Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sermon for Year B Lent 3

So here we are

So here we are.
Here in Jerusalem.
We have come to the Temple for the Feast of the Passover.
I traveled here with our son and his wife and their new baby.
It was a long journey
but it was important that we come.

Required really.
After the birth of a child,
we as faithful Jews come and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

I wanted to bring a lamb as a sacrifice,
but this has not been a good year for our family.
We have no lambs this year.
The best we could do was two small doves.
That’s acceptable for those of us who are poor.
Even though some look down on us for our meager little offering,
at least we have something we can give.
to celebrate and give thanks for this new child,
this new beginning.

I had not been to the Temple precinct in a long time.
Being her today I can see it has changed.
It sounds more like an open-air market—
calves bellowing, sheep bleating, people yelling,
coins clanging.
So much noise and commotion.
I remembered it as such a holy place.

I grew up hearing the stories that the Temple is important
the Temple is the place where God lives here on earth.
But today?
I am having a hard time believing God would want to live here!

When we offer our doves
they won’t take them.
They say they are blemished
and cannot be used as a sacrifice

We have to buy a new pair of doves--
from one of the sellers here.

They will give us a small fee for the doves we have brought
(I keep silent but why do I have a sneaky suspicion
that our “blemished” doves
will become “unblemished” by tomorrow
and sold to some other poor and weary travelers??!!)

We have to go to the money changers
and change our money into temple currency.
Yes, another transaction fee.
We have to purchase new doves that will be acceptable for the sacrifice.

We can’t use our Roman coins
Because they have pagan images on them.
So the money changers
give us Palestinian shekels
so that we can purchase our new doves
and pay the temple tax.

By the time we pay the tax,
pay the money changers their fee,
buy the new doves,
we have used almost all the money we have.
This means a hard and hungry journey home.

I was praying to God that my heart would not be hardened
against all these using the temple for their own gain, their own greed,
when I heard a loud commotion.

People are screaming—
and running.
There is a man who is shouting angrily.
Who is he? I have seen him before I think.

I know.
He is the man named Jesus.
He was in our village a few months ago.
I only caught a glimpse of him
but my son says that he was healing people—
and not just Jews.

I have heard about his miracles.
Now here he is
and I can see him quite well.

I just didn’t expect him to look like a regular man.
But he does.
Only there is something about him.
Something different.
I don’t know.
His eyes have a way of looking at you
as if he has known you all your life.

I find myself staring at him.

To say he is angry is putting it mildly.
Why, he has a whip!!

My son grabs my arm and guides me away.
He is protective of me and his wife and baby.

Once outside we hear more of what happened that day.
Jesus came and drove all the livestock out of the Temple
and then he started after the people and their coin boxes.
Money was flying in all directions—
and so were the money changers!

I don’t care what people say—
I don’t think Jesus is crazy.
He was just fed up with the way
greed and fraud were taking advantage of people—
and in the Temple of all places.

This Jesus is not afraid to tell the truth.
And act on it.

Apparently when the authorities realized what was happening
they confronted him
and wanted to know what right he had to do such a thing.

I would have been terrified,
but Jesus didn’t back down.
They say he did not make one excuse.
Basically he just said,
“Shame on you for treating people like this.”
“Shame on you for cheating people
and taking advantage of people,
for letting others suffer
so that you can be rich and comfortable.”

When they threatened him,
Jesus said if they destroyed the temple
the temple would be rebuild in 3 days.

Well, that didn’t make sense to anyone (including me!)
After all, the temple’s been under construction for almost 50 years
and it still isn’t really finished.

One of Jesus’ disciples told my son
that Jesus often says things that don’t seem to make a lot of sense.
“But if you wait long enough,” he told my son,
“what Jesus says usually turns out to be spot on.”

Who is this man who fears no one but God?
Who is this man who speaks the truth even when it may cost him his life?
Who is this Jesus?

+ + +

This story of Jesus cleansing the temple
appears in all four gospels.
That tells us it is an important story.

Last week we heard what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Dale summed it up well: Be kinder than necessary.

This week we hear what it means to be the Church.
Keep God’s house sacred.
Every detail matters.
Hold one another accountable.
Fight against injustice—
most especially injustice done in the name of God.
Sometimes words are not enough—
some situations call us to act
and to act fearlessly.
Regardless of the suffering we may encounter along our journey,
resurrection will come.

Oscar Wilde once wrote,
If you want to tell the truth, make people laugh.
That way they won’t kill you.

This day in the Temple
no one is laughing--
least of all Jesus.

There is indeed risk and danger if we really begin to be the Church.

We journey deeper and deeper into Lent.
The holy calls us.
God is always faithful to us.
God claims each one of us as his beloved child.

The question is: how do we respond to God’s love for us?
How do we live as followers of Christ?
How do we come together as the Church in a world
which continues to press in upon us,
a world which is often bound and determined
to distract us from the sacred?

It’s not easy but it is simple:

Just as basketball players practice and practice and practice
in order to make those free throws or those three point shots—

Just as a musician, in order to play a piece of music with beauty and ease,
practices over and over and over—

Just as a poet writes a hundred poems that wind up the garbage can
before one finds its way into publication--

We are called to practice being a Christian.
We are called to practice being the Church.

We are called to practice every day
loving God and loving one another.
We are called to practice every day telling the truth,
treating our parents and our children,
our friends and yes, even our enemies
with respect.

We are called to practice being generous instead of envious,
To practice forgiving instead of hardening our hearts.
We are called to practice remembering the Sabbath
and keeping it holy.

We all know it is easy to miss a day of practice.
And then a week and then a month and then a year.
Where is the good news in this?

The good news is that we can start again.
The good news is that Jesus
only chased the money changers out of the temple.
He didn’t kill them or destroy them.
Jesus did not seek revenge.
He offered another chance.

Another chance.
Another chance to practice loving God and loving one another.
Another season of Lent to polish up on our rusty, dusty practices.
We are all so blessed.
This is indeed the Good News.

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