Sermon, March 11, 2012
Grace Episcopal Church
The Reverend Lois Keen
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ “
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “ Luke 4:9-12
It’s been a busy two weeks for Jesus, according to John’s gospel. John the Baptizer tells people that Jesus is the one for whom all Israel has been waiting. The next day John declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. The day after that – notice that John is very specific about time here – John points out Jesus, saying, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” and two of John’s disciples immediately turn from John and begin to follow Jesus. One of these is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He goes and gets his brother and brings him to Jesus.
The next day they go with Jesus to Galilee. Jesus tells Philip to follow him. Philip finds Nathanael and brings him along to follow Jesus. “On the third day,” John the Evangelist writes, “there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”
You may know the rest of that story. The wine is running out. Mary, Jesus’s mother, tells him to do something about it and Jesus says it’s not his time to show himself yet. Mary knows better, and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells him to do. So Jesus changes water into wine, and John writes, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
After this they go to Capernaum with Mary, Jesus’s brothers, and the disciples, and “they remain there a few days.”
Now it is the Passover. All Jews who can will go to Jerusalem to the temple to celebrate, to offer their sacrifices. The temple makes it easy for them: the outer courts are a marketplace for buying suitable sacrificial animals and such. And since worldly Roman money is too unholy, it will pollute the sacrificial animals that are bought with it, so the temple has arranged for money changers, who will launder your filthy, pagan Roman money for pure, holy temple coins, at a price, of course.
Here Jesus performs the second of what John the Evangelist calls “signs” rather than miracles – signs that point to Jesus being the Messiah. Jesus sees the market atmosphere in the temple, the buying and selling, the exchanging of coins for a price the poor can hardly afford, but have to pay in order to make even their poor sacrifices of a dove, and Jesus is angry. He makes a whip of cords and drives out the money changers, the merchants, and even the animals meant for sacrifice. He overturns the money tables and scatters the coins – which, of course, I imagine, anyone, even the poor, might just now be scrabbling to gather up for the next time they have to buy a sacrificial animal – and the disciples remember a line from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
This is not the anger of a temper tantrum. Jesus knows that the next day it will be business as usual in the temple. He does this sign, which we call the cleansing of the temple, as if to say, “I know what you have done with the religion that was supposed to bring people closer to God, my Father. You have turned it into a business. Don’t think for a moment God doesn’t see what you are doing!”
In the gospels of Luke and Matthew, Satan taunts Jesus to prove he is the Messiah by jumping from a pinnacle of the temple. “Surely the angels will come and catch you, if you really are the Messiah!.”
Today, in the temple, the ones with the greatest stake in the temple as marketplace play the role of Satan as they demand Jesus’s warrant, his credentials for doing this thing. “What sign can you show us for doing this?”, they say.
And Jesus says there will be no other sign. They have already seen the sign. Do not put the Lord God to the test.
John is using a little irony here. He wrote his gospel after the Temple of stone and mortar was actually destroyed by the Romans. The temple was leveled. Nothing is left but part of the wall that supports the temple mount. The temple itself has never been rebuilt.
The temple has become a marketplace because it has to be one. People can’t be carrying sacrificial animals around so the temple sells them. But there’s a bonus for the temple. They refuse to accept the common coinage and insist only temple coins be used for the people’s purchases, and these come at an additional cost, a profit that goes to the temple.
For John the Evangelist, then, Jesus becomes the temple. Access to God costs the worshiper nothing. It only costs one life. That of Jesus himself. The stone temple will be destroyed and no one will be able to raise it again. But the temple that is Jesus’s body is another matter.
Jesus says, “Destroy this temple,” meaning his body, “and in three days I will raise it up.” His death will be the only sign they shall receive, and the angels will not save him from dying. Instead, God will raise him from the dead. When the stone temple is destroyed, it will be for good. When the temple of Jesus’s body is destroyed, it will be resurrected, to live and continue forever.
“Do not tempt the Lord your God.”
“Mortal pride and earthly glory, sword and crown betray our trust; though with care and toil we build them, tower and temple fall to dust. But God’s power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.”
(Hymn 665, The Hymnal 1982, The Episcopal Church. Words: A Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms, 1698, alt.; para. of Psalm 130.)
Where is God? Where to you expect to meet God? In a temple? A Church?
The Jews expected that God lived in the temple, and that they could meet and even commune with God through the sacrifices they bought to be offered in the temple in Jerusalem. Where do you expect to meet God?
Where do you expect to participate with God in Jesus’s ongoing work?
In John’s gospel Jesus finds his vocation, the work he is to do with God, from his cousin John the Baptizer, from the people who attach themselves to him as disciples, through his mother who pushes him to show himself, to demonstrate with the sign of water turned to wine that he works with the power of God. And today Jesus demonstrates his vocation as the temple of God, a vocation that will lead to trial, execution, death and resurrection.
Where do you expect to participate with God in Jesus’s ongoing work? What is your vocation? Where do you find and exercise your vocation?
These are the questions today’s gospel is pressing us to answer. In John’s gospel Jesus knows who he is in God. Do you know who you are in God?
If you are having trouble answering these questions, that’s not surprising. Over the centuries the Church has been confused as the place to meet God, the place to participate with God’s work, the place for vocations that come from God.
Meanwhile, the church has forgotten to equip you, the saints, to recognize that it is in your common life outside these walls that you meet God. It is in your common life outside Church that you find your vocation. It is out there that you participate with God in Jesus’s ongoing work, in the ordinariness of everyday existence – doing the laundry, eating a meal, grading school papers, drawing blood samples, making appointments for people at the doctor’s office, selling hardware, teaching music, managing a city office – all, all ordinary activities of the lives of people everywhere, Christian or not, and yet these are the arena of Jesus’s work for God, through you.
So, does that mean that at work, in the home, at play, at the grocery store, at the movies you are supposed to become a soapbox preacher, telling people about the Good News of Jesus Christ? No. Unless that is truly your vocation. Your vocation, is that which you love doing, which stretches you and challenges you, in which you find delight and frustration, probably in equal amounts, and in which you occasionally catch glimpses of the beauty that is God.
Your vocation may not be your work or your profession. But your vocation is certainly there, in your every day, ordinary life, not in the church. If vocation were only in church, you would be here gladly every minute of every day. Few are called to do that. For good reason.
The reason is that God is out there in the whole world. The work of maintaining the place where the people of God can be refreshed for the coming week, and taught and supported in their vocations in the world often keeps those with the vocation to the temple, the institutional church, out of the world for most of the time.
But not you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Out there. Living. Working. Retired. Active. Real. And every bit as dedicated by God to do Jesus’s work in the world, which is, simply, to know who you are as God’s possession and to live your life in that knowledge.
When I was a little girl there was a man who lived with his wife in the house behind ours. He was a music therapist in the Veteran’s Hospital. But to me he was Uncle Teddy. He taught me how to play the piano. He encouraged me to sing. He wrote down the little songs I made up. But mostly he taught me love of something outside myself – the love of and passion for music. This was his vocation – love and passion for and in and with music. He also made his living at it, which was fortunate for him. But his profession was not his vocation, which was love.
What is your vocation? How are you already participating with God in Jesus’s ongoing multifaceted work in the world? How can the church help you to answer these questions?
"The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
Let the words of [our] mouth[s] and the meditation of [our]
heart[s] be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, [our] strength and [our] redeemer."
(Psalm 19:1-4, 14)