Third Sunday after Epiphany
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Sunday, January 21st, 2018
Loving God, sometimes we don’t even notice how things change over time and get in the way of a life-giving relationship with you. Cleanse our hearts and minds as we gather today for worship, making us always open to your presence, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Jerusalem Temple was never meant to be oppressive. It began as a place of worship – a place where people could come and pray – a place where God would dwell in a special way. However, over the years things changed. Sometimes people would bring a bull or a sheep, but it would be blemished when it was supposed to be unblemished. Sometimes people would come wanting to give one of the prescribed offerings, but they weren’t farmers, and so they needed to buy a lamb or some doves or some grain for their offering. And so, over time, places were set up just outside the Temple itself where people could get these things.
At the same time, the Law of Moses talks about the sanctuary shekel, which was to be used in order to pay for vows or in order to pay the Temple tax. People interpreted this to mean that only shekels could be used to pay for these things, in spite of the fact that the common currency came from whichever ruling power happened to be in charge. And so, in the first century that meant that any Roman currency would need to be exchanged for the sanctuary shekels. And so some tables were set up just outside the Temple where people could exchange their currency.
Imagine coming here today and having to walk through a bunch of market stalls in order to get to the door. Imagine that you had to buy a bull or a lamb or some doves for your offering and that people could tell by which one you purchased how much money you have. Oh – look at them! They’re able to afford a sheep. And look at them! They only have enough for some doves. Oh – and look at her! She didn’t even have enough to pay the tax on the way in. Can you imagine how oppressive that would be, especially for those who don’t even have enough to eat?
And so Jesus comes along and says, “Stop this!” “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (Jn. 2:16) Get all of these things out of here. This is a place for worship and for prayer! Jesus tips over a few tables and drives the animals away and turns the entire system on its head. And then he makes the audacious claim that God has been let out of the Temple. It is no longer just in the Temple that God dwells. God is now dwelling in Jesus. His body is now God’s temple, which will be destroyed and then raised in three days. However, as often happens in the gospel of John, nobody understands this at the time. It is only after Jesus is raised from the dead that his disciples figure out what on earth he was talking about.
In the meantime, Jesus has just challenged the entire Temple system – the first public thing that he does in the gospel of John. This is not a man who plays it safe or who is meek and mild. He is not afraid to tip over a few tables and disrupt the status quo - which leads to some interesting questions…
For example, are there things in our churches that wound people? Are there things that are oppressive or that ignore the pleas of those who need Jesus the most? Are there things that have become our usual way of doing things that Jesus would want to disrupt? Are there certain kinds of people who might walk into St. Luke’s Zion and get the sense that they are not particularly welcome here? These are not easy questions, but are well worth considering.
At the same time, we can ask in each of our lives: Are there places in our lives where Jesus would like to tip over a few tables and disrupt our usual way of doing things? (RevGalblogpals.org). The thing is that it is easy to fall into habits that aren’t necessarily good for us. Whether it is watching TV or staring at your phone or playing games on your computer, hours can go by while we are simply distracting ourselves. At the same time, we can come up with all sorts of excuses not to worship or to pray. Of course, some also fall into habits where they are busy all the time and take on too much and never take the time to look after their health. Either way, Jesus might want to step in and disrupt things a little bit.
However, are there places where we might need a complete restart, like in the temple? Are there things in our lives that Jesus might tell us to remove entirely, like the piles of coins and the doves and the cattle? Are there places where Jesus might say to us, “get these things out of here. They are getting in the way of you being able to have a life-giving relationship with God.”
There is a sense of relief when we think about cleansing – when we think about clearing away whatever it is that is acting as a barrier to our relationship with God. Getting rid of those tables and the animals and the piles of coins creates space – space for God to dwell. It is important to have that space within us as well, for God dwells in many places – including in the hearts of believers.
Let us then continue to call upon the Holy Spirit, opening our hearts and our minds to the presence of Jesus. And may we also be empowered to clear away whatever barriers have developed in our lives and in this congregation, that all people might be able to experience the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Epiphany 3 (NL 4) John 2:13-25
January 21, 2018
St. Luke’s Zion Lutheran Church
Pastor Lynne Hutchison
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