Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 8, 2015

2015.03.08 “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes? – Passion” – John 2: 13- 22

Central United Methodist Church Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes? Passion Pastor David L. Haley John 2: 13- 22 March 8th, 2015

Cleansing of the Temple

It was time for the annual Passover celebration, and Jesus went to Jerusalem.  In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; and he saw moneychangers behind their counters. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and oxen, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.  Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Don’t turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!”  Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house burns within me.”  “What right do you have to do these things?” the Jewish leaders demanded. “If you have this authority from God, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.” “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  “What!” they exclaimed. “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can do it in three days?” But by “this temple,” Jesus meant his body. After he was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered that he had said this. And they believed both Jesus and the Scriptures. I have always liked the story about two pastors at a football game, where the crowd was on their feet, screaming and going wild, as crowds sometimes do at football games. One pastor looked at the other and said, “You know, I hate football, but I love being somewhere people are excited about something.” Yes, I admit it could be seen as an expression of pastoral cynicism (not that I’ve ever known any of that), but it raises a good question: “What ARE we excited about?” Or to put it in the way I would like to use today, “What are we passionate about? Sports? Golf? Cars? Politics? Your job? A person? Our family? Our faith? Anything? Hello? If you’re not coming up with anything, let me put it another way. What makes your heart beat faster, and your pulse quicken? What brings tears to your eyes? What keeps you awake at night?  What makes you want to stand up and do something? Because whatever it is that makes you feel this way and do these things, that is something you feel passionately about.  If you didn’t care, it wouldn’t get to you. “Passion” is our third quality in this Lenten series, “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes?” Like discipline and sacrifice, the two qualities examined so far, passion is a quality exhibited by Jesus, which must surely be exemplified in the lives of those who would follow him. Except in this case, it’s not a passion for a bigger house or a better car or a winning team or even a bigger church, it’s passion for God and the things of God, things like righteousness and justice and peace. These were things Jesus was passionate about.  How then could we who follow Jesus not be passionate about them also? We know Jesus was passionate about these things because of what he said and what he did, especially what he does in today’s Gospel, that incident referred to as the “Cleansing of the Temple.” Despite the children’s sermon, get out of your mind things like mops and and sponges and buckets, that not what we’re talking about, although with all those visitors and all those animal sacrifices surely the temple in Jerusalem must have needed cleaning. It was almost as busy as our church (and I only say that half-kidding.) Instead of mops and buckets, think of whips and overturned tables and bouncing coins, think of animals squealing and pigeons flying and people with livid faces running wildly, in whose midst Jesus stands yelling, “Get these things out of here!” “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Matthew, Mark, and Luke add, “a den of thieves.” What was going on? What made Jesus so mad, was that though the temple was a place people were commanded to go, access to God had been turned into a scam. When worshippers visited, there was a temple tax. They were also to offer a prescribed sacrifice, which – if you didn’t bring your own, which you were not likely to do if you’d come a long distance – could be bought on the premises at a marked up price, as at most tourist destinations. AND – the sacrifice had to be inspected, for a price. None of this could be paid for in regular money – Roman money – because it had Caesar’s face on it – but only in temple money, which, (surprise!) could be changed on site, at exorbitant rates.  No wonder Jesus reacted as passionately as he did; not only was the PURPOSE of God’s house perverted (as a house of prayer for all people), it was also perpetuating injustice, especially upon the poor. In fact, when we in the church imagine this scene, it may make us less angry than uneasy. Uneasy because we may suspect that sometimes we may have more in common with the targets of Jesus’ judgment that with the righteousness of his cause. It’s always easy to take up a club and turn on our favorite injustices – whether City Hall or Capital Hill – but this story makes us to imagine Jesus entering our houses of God, overturning our cherished rationalizations, and driving us out, in the name of God. (Paul C. Shupe, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, p. 92) A man named Jerry Goebel runs a ministry named ONE Family Outreach, which works in jails, homeless shelters, public schools, on the streets, in churches and through the internet to share God’s message of love and social justice.  I like Mr. Goebel insight into this story:        “Many people seem to believe that Jesus is like a candy-coated Prozac. You take a dose of him once-a-week and it helps you feel better.  To them, Jesus is a comfortable, neighborly ‘guy’ that lifts your spirits and doesn’t cause a whole lot of controversy. In this lesson we read about the ‘OTHER Jesus’. He is not a comfortable ‘guy’. As soon as you think you have the ‘Other Jesus’ in a box – you find that you are like a man giving a bath to a bobcat in the kitchen sink. This is not the Tea-Party Jesus. He is not the Potluck Jesus; the Jesus who sings praise songs with us in the pew nor the Jesus that makes us feel comfortable with our placid commitment to a ‘good-time’ religion. This is the Jesus who comes to our church and asks why we have cushioned pews instead of mattresses for the homeless.  This is the Jesus who interrupts worship and says; “Why are we singing happy songs in here when children in this very neighborhood are forgotten and abused?” This Jesus wants us to demonstrate our belief with action! ( Regardless of how uneasy this story might make us feel, can you imagine how Jesus’ disciples must have felt, watching Jesus do this in THE temple in Jerusalem, Herod’s Temple, God’s house? Can you imagine them rolling their eyes and smacking their foreheads and saying, “He’s done it now!” But even though they may have done that, the Gospel of John adds, they also remembered an ancient Messianic prophecy: “Zeal (translated in some versions as “passion”) for your house will consume me.” There’s that word “passion” again; what does it mean? The root word of zeal, or passion, is to burn, as boiling liquid or molten hot metal. Applied to a person, it means to burn with anger or righteous indignation. The image John gives us is of Jesus burning, seething, being consumed with anger which spills over into action. In modern usage, zeal is strong, enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal and tireless diligence in its furtherance. Zeal, or passion, is a quality we are both attracted to and repelled by. It’s a quality we prize in our athletes and our marriages; not so much in our politicians or religious leaders. After all, think how we use terms zeal or zealous, as akin to fanatic.  Remember the definition of “fanatic”? “A man who does what the Lord would do if he knew all the facts.” Passion in itself is a neutral quality, the means to an end which can be good or bad. It is possible to be very passionate about something about which you can be dead wrong. Passion is a characteristic of people on either side on an issue:  pro-choice or pro-life protestors; antiwar or prowar protestors; pro-peace demonstrators and suicide bombers;  Christians and Jews zealous for God as equally as Muslims for Allah. Which raises the question – even if we are passionate about something – even something good – how far should we go? The Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan once observed that there is a very fine line between someone saying, (1) “That is evil.” (2) “That is evil, someone should do something about it.” (3) “That is evil; someone should do something about it; and I will be the one.” Those terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11/2001 were surely thinking that exact thing. Ironically – more often than we like to think – passion expressed in protest, combined with shortsightedness, may result in the opposite affect for which it was intended. As an example, defenders of family planning point out that pro-life defeats of family planning legislation and funding because they contain contraception or abortion counseling, result in the deaths of more children rather than less. Ever since 9/11, there have been all those calls for war in the Middle East and Afghanistan and two long wars we have had. How’s that working out for us? Is the Middle East a safer place, than it was 15 years ago? Just ask those Iraqi refugees among us, who have come here fleeing for their lives.  Even war often accomplishes exactly the opposite of what it was intended to achieve. Those who cracked the skulls of civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma on national TV, on the orders of repressive regimes fighting voting rights, actually brought ABOUT the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As Dr. King once said, “If the worst of American life lurked in [Selma’s] dark streets, the best of American instincts rose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. (Martin Luther King, Jr., March 25, 1965). And yet, despite all these cautions and questions, I wonder if anything progressive ever happens unless someone arises, filled with passion for its accomplishment. Fifty years ago on that Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, there were two sides, each equally passionate. One side was backed by a repressive government, by a system of segregation that had been in place since emancipation, they were backed by the banks and the people in power, they were backed with guns and billy clubs, instruments of violence. On the other side were those oppressed, led by Dr. King and others and backed by the foot soldiers of civil rights, who were equally passionate about the use of non-violence to achieve equal rights and justice – not just for some – but for all. Their weapons were courageous spirits and marching feet and songs of freedom and a passion for peace and justice. Their cause was just, their methods were peaceful, and in the long arc of history, we know which side prevailed. What is our passion? If we are young, we may not yet know it.  In the middle ages of life, we may have many passions, and we may have to ask ourselves if they are worthy of our life’s precious time and energy. If we are old, we may know our passion all too well – it burns in our bones – we just don’t know what to do about it.  In light of today’s Gospel – the story of Jesus in the Temple – the most important question to ask ourselves is: do we have a passion for God and for God’s people, for righteousness and justice and peace? Then like Jesus in the temple – no less than those who marched at Selma – let us turn our passion into protest, and our protest into promise, towards a better world, for our children, for all God’s children.  Amen.


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