Sunday, March 8, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church -Manchester, PA
The people who came to worship that day were looking to hear God’s word. They were looking for peace and quiet. They were expecting things to be the way they always were until….the coins flew everywhere. Sheep and cattle were running all over the place. The animals were making noise, the people were running. The man who came into the church that day looked around and overturned the tables, and started yelling for everyone to get all the things out of there! He said to stop making it a marketplace. He was angry, really angry. And everyone who saw him was shocked. I have to admit, I am shocked too.
I’ve always had a hard time with this story in the gospels. All four gospel writers have written down this episode in the temple although their placement of the story is at different times. In the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – this story is right before Jesus’ arrest. It was the final straw so to speak. In John, it is in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry right after the miracle at Cana. But no matter when this event took place, it’s a troubling one. It was shocking to the people at that time and it is disturbing to us today.
If I heard a story of a man walking into a church – maybe even our church – and knocking things over and yelling, I’d be very concerned he had some kind of anger problem if not an emotional or mental one. It’s fair to say that most of us would be shocked with this kind of behavior from anyone. But for Jesus to be responsible for this angry outburst is troubling. I don’t picture Jesus as getting angry and most of us don’t. Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is perfect. Jesus doesn’t get angry because anger is something that we associate as bad. And Jesus and bad don’t go together. So if Jesus could get angry then it forces us to look at anger in a new light.
What is anger? Anger is a feeling, an emotion. And feelings are neither right nor wrong. They are simply feelings. It is what we do with our feelings that is the problem. Anger is an emotion that can propel people into action. If a person is angry that an injustice is being done, then anger can propel them to make changes. It was anger at the Jim Crow Laws that caused the famous preacher Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stand up and fight for civil rights for Black Americans. He took the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously and 50 years ago yesterday he led the march from Selma, Alabama to the capital in Montgomery, but the crowd was met with hostility and is known today as “Bloody Sunday” because of the violence perpetrated by the police toward these peaceful protestors. They paid a huge price – some of them their very lives – for the fight for justice for all people. Martin Luther King Jr. paid a huge price to make room for God’s justice. He paid with his life, just like Jesus.
Now there are people – colleagues – who say I shouldn’t bring up these issues in church. They say it will make people uncomfortable, but as we read today’s gospel sometimes Jesus made people uncomfortable too. Sometimes anger is necessary to propel us to action. And that is what Jesus was doing that day in the temple. The temple at that time was a marketplace. The Jewish people sacrificed animals in the temple and they had to be animals that were without blemish or marks. So the leaders in the temple including the priests sold those coming to worship their animals, but often at a much higher price than anywhere else. And the people who came to worship had to exchange the Roman coins with the image of the emperor who was worshipped like a god, with the Jewish money that could be used at the temple. But again, price-gouging was often taking place. Sometimes, the people who were the poorest couldn’t even worship, because they couldn’t afford to pay their way into the temple.
This has nothing to do with the biblical concept of tithing or giving 10 % to the work of the church, which we all need to work toward. This was about forgetting what the purpose of the temple was all about. In Jesus’ time, the temple was the place where God actually physically dwelled in the Holy of Holies. The huge curtain that behind it held the Ark of the Covenant where God was believed to dwell. Jesus told them that God dwelled not in the physical temple, but within Him. He was the place where God dwelled. Jesus was the temple. Jesus was the one to be worshipped, because God dwelled within Him. You can see why this caused so much anger among the people and leaders of the temple.
And…I hope you can see why Jesus was so angry. The temple held memories for Jesus. He went there since he was a child. But as an adult he saw the way things were being done that just weren’t right. Jesus was angry because they were blind to what was going on in the temple. The people and the leaders were used to doing the things the way they always did them even when that meant that eventually they were mistreating others. Instead of helping the poor, they were creating more poor. The focus was no longer encountering God, but putting up walls that prevented people from encountering God. They were so used to doing things like they always did that they couldn’t recognize who Jesus was. They couldn’t see God in their midst.
And in case we are quick to judge, we aren’t any different than those in the temple. If Jesus came to our congregation today I wonder if He would be just as angry. What would he be flipping over? Would our offerings go flying all over the place because maybe we are giving out of our leftovers instead of abundantly out of our gratitude for all God has given us? Do we live out of an attitude of scarcity instead of abundance? Would Jesus turn over our tables because we are so used to doing things the way we’ve always done them that we can’t see we are creating barriers for people to experience God? I wonder if we would recognize Jesus if He came in the flesh in our midst today looking like someone right off the street? Would we recognize him? And would he be angry at what He sees that we don’t see?
It’s hard to imagine Jesus that angry. But when people’s lives are at stake, anger is a healthy emotion. I’m not talking about unhealthy anger that hurts people, but a righteous anger that sees an injustice and works to find a solution. Like people today who are angry about domestic violence and work to find ways to stop it. Or people who see that the environment is being abused and work to find ways to help heal the planet. There are people who are hungry physically and we at Christ Lutheran Church are doing things to help feed the hungry. Yet there are other injustices around us that we need to see too.
Jesus was angry because he saw what the people in the temple did not see and he challenges us today to see things differently as well. Maybe Jesus needs to cleanse our temple, our place of worship too. He challenges us to do the things that God wants us to do and maybe that means doing things differently than we’ve ever done them before. Jesus wants us to remember that the church is not ours, it is God’s and we are to do God’s will not ours.
Jesus challenges us to cleanse our physical building as well as our hearts. Jesus challenges us to see with new eyes. Jesus challenges us to make room for others to more fully encounter God and that may mean that we can’t do things the same way we’ve always done them. The gospel message cannot change, but the delivery of that message can. For example, centuries ago people didn’t have the technology we have today, but today we do and we can use things like our church Facebook to draw people to come here and experience God. And once here, we need to make sure they experience God. We can’t put up barriers to hold them back. Sometimes even physically cleansing our building or our temples, can be a way to breathe new life into a physical space so that people feel more comfortable being here. And cleansing our hearts and leaving our burdens and fears and guilt at the foot of the cross can be a way to breathe new life and joy into our lives. We need to make room for encountering God. That is what Jesus was so angry about that day. He wanted people to see that they were blocking people from experiencing God and wants us to see where we may be blocking people from experiencing God too. Maybe even ourselves. Maybe we are getting in our own way. We need to see with new eyes. We need to see from a different perspective and try new things.
Today is also Girl Scout Sunday and the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low was committed to making changes too. She wanted to give all girls an opportunity to develop physically, mentally, and spiritually. Juliette Low wanted to bring girls out of isolation into community service and when she decided to take action she wanted it to be immediate. In her famous quote she said, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight.” She wasted no time in getting the movement going.
We can’t waste any time either. And so today I am asking you to get up and start right now. It’s time to start seeing with new eyes. It’s time to see things from a different perspective and that means getting up and moving to a new seat. Yes, get up out of the same unofficially self-assigned seats you always sit in and move. I’m not kidding. Get up and sit in a new seat than you normally sit. Those on the left, go to the right. Those on the right go to the left. If you sit in the back, sit up front. If you normally sit up front, try sitting toward the back. Or maybe a few brave souls will come really close to the front. I’m going to ask the choir to sit where I’m usually sitting, and I’ll sit for the rest of the service where the choir usually sits. We need someone to play the organ, so Virginia you can stay there. It may seem silly, but changing where we sit changes our perspective and we do see things differently.
Jesus demands that we waste no time in continuing the movement that He started. Like Jesus, it’s not only okay, but right to be angry over the injustices that are happening in this world. God created all people and does not want them to suffer. As followers of Christ we are to stand up and proclaim the gospel even if others ridicule us. We are to remove the barriers that get in the way. Clean our temples – physically and emotionally – so that we and others can see God who is in our midst. God is here. Let’s make room so God’s glory can shine brightly. Amen!