Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 4, 2018

2018.03.04 “Personal Faith AND Social Action” – John 2: 13- 22

Central United Methodist Church
Personal Faith AND Social Action
Pastor David L. Haley
John 2: 13- 22
The 3rd Sunday in Lent
March 4th, 2018

Jesus Cleans the Temple

“Casting Out the Moneychangers” by Carl Heinrich

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. – John 2: 13 – 22, the New Revised Standard Version

While we went about our lives this week, in the background many of us noted the funeral of Billy Graham, who died last week at the age of 99. While the young may not know who Billy Graham was, for those of us who are older, Billy Graham likely influenced us; I know he did me. While in retrospect, he was short-sighted about some things (like the social dimensions of the Gospel and the civil rights movement), there is no Christian preacher on the world stage today who embodied the respect, integrity, and humility that Billy Graham did, to his credit.

In 2013, my former professor at the University of Chicago, Martin E. Marty, spoke at a conference at Billy Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College, about Graham’s legacy. Marty said that if we were to build a Mount Rushmore of American religious history, four figures would hold an undisputed place: the Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Rev. Billy Graham. The fourth, Marty quipped, with a twinkle in his eye, he had not decided yet.

Of these three, it was Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. who had a significant impact on people and society during our lifetimes, although in different ways. Between them, there are interesting similarities and differences.

Both were Southerners. Obviously, one was white; the other was black, which in our society makes a difference. King, the son of a pastor, was born in Atlanta, Georgia; Graham was reared on his family’s dairy farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. King was 5’7’; Graham was 6’2″. Graham was educated at Bible Colleges, including nearby Wheaton College; King earned a Ph.D. from Boston University. Throughout his lifetime, Graham would stick to a simple Gospel preached in revivalist style, but thanks to the invention of media, specifically TV, it would be on a scale never before seen in history. King would preach a broader social gospel, especially in regard to civil rights. Graham’s ministry would be in coliseums and stadiums; King’s was literally in the streets. King would not live to see his 40th birthday before being gunned down by an assassin; Graham, would live to the ripe old age of 99.

These opposites in the Christian faith, personal faith and social action, always perplexed me, growing up as I did – like Graham – in the middle of revivalism. As a Methodist in the land of Baptists, I grew up in the middle of this divide; many of my Baptist friends would not let me – as a Methodist – preach in their churches. As I grew older, I learned that not only are there different kinds of Christians, such as Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox, but that beyond that there were those in every tradition who are fundamentalists, evangelicals, and so-called “liberals,” including those who practiced a Social Gospel.

“How can it be that there are two very different kinds of Christianity?” was the question I therefore pursued at the University of Chicago Divinity School with Professor Marty. The reason I did not continue through to a PhD was because I answered that question, through the discovery of two books: George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980) and William R. Hutchison’s The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (1976). In many ways, my own theological journey has been from Marsden’s book to Hutchison’s; those of you who have listened to my sermons over the last ten years should know the direction I lean.

The truth is, both personal faith and social action are not only alive and well “out there” but also present in the story of Jesus. Today, the story from John’s Gospel, which what we call Jesus’ “Cleansing of the Temple” illustrates this point.

Get out of your mind things like mops and sponges and buckets and think instead of whips and overturned tables and bouncing coins, think of animals squealing and pigeons flying and people with livid faces running wildly, in the midst of whom stands Jesus, whip in hand, yelling, “Get these things out of here!” “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place it near the end of the story, as one of the things that incited the authorities to move against Jesus, John’s Gospel places it in chapter 2, near the beginning, John being less concerned about chronology than theology. Many years ago, I took a course on John’s Gospel where we were challenged to summarize each chapter of John in two words. Chapter 2, which begins with the miracle of Cana, where Jesus changes water to wine, and ends with Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple, we summarized as, “Drinking and Driving.”

What was going on? What made Jesus so angry? What made Jesus so angry was that though the temple was a place people were commanded to visit, access to God had been turned into a scam. When worshippers visited, there was a temple tax. They were to offer a prescribed sacrifice, and – if you didn’t bring your own, which you were not likely to do if you’d come a long distance – such sacrifices could be bought on the premises at a marked-up price. AND – the sacrifice had to be inspected, for another 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 exchanged on site, for a fee. No wonder Jesus reacted indignantly; not only was the purpose of God’s house as a house of prayer for all people perverted, but in the name of God, justice was perverted, especially upon the poor. Thus, his action in the Temple is in the tradition of Israel’s prophets who cried out in protest against the profaning of the temple and the debasing of worship, against substituting ritual for devotion and false piety for real religion, which always includes mercy and justice.

Today, when we imagine the scene, it may make us less angry than uneasy. Uneasy because of Jesus’ anger, overturning tables and doing whatever he did with that whip; we are unsettled to think of Jesus in this way. So much so that we might want to say to Jesus, as Billy Graham said of Martin Luther King after his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, that perhaps King “needed to put the brakes on.” Sure, from our perspective we might cheer Jesus on now, but we might feel differently if that was our temple and our religion.

Which brings us to the real reason we are uneasy, because we suspect that sometimes we may have more in common with the targets of Jesus’ judgment, that with the righteousness of his cause. It’s easy to take up a club and turn on our favorite injustices – whether City Hall or Capitol Hill – but this story makes us squirm because it makes us imagine Jesus entering our church, overturning our tables, and driving us out, in the name of a Holy God. What if these temple of our own construction, instead of being dedicated to the purposes of God – just as they thought in Jesus’ day – instead stand in opposition to them? Might Jesus say, “Stop making my Father’s house not just a marketplace, but just another form of entertainment!” (Paul C. Shupe, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, p. 92)

Whenever I read this story I remember what a social activist named Jerry Goebel once said. Mr. Goebel runs a ministry named ONE Family Outreach, which works in jails, homeless shelters, public schools, on the streets, in churches and on the internet to share God’s message of love and social justice. Of the Jesus we read about in this story, he said:

      “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!“(

Action? What kind of action, we might ask? Civil disobedience has long been an American tradition; Boston Tea Party participants dumped tea; Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his taxes; Rosa Parks, (one of the only other civilians allowed to lie in state beneath the Capitol Rotunda, as Billy Graham did this week) refused to budge from her seat on the bus. Lately, high school students have staged walkouts to protest the failure of one of the most basic functions of government, to insure the safety and security of its people from violence, especially gun violence.

Douglas HughesAnd then there’s Douglas Hughes. Douglas Hughes, 64, is the (former) Florida postal worker who, on April 15, 2015, landed a gyrocopter on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, carrying 535 letters, one to each member of Congress, to protest the bipartisan corruption and dysfunction of government. John Steward called his protest, “Wack Hawk Down.”

Originally, Hughes faced six criminal charges and nine years in prison. He pleaded guilty in November 2015 to one felony and was sentenced to 120 days plus one year of probation. As part of the deal, Hughes forfeited his aircraft to the government. He was put on house arrest and lost his job with the postal service, although on appeal his pension was reinstated upon retirement. His felony conviction means he will never vote again, sit on a jury, hold public office, or possess a firearm in Florida, unless he is able – through appeal – to restore that right.

Before the sentence was handed down, Hughes said he was remorseful, and apologized to police, tourists who were scared and his family. But he said he had no regrets for the flight bringing attention to the corruption of money in politics. “It is a question of justice,” said Hughes. Perhaps, in considering what forms of protest we want to take, we should consider the judge’s words to Hughes at his sentencing: “To ‘give careful thought’ in prison to his advocacy plans “so you don’t wind up back in court.” Barred from the Capitol, this time Hughes mailed his letters.

MLK & BGOn July 18, 1957, Graham invited King, then the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptism Church in Montgomery, AL, to give a public prayer at Madison Square Garden as part of his New York crusade. Up to this time, Graham’s efforts at racial justice were to integrate his audiences, but by 1957, he knew that was not enough. Noting that his audiences were overwhelmingly white, and wanting to change that, the first step Graham took was to invite King – the most prominent black Christian in America – to pray. The Montgomery Bus Boycott — led by King — had ended just seven months earlier. Graham introduced King by saying: “A great social revolution is going on in the United States today. Dr. King is one of its leaders, and we appreciate his taking time out of his busy schedule to come and share this service with us tonight.” Hear Dr. King’s prayer: [video]

Personal faith and social action; both are expressions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How will we demonstrate both in our lives?


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