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In the Midst of Chaos, Jesus Arises (March 4, 2018)

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 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.

Wow. Are you able to imagine this scene? Jesus walks into the temple area in Jerusalem—the high, holy place where God resides—and starts running amuck in there. Driving out animals, turning over tables, creating chaos in God’s house. Jesus is disrupting the entire system of the temple.

Since Moses, people of God have been required to offer sacrifices and tithes, according to God’s law. This marketplace in the temple courtyard allowed them to meet the requirements of the law and be found righteous with God. The system worked for everyone. Yet, even though it was beneficial and in keeping with Jewish (and Roman) law, it didn’t fit with God’s kingdom of love and compassion and mercy for all people. This workable, viable, traditional system of sacrifice for righteousness, following rules and procedures in a specific place, needed to end. Since the focus has always been on righteousness with God, sacrifices in the temple don’t actually do that. Righteousness with God is not centered in the temple, but instead is centered in Christ. So Jesus disrupts a system that doesn’t work according to God’s vision in order to lift up a new system that does.

In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

As long as the temple system was in place and working, God’s vision would never be seen or participated in. There was no easy way to make that adjustment away from it without complete disruption. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

There are times when some area of our lives just aren’t working. Times when our lives are in chaos, when things simply feel out of control. The confusion in those times can leave us uncertain and unable to see beyond that chaos. Most of us who’ve experienced chaos in our lives being beyond our control can testify to the reality that God is not always visible at that time. We can’t see beyond the next minute, much less recognize the presence of Christ. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

And this is true not just in our individual lives, but in any system or institution or organization that isn’t part of God’s vision of compassion and peace and grace. Not just the temple. Not just the way we run our lives. Bu even Christ’s church itself.

In many parts of the world, especially the US, people are leaving the church in droves. The system—the way of being church that many of us have known all our lives—feels beyond our ability to make work. Our best efforts don’t seem to make much difference at all. Our message of Christ’s love isn’t being heard or believed. No matter what we do, the church doesn’t seem to be able to adapt.

Much like the temple system in Jesus’ day, the church is being disrupted. I wonder if it’s because we are no longer able to see beyond the church system that’s been in place for 1700 years. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, even in the church, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

Here’s how the church system as we know it has developed.[i]

“Jesus’ apostles were constantly getting in trouble with the religious leaders and power brokers of their. . . . They were beaten, jailed, and finally killed because this way of life was such a threat to the social and political order.

“At the beginning of the fourth century . . . the Roman Empire was feeling increasingly threatened by rising forces beyond its border. In CE 311 the Romans became more open minded about matters of religion. Novel (and desperate) idea: pray to any God if it can help us hold back the barbarians! Christians were granted an indulgence and asked to pray “to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.” This was the first step in creating an alliance with the Christian God, whom Constantine considered the strongest deity. Two years later, in CE 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan decriminalizing Christian worship. At that time he was more concerned about social stability and the protection of the empire from the wrath of the Christian God than he was for justice or care for the Christians. Finally the emperor consolidated his power within the church when he convened the first worldwide gathering of Christian leaders at the Council of Nicaea in CE 325. Christendom was born. The Jesus movement was subsumed into the empire and “Christian disciple” became synonymous with “good citizen.”

“Most churches today mirror political institutions in structure, operation, and governance. Denominations gather to vote on doctrine and polity and, in some cases, to elect bishops to oversee the church. Likewise, pastors are trained and carefully credentialed to administer the sacraments and manage their churches. . . . “Don’t rock the boat” is the underlying narrative. . . . In most Christian quarters, subversion is the enemy.

“The era of the Christian society has now ended in the United States. . . . Citizenship no longer means Christian. The church is no longer the center of life. Organized religion, in its Christendom edition, is growing more and more irrelevant and we are at a loss as to what to do about it.

“What would it look like for the church to reclaim Christ’s subversive gospel of abundance and trust that the kingdom of God is at hand? . . . Oftentimes that creation looks like rebellion to the church authorities— or just plain weird.

“Jesus ultimately died a humiliating and torturous death on the cross because he posed a threat to the political and religious powers.

“The Jesus movement, born out of subversion, is at its best when it is subversive.”

In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

The major disruption of the temple that felt like the end for Jews in Jerusalem was actually a focus on Jesus as God’s vision for the world. And what feels like the end of the church to many today is the same thing. We are experiencing God at work, a seismic shift away from a church system that works for many, but may not be pointing the world to God’s vision of peace, compassion, and grace for all people. Jesus is stepping in and turning over our tables in order to disrupt the church as we know it. Though we don’t understand and though it’s frighteningly uncomfortable, In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

Instead of bemoaning the loss of the temple, let us watch for Jesus to arise. And then, let us run to him and embrace him wherever he is and whatever he’s doing. Let us watch for Jesus to arise, for he is the revealing of God’s vision for peace, for compassion, and for grace for the whole world. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

[i] Era of Christendom source: Estock, Beth Ann; Nixon, Paul. Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century, The Pilgrim Press. Kindle Edition. 2016.

 

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Posted by on March 6, 2018 in Sermon

 

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The Dismantling of the Church (John 2:13-22)

What is Jesus so mad about? Are the temple moneychangers cheating people or being dishonest? No.

Is this whole setup of exchanging money that declares Caesar as Lord for money that declares God as Lord not working? No.

Is this temple system ineffective? No, it’s working quite well, actually.

Is it dishonoring God? No, not really.

So why is he so angry?

The whole temple system, which operates quite well and efficiently, isn’t empowering people with God’s love, forgiveness, and generosity. It’s not pointing people to Jesus, who brings that into the world.

The fact that it works isn’t what counts. The fact that sincere, God-loving people like it isn’t what counts. The fact that it’s been around for centuries isn’t what counts. The fact that it’s good religious practice isn’t what counts.

The temple system of sacrifice, even though it functions well, doesn’t reveal what God is doing. It doesn’t bring people into forgiving others, loving others, being generous to others. It doesn’t allow for Reign of God, the Heart of God coming in Jesus. It’s a system of religious practice that functions in a cul-de-sac all by itself. But it’s not connecting with God and God’s mission of forgiveness, love, and generosity happening in Jesus.

Jesus comes into the temple and is dismantling the system, taking it apart. Any system that bears God’s name but isn’t about God’s work—isn’t empowering, even compelling, people into forgiving, loving, being generous ought to be dismantled.

That’s all well and good. But here’s where this gets hard. God’s doing it again. A religious system that operates well and that lots of God-fearing people like is being dismantled. Church as we know it is being taken apart—by God, I believe. For similar reasons. The church we are familiar with isn’t set up to reveal the fullness of God’s will as revealed in Jesus. Christianity as an institutional church is more about self-perpetuation than forgiveness. It’s more about numerical growth than unconditional love. We care more about fellow Christians than we do about atheists, Jews, Muslims, or non-religious people. We, the Christian Church, are a well-functioning, religious, well established cul-de-sac that functions far too often separately from God and God’s mission. And we are being dismantled. Look around at all the countries that we used to call “Christian.” Every one of the traditional Christian countries is losing members hand over fist.

What if that is by the leading of the Holy Spirit? What if Jesus has come into our temples and is turning over our systems of practicing religion because they aren’t joining people to what God is doing? What if the people leaving our churches in droves are being led by God to something else?

What if that’s true?

Sure, some of those who participated in the temple system in Jesus’ day were moved to greater love and forgiveness. And sure, some people who participate in the church today are authentically moved to greater mercy and generosity. But it seems the system of church itself isn’t accomplishing that.

Because I don’t know what it’s going to look like. If God would show us what she’s doing with the church, perhaps we could help with it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. We don’t know, and that makes us uncomfortable at best, terrified at worst. Or else we just ignore it and keep offering our temple sacrifices despite Jesus turning over the tables.

If this is happening, what do we do?

Vs. 22, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he has said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” I guess we cling to Jesus. I guess we trust God. I guess we follow the Holy Spirit’s movement as we can. What else can we do? God is going to do what God is going to do. Love, forgiveness, and generosity—those things of God—will be the signs of Jesus’ disciples. Why not run full speed to Jesus? Run headlong to forgiveness, love, and generosity. The tables of the church are being overturned. Let’s see what Jesus is up to. And let us follow him.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2015 in Sermon

 

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