Saturday, March 18, 2006

Third Sunday in Lent, February 19, 2006

John2v13-22, Lent 3
Third Sunday in Lent, February 19, 2006
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, South Dakota
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore 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, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well it’s spring time again.  Well, at least spring is trying to regain control of the weather.  Right now it seems to be a fight between snow and sunshine.  Isn’t if funny how this mild winter wants to go out with a shout?  Soon it will be time to get outside and enjoy the weather fully.  Soon, the fields will be turning black.  Soon it will be time to open up the house and let some of that fresh spring air in.  Soon, although we might hate to think about it, it’ll be time to start thinking about cleaning house for spring; It’ll be time for spring cleaning.  
That’s what Jesus is doing in today’s text, He’s cleaning house.  Now this isn’t the kind of house cleaning where you tie a towel around your head, pick up the broom and dust pan to chase down dust bunnies.  Jesus is getting rid of the mess in the temple.  He uses a whip and raises his voice.  People run from him.  This Jesus is dangerous.  Now this is a picture of Jesus we don’t see much. This is Jesus the man’s man.  Speaking out the truth and letting the chips fall where they may.  He’s not worried here if people’s feelings are hurt by the truth.  This is Jesus active and alive.  You can just picture Him here with the crude whip in his hand, shouting out in appropriate anger, toppling tables, and driving people away.  If you get the feeling that this picture of Jesus is out of place, you might not be thinking about Jesus with a big enough picture.  Jesus did and said things all the time that caused people to hate him.  Jesus confronted corruption, laid it on the line to liars.  He wasn’t afraid to speak about God’s anger at sin.  And, he wasn’t always well received for doing it.  In fact, all through the Gospel accounts you get phrases like, “and after that they plotted to find a way to kill him.”  That’s not Jesus, meek and mild, that we tend to think of most of the time.  That’s Jesus man of action.  And one more thought, to think about here… especially you men.  When you are tempted to think about Jesus was weak and maybe just a little bit feminine, think about this.  From the very beginning of His life, Jesus knew why He was sent.  Every step he made, every bold action He took, every word He spoke was leading Him to the cross.  He new the pain and suffering He was headed for.  He knew the sacrifice He was going to make.  It was all in His mind the whole time.  And yet, He pushed forward in self-sacrifice.  That is a picture you men can appreciate.  That is a Jesus you can follow.
The only way to describe what’s going on here is that Jesus is angry.  It’s appropriate anger.  He’s doing more than just spring-cleaning, He’s cleaning his “Father’s house.”  But just as he always does, Jesus is doing what he does to point out something very important.  Everything Jesus that recorded about Jesus, everything he does teaches us something.  And it always teaches us something about Jesus.
You may not have caught it in the reading, but it is important to notice that all this cleaning house, happens at Passover.  For us Christians, the fact that this happens on Passover doesn’t mean a whole lot.  But if we were Jewish we’d notice that John is making a very strong connection.  You see, every Passover celebration begins with a cleaning.  In fact, the whole house is cleaned.  And then a huge search is conducted, and again they are not looking for dust-bunnies, they are looking for yeast.  Yeast everywhere in the house must be removed in order for the house to be ready for the Passover meal.  Yeast is symbolic of sin so in removing it the house and everyone in it is symbolically cleansed from sin.  John is tying these two ideas up in a nice neat little bow.
Passover in Jesus day was a major festival.  Jerusalem, where the temple was, was crowded to capacity.  Every room was full; the streets were overcrowded (think of Sioux Falls on the last Saturday before Christmas).  There is tension in the air as everyone is preparing for the feast.  It’s difficult to find a place to stay and every stable slot has a donkey.  There is joy in the air, too, because people love the holiday.  Whenever large crowds gather, there is always the possibility for trouble; tempers run short; there is too much to do and too little time to get it done.  
The main preparation that had to be made was that every family that was planning a Passover meal had to sacrifice a lamb.  That lamb had to be slaughtered in the temple.  So thousands of people had to gather in that confined space, with a wiggling lamb, to hand it off to the priests and get it back and take it home.  And on top of that, all the regular sacrifices still had to be made.  Doves had to be offered for women who had just had a child, bulls and goats had to be sacrificed for whatever else the law demanded.  
So when Jesus enters the temple he finds a market place.  Now Jesus isn’t against free trade.  The market itself is even understandable.  People who have come for Passover have to change their money.  If you’ve ever traveled out of the US you know what it’s like.  They’ve come from all over the Roman world.  Every little county has its own currency.  But even more than that, the Jews who also have to pay their temple tax.  And to pay the tax you have to use the temple’s own currency.  So there are money changers there.  They started out, outside the temple grounds, but eventually moved in.  And just as you’d expect people were being taken advantage of.  Greed pops up whenever people gather together and lots of money changes hands.  
But as bad as it all is, Jesus anger isn’t only directed at the moneychangers and their greed.  After all they are providing a necessary service.  It’s required by God’s Word, by the Laws of Moses.  Jesus himself paid the temple tax.  Jesus himself ate the Passover meal with His disciples… his lamb would have been sacrificed there, too.  He is angry about other things.  
There are also the tables of people selling animals for sacrifice.  (No one from PETA was there to complain!)  They are also providing a necessary service.  It’s difficult to travel with animals.  People needed to be able to buy what was necessary for sacrifice.  And remember they had to be perfect without blemish.  Who would want to carry a lamb all the way from Egypt, a journey of several weeks, just to find that it didn’t pass inspection?  It was better to buy one that was already certified.  All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the practice of buying a sacrifice for the temple.  And again of course here were certainly abuses, and inflated pricing, because the sellers had motivated buyers.  But again Jesus anger isn’t aimed primarily at the animal sellers because of their greed.  Although He’s certainly angry at their greed.
Picture this:  Think of the property all around our church.  Imagine it all enclosed with a high wall, all the way around the perimeter; down by the swimming pool up along the street on the north side of the parsonage, right up there along Main Street, and straight along the south end of the south parking lot back to the street by the pool.  That whole area is full of tables, people, and animals.  You’ve go bulls, and sheep and goats and doves in cages.  People have come from Sioux Falls, St. Louis (MO.), Kansas City, Denver, all the way here, by the hundreds.  They’re outside the walls and inside.  There is a steady stream of animals being brought in, also by the hundreds.  People are packed together, there’s arguing, haggling, bleating, cooing, and mooing.  Imagine all that noise, and worse imagine the smell.  You know what a feedlot smells like in the spring.  It’s a huge mess.  The priests are in their special area a bit bigger than our sanctuary, killing all the sacrifices.  And here inside the temple people are tying to pray and worship.  
Jesus cleans house.  We can understand why.  But remember it’s not just that he wants to get rid of the noise, the smell and the mess.  His anger isn’t primarily pointed at the greedy buyers and sellers.  He’s angry at something more than the fact that you can’t hear yourself pray.  There is something more wrong.  With all the commerce, the buying and selling, people are getting idea that you could buy your way into God’s presence.  With all that commerce so closely tied to the temple, it seems to be a system that implies that you pay your money, get a perfect animal, have the right kind of cash, you get to see God.  “My Father’s house is not a market!”  Jesus shouted.  “You can’t buy off God!”  This is not a place where business is done—not a place to exchange money, or buy and sell lambs for sacrifice, or cashing in on the worship of God and commercializing worship with Him.  This is a house of prayer; a place where we meet God, not in a barnyard or bank.  It is not a place where money of any kind buys anything!  When we come here, God looks at your heart, not at your checkbook.  He doesn’t care how much you give, or how perfect your lamb is.  When you come here God want you to come for one reason and one reason only…  to see God and receive forgiveness that he gives without cost.
So, Jesus cleans house.  He is sweeping it all away.  He pushes it all aside and out of the temple, the moneychangers, and the pigeon sellers.  People have turned God’s house into a market where they think they can buy off God with their cash.  “If we pay enough money God will overlook our sin.”  The very thing that God gave them to show the seriousness of their sin has become the point of abuse.  Every sacrifice in the temple was to show what is going to be needed to pay for sin.  Every drop of animal blood was pointing to the fact that sin requires death.  Every little lamb and perfect pigeon whose life blood was drained is pointing to the one sacrifice that would cover it all.  And here’s the real crux of the whole ‘cleaning house.’  …he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen.  Not only did he drive out the people, he drove out the sacrifices, too.  He got rid of them all.  “You don’t need to buy any of these substitutes anymore the real thing is here.”  
That’s the point Jesus was making.  That whole complex, all the animals, all the money that changed hands, the generations and generations bloody sacrifices, all the death, and even the temple building itself were all pointing to the real sacrifice.  And He was standing there before them whip in hand.  He had come to replace them all.  Jesus is the final and complete sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  “Destroy this temple,” Jesus said about himself, “torture me, beat me, crucify me, and kill me, and I will come alive again in three days.  Everything you see here in this temple of stone is right now replaced in the temple of my body.  If you want to see and worship God, now you have to go through me.”
Now it’s time that we cleaned house, too.  We have lots of reasons for being here.  Like those people in the temple, we like the idea of paying God off.  It is the natural way we want to deal with God.  We do it with our attendance.  As if just putting our butt on the pew pad makes God think better of us.  We do it when that plate passes by and we make a show of dropping in the envelope, hoping Aunt Nelly sees us do it.  But God isn’t interested in your money.  He doesn’t need it.  Now I know the church financial folks are having heart failure now because the church institution does need it.  We give to this church because we have made a commitment to supporting the work that God does through it.  So when the budget runs short the members of this church need to step up and take care of it.  But, God want’s you to give to the church because of what Jesus has done for you, not to try to make Him happy about you.  God wants you here with your heart focused on what He has done for you.  God wants you to see Jesus, bloody sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins.  He wants you to set aside all the things that you naturally want to do to try to pay God off, and instead see the cross.
And now here’s the best part of it all…  Jesus even cleans house right here and now.  He’s not standing here with whip, he’s not turning over the ushers table, and he’s not throwing the collection plate on the floor.  He’s cleaning house through His Word.  Instead He comes here in His Word and places faith right in our hearts through our ear holes.  Jesus swept all the sacrifices away and stepped into their place.  And He gives you the benefit of that sacrifice by pouring His Holy and Precious Blood down your throat to forgive your sin.  That’s why we are here.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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