s work. We spend about two hours a week here in this building, worshiping God. This week I would like us to begin to create a record of where we see God the other 166 hours of the week.
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
March 8, 2015