January 16, 2022 – The Cleansing of the Temple
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. Let us think carefully about what this means and commit ourselves to live with respect, seeking justice and equality.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ Candle this morning, we remember the one that we call the light of the world and in the light of its flame we are reminded to follow his example and spread his light wherever we go.
Call to Worship
Truth be told, there are lots of tables in our lives that need to be overturning.
Beneath the veneer of respectability often hides greed and thoughtless acceptance of the way things are.
We know things are not as they should be and yet we keep up the façade,
Ignoring the pain, injustice and discrimination all around us.
What a relief it would be to have it all upset, smashed, scattered, and destroyed.
Perhaps today, Jesus will pay us a visit and sort it all out.
Or perhaps instead he will help us to reorder the tables in our own lives.
Perhaps today, we will learn from his example and change the world.
Perhaps today, this is why we gather in worship.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
The opening prayer I have chosen to share this morning comes from the Fairtrade Foundation website. Let us Pray:
Tilt the scales, O God of the mustard seed: That the poor shall see justice.
Share the feast, O God of Eden’s abundant garden: That each crop may fetch a fair price. Upset the tables, O God of the upside-down Kingdom: That the least can benefit from their trade. Open our eyes, O God of life in all its fullness: That we may learn to walk the way of your son tilting, sharing, upsetting this world not satisfied until the products we bring to our table
give a better deal, to all who hunger for one. In His name, Amen.
Gift of Music Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation #325
Scripture Readings John 2:13-25
Today we continue with the Gospel According to John exactly were we left off. Following the wedding in Cana, John tells us the story of Jesus and his disciples going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and visiting the temple. Although this story appears in all 4 gospels, John is the only one who places it at the beginning of Jesus ministry. All the others place it at the end, following the “triumphal entry” of Palm Sunday.
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.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
Upsetting Tables – Upsetting Lives
The story of Jesus clearing the temple has long been one of my favorite Bible stories. This is the very human Jesus who gets furiously angry at the injustices that are happening within the temple, the Jesus who strikes out against those injustices with righteous indignation. This is the Jesus that has always spoken to me. This story has always challenged me to put my faith into action and stand up against injustice.
The story of the cleansing of the temple is one of the few stories that appears in all four gospels, but when you look at the gospels individually, each one has a very different take on the story and on why Jesus behaves the way he does.
In Mark, the first and most barebones of the gospels, it is this incident more than any other that infuriates the temple authorities to the point where they begin plot to have Jesus killed. In Matthew, immediately after clearing the temple, Jesus begins to heal all those who come to him. By doing this, Jesus begins to take over a task that could previously only be achieved by bringing the appropriate sacrifice to the temple and offering it there on the altar.
In Luke, we are told that following this incident, Jesus kept coming back to the temple every day to teach and this is what ended up getting the authorities angry enough to plot his death. This version tends to infer that the entire purpose of the cleansing of the temple was to teach the people something about God.
But once again, the Gospel According to John is distinctly different from all the other three Gospels. John is the only one that places this story at the beginning of Jesus ministry rather than at the end. In all three of the synoptic gospels, the only time Jesus goes to Jerusalem is in the last week of his life, but in John he actually makes the trip three times and it is the first time he goes there with his disciples, immediately following the wedding in Cana that he throws the money changers and venders out of the temple.
There is also a distinct difference in how Jesus talks about the temple. In the first three gospels he accuses the merchants and money changers of turning the temple into a den of thieves. But in John he simply refers to it only as a marketplace. Although this may appear to be just a matter of wording, there is actually much more to it.
The practice of selling animal within the walls of the temple was not only acceptable, it was actually condoned within the laws. In Deuteronomy, the people are instructed to bring their tithe or offering to the place that [God] will choose as a dwelling for his name, in other words, to the temple.
But if the distance from their home to the temple in Jerusalem is too great for them to carry their offering, they were instructed to sell it and use the money to purchase what they need when they arrived. This was interpreted as meaning, when they arrived at the temple. And so, the practice of selling animals within the temple walls was actually considered to be part of the law.
So, if this practice was not only condoned but was actually written into the laws of the people, why would Jesus so upset? And why would he defy the law by throwing the money changers and venders out?
For Matthew, Mark and Luke, the answer to this question is simple. The practice had become completely corrupted and those who worked as money changers and merchants were charging exorbitant amounts for the animals they provided. The law had been interpreted as saying that the only place you could purchase an animal for sacrifice was within the temple walls, and only animals purchased there would be accepted by the priests for the required sacrifices. This meant that the people had no choice but to pay whatever was asked.
A practice that had been intended to make life easier for people, had become a way of controlling the market and make those who had permission to establish their business with the walls of the temple, a virtual monopoly. This is why Matthew, Mark and Luke all refer to the practice as a den of thieves.
But John simply calls it a marketplace. For John, it is not about the abuse of a system that is an essential part of worship. Rather, for John, it is about his understanding that the entire system has become completely unnecessary.
To understand this, we must remember that the Gospel According to John was not written until after the temple had been completely destroyed. In the year 66 CE the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire and Jerusalem, including the temple was destroyed. By the time the Gospel According to John was written, there was no temple to which people could go to offer their sacrifices.
But for John, this is not a problem. The Gospel According to John begins with Jesus being referred to as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John is the only gospel that refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God and for John this reference foreshadows the crucifixion, the sacrifice of the perfect lamb that will make all other sacrifices unnecessary.
This concept of who Jesus is for John, is reaffirmed in his retelling of the story of the cleansing of the temple. This is also why John places this story where he does. For John this it is not about the misuse of the temple but rather about the very idea of the temple was necessary for the worship of God.
And so, John does not linger on why Jesus calls the temple a marketplace or why that very idea might bother him in the first place. He goes directly to the point he wants to make with this story, that the temple is no longer needed.
When the authorities ask Jeus why he has driven the money changers and merchants out of the temple, Jesus does not even try to answer their question. Instead, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
This infuriates the authorities even further and they are quick to point out that the temple has already been under construction for forty-six years and it is not yet complete. John ignores their comments and goes on to explain that Jesus is not talking about the physical temple, the place of worship and sacrifice, he is talking about himself. And for John, this once again foreshadows not only the crucifixion of the Lamb of God, but this time, also the resurrection.
For John, the destruction of the temple is not a great tragedy to be mourned. It is not an end to the Hebrew faith or the practices that are so essential within the Hebrew scriptures. Instead, it is a shifting of all that is important about the temple away from the physical building to a new temple of the person of Jesus.
When the first temple was built by Solomon it was to be a dwelling for the Arc of the Covenant. It was to house the “Word of God” in the form of the broken tables of the Ten Commandments. It was also to become the place where “the name of the Lord” would be housed and worshiped. The temple was not intended to contain God, but rather to offer the people a place where their entire focus would be on word and the presence of God. It was to be a place where the people could not only worship God and express their commitment to God, but a place where they could experience the very presence of God in an intentional, focused manner that would be different from the everyday experiences of life. For John, all of this is now housed in the physical and the spiritual person of Jesus.
That is why the same story that appears in all 4 gospels is very different when it appears in the Gospel According to John. Once again, for John, it is not about the story itself, it is about what the story has to teach us about Jesus.
So, what does all this have to teach us today in our modern context? Well, perhaps it is a reminder that the church is not the building. It is true that we are bless with a beautiful structure that, at time can feel very much like a sacred space where the presence of God can be felt in a way that is different form the ordinary, everyday realities of life. Yet here we are, worshiping online and still being the church every bit as much as we ever have.
But the temple was not about worship alone. The temple was also a place of sacrifice, of teaching, of service and of healing. All of these roles were just as important as worship and for John, all of these roles were also embodied in Jesus in a way that made the physical structure of the temple unnecessary.
This is not to say that there is no place for a physical building. Throughout his ministry, wherever he was, Jesus always went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to hear the scriptures and to teach. He even healed people in the synagogues. But the teaching and the healing did not come from the building but from Christ.
And so, as the Christian Church today, as part of the body of Christ, we too are called to worship, to sacrifice, to teach, to heal, and to serve not just within our building but wherever we are as part of the body of Christ. This is the challenge that John offers us, as he begins to record his own account of the Good News of Christ. It is a challenge that goes beyond where we are to who we are, and it is a challenge each one of us need to explore and understand for ourselves. Amen.
Gift of Music God of Grace and God of Glory #686
We Offer Our Gifts
At this time in our worship, we are once again reminded that our commitment to God also includes the gifts we offer. As we gather online, I ask you to think about what it is that you have to offer to God and to others this day. Whatever it is we offer, our financial gifts, the gifts of our time, our talents, our abilities, our commitments or our prayers, let us take a moment now to ask God to bless upon our gifts.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as we think about all the many gifts and blessings that we have received from you, we ask that your spirit will continue to bless us and that, through the gifts we give today, your spirit may reach out to touch and bless others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
As has been our tradition in the past, let us take a moment of silence now, to offer our own personal prayers for the people and the situations that are in our hearts and on our minds this morning.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Just as Jesus cleansed the temple, we long to have all that is corrupt and selfish, all that demeans and disadvantages others, and all the draws us away from the divine into the worldly, cleansed form our own lives.
We think of those around the world and in our own communities who live in homelessness, poverty, and destitution. We think of those who will not survive the day because they have no food to eat. We think of those who face the very real possibility of starvation every day. We think of those with no home, no shelter where they can feel safe and protected. We think of those whose homes have been destroyed or taken away because of wars. We think of those who live in some of the wealthiest countries in the world, including our own, who cannot afford sufficient healthy food or safe comfortable shelter for themselves or their families…
We think of those around the world and in our own communities who live in fear, those living in the midst of wars and political upheaval, those whose lives are in danger because of their political, religious or social beliefs. We think of those living in situations of domestic abuse, those living in fear of a spouse, intimate partner, parent, child or other close friend or relative. We think of those living in fears they cannot even put a name to…
We think of those around the world and in our own communities who live with ongoing illness and pain, both physical and mental. We think of all those who sick with the COVID-19 virus. We think of all those who will die today, and in the days to come, especially those around the world who have no access to the vaccines we take for granted. We think of those who face delays in treatment for other medical conditions because of the stresses placed on health care systems everywhere by the ongoing pandemic. We think of those whose other illnesses seem to be lost in the focus on COVID. We think of those, whose mental and emotional health is pushed to the limits by the isolation and fear cause by the pandemic, by situations or circumstances unique to them or by the stresses of everyday life. We think of those whose issues continue to go undetected or untreated because of the lack of adequate mental health care here and around the world. We think of those who are abused, belittled and punished because others do not understand their illness.
Lastly, we pray for ourselves. Comfort us, guide us, heal us and lead us forward, trusting that you will love and care for us always. Teach us to overturn tables and fight for justice, peace, love and inclusion of all people. We ask in the name of the one who came to teach us your justice and your love. Amen
Closing Hymn Be Thou My Vision #642
And now as we go out from this sacred time and space, we go into another time and space that is just as sacred, everyday life. And as we go, let’s remember that we are not alone. God is with us, Christ’s example leads us, and the Spirit is our constant companion and guide wherever we are and wherever we go. Go with God.