Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Sunday, March 4, 2018
The first song I sang with the junior choir at St. Paul’s in Brunswick, went like this:
O Jesus sweet, O Jesus Mild!
For sinners You became a child.
You came from heaven to fulfill
Your Father’s just and holy will.
O Jesus sweet, O Jesus mild!
This is a Jesus who we understand, with whom we are quite comfortable. Jesus meek and mild. But what if Jesus wasn’t always like that? After all—what is happening in our reading today?
When we see this whole ‘cleansing and whip-driven scene’ today– through the lens of 21st century, Western, American, eyes– it certainly can seem that Jesus is simply throwing a fit.
But before we can talk about what Jesus was doing in the Temple that day 2000 years ago, we need and look back at what another man of God was doing a few centuries before that.
A long time ago in a temple far far away, a prophet called Jeremiah gathered the leaders of the temple together, held high a clay pot, and prophesied that the kingdom of Judah would fall to Babylon because of its idolatry—because they worshiped something other than God. The people of God in the days of Jeremiah were no longer growing in faith and love. They had become complacent, resting on past laurels, and were becoming more and more accepting of the corruption in the society in which they lived.
They needed to be awakened.
Jeremiah gave them a visual of the destruction they were headed toward, and to make his point, he threw the pot to the ground where it shattered. He knew that this prophesy– though true– would probably provoke the temple leaders and shorten his life. And it did. Speaking truth to power is not without risk.
And his prophecy came to pass. And they killed him.
Roll the tape forward to the year 30 or so of the Common Era.
The Jews have finally returned from their exile in Babylon, the Temple is nearly rebuilt. The people are becoming complacent again, turning a blind eye to fact that those in authority are amassing power. The Pharisees are more concerned with stressing ritual laws that keep the people focused on minutiae. By focusing the people on who is doing the will of God—and who is NOT— the leaders are keeps the people from seeing the Pharisees hypocrisy and corruption.
Jesus tears though the smoke and mirrors. Like Jeremiah, Jesus predicts the downfall of this grand behemoth of a Temple they are constructing. It has been built on the premise of inequality. It has been raised to promote the welfare of some, while neglecting the poor and less ‘worthy’.
So Jesus makes a gesture worthy of Jeremiah. He turns over the moneymakers tables, demonstrating visually that the temple’s corruption will be overturned.
And the people aren’t shocked, they see the metaphor. In Mark rendition of this event it says “the people were astonished at his teaching.” And the Pharisees ask him—not to cease and desist—but by whose authority he teaches this.
Jesus knows that by making this gesture, he will probably provoke the temple leaders and shorten his life. And that’s exactly what happens. Speaking truth to power is not without risk.
And they kill him. And his prophecy comes to pass.
The temple being built was destroyed – a short 30 years after Jesus was executed.
And the temple of Jesus’ body—was indeed raised in 3 days. And it is still being raised, because we are the body of Christ.
Jesus is with us—even now– to overthrow the tables of what is corrupt in our society, driving out the things that keep us from following his command to love.
And Jesus’ command to love is never safe.
Loving is dangerous. Haven’t we learned that? Being Love in the world really riles those in power, because they can’t control those who are following the command to love everyone. The can’t give us enemies to turn against and hate.
We are called—yes, called—by Jesus to love even those people who the world encourages us not to love.
I mean, when we love those people that society says it’s safe to love–what good is that? Even the unchurched do that. We are called to do more.
Following Jesus – then and NOW–involves personal risk; it changes how we live our lives.
Love always does that. Love shakes up our safety nets, it breaks our hearts, breaks us open. Did we really think following the Lord of Love would be a cakewalk?
More often, I fear, following Jesus will feel unsettling. Like the tables of our lives are being turned over.
It’s sometimes hard to discover that we really don’t know everything there is to know about how far this command to love everyone will take us.
Maybe the way things have always been isn’t the way they will always be.
The Spirit of God helps us remember the past, changes us in the present, and shows us glimpses of a better future.
But we must never be satisfied and complacent that we have nothing left to learn. God may not change, but we must, so that the Spirit can make us ready for the temple that Love built. Amen.