Exodus 20:1-17 Psalm 19 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 John 2:13-22
Some of our teenagers gathered together about a week ago, and they played a game that, roughly described, was an illumination of the difference between the way things are in God’s (intended) world and the way that things are in this world. Our kids know a lot. They were quick to identify some differences: prayer, praise, worship, and angels are in God’s world: greed, adultery, envy, and cheating in ours. Then they recognized that many of the things in God’s list also exist in the world: prayer, praise, worship, and angels do have a place, a home, on earth. I will repent later for being proud of them for recognizing the existences of good in a broken world. Way to go, Moms and Dads, parents, grandparents, and caregivers. You’ve done a great job.
God came to the Israelites in a grand way, in the “thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking.” How many of us have stood at the base of this same mountain, looking up, far, far away, for God? How many of us tremble at the thought of seeing God face to face? We are not so far from the ancient belief that if we see God we will die. Don’t we think that the time we will see God is when we have died? Sure, we’re not so far away. We are at the foot of that mountain together, shaking for fear of seeing God. How then, will we let God into our lives?
God knows us so very well, because the first commandment told to us by Moses – from God – is one of comfort. Yes, comfort: “I am the Lord your God.” This God to whom Moses was speaking is the same God who brought the people out of Israel to this desert place. There is one God, and this is God. These are comforting words for those of us who worship many gods, who attribute great works to warring, jealous (little “g”) gods. No more do we have to carry images of many deities. No more doe we have to worry about angering the harvest god and making the fertility god jealous, or the money god or the good health god, or the sports god (surely there was/is a sports god) There must also be, if there was not, little-“g” gods of success and busy. Some of us are still trying to alternately worship and eradicate some of the many “gods” in our lives. God , through Moses, says: there is one God and it is this God who we revere, to whom we bow down, to whom we are called to be faithful. Just one.
And this first commandment is not an easy one to fulfill. Even with the sensory reinforcement of thunder and clouds and fire, the Israelites quickly forgot about this commandment. We do, too. In the ancient world, when Moses returned to Mt. Sinai and was delayed the people quickly looked for a god to worship, and not seeing one, they made one, as would have been their custom. What do we worship, give our time to, create, while we are waiting for the “real God” to show up? Only – there is no other God. This law, this commandment, is a form of grace. I am, God says, and there is no need for any other. I am your God. Carry only me with you.
Fast forward, if you will, to the time of Jesus. All that Moses told the people was not forgotten. The temple and the temple system grew out of an obedient faith. Where will we worship God? The temple in Jerusalem was the center of life for Jewish people all over the world. People met in local synagogues on a regular basis, but only in Jerusalem’s Temple could we offer the sacrifices commanded in the Law of Moses. We traveled every year to make our sacrifice, to affirm and renew our covenant with God.
The poorest of families sacrificed a dove; wealthier families sacrificed a sheep or a goat. We didn’t have to carry our sacrifice with us; we could purchase a certified animal at the temple. But we could not purchase such animals with the coins in our pockets, our Roman coins. We are revering only God, and coins of the Roman Empire had the image of an emperor on them. In the temple, using the Emperor’s image for coinage violated the commandment against revering anything other than God. So money was changed at the temple, exchanged for coins used only for temple purchases. We separate church and state in some strange ways, don’t we?
In any case, the Temple system was meant to be a blessing, a way to facilitate receiving God’s grace. Everything was available in one place at the end of our journey. Over time, however, we being who we are, the temple system became corrupt. The monetary exchange rate was exorbitant. The animals were expensive. Those selling animals for sacrifice and changing money had a monopoly in that marketplace, and they took full advantage of it. The temple system became one of greed and exploitation. We blocked one another from the place that we thought we could encounter the real presence God. God was in the Temple.
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem sees the marketplace that has been established. He drives out the animals, unseats the money changers, and pours out the coins. He declares the Temple to be his Father’s house. “Take these things out of here! You are making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Several things are happening: Jesus just destroyed the businesses of the money changers and of those raising and selling unblemished animals of all types. Second, Jesus is making the claim that the Temple belongs to his Father. With the Temple being the “home” of God, the place where we encounter God, Jesus is making a claim on who he is in relationship to God. The leaders of the day are furious: “By what authority do you do this?” Remember that only kings are allowed to go into certain parts of the temple. The Temple leaders want to know: “Who are you? By whose authority did you do this? You’re not a king!”
Jesus has claimed authority that is reserved for God. Jesus stance is a huge affront and challenge to the leaders of the Temple, to a whole “system” of faith. Not just the table have been overturned, but Temple life as well. “Destroy the Temple,” Jesus says. That word for “destroy” is the first word that many Greek students and scholars learn; at least that’s what we learned “in the old days.” It is not a word that we use very often today: the word is “loosed;” Jesus said “loose” the Temple, set it free, destroy it. Let it go. The word in the next part is a resurrection word: I will be raised with it in three days. It is only from our resurrection perspective that we understand this idea of loosing and raising. Destroy it, set it free! … for what is to come. Cleanse my Father’s house for me … new life, new hope, a new way: the Gospel. Good News.
We set the old (Temple) free, set it loose, and that is our work in Lent. What is it that we are setting free in order that we see that we are living in our Father’s house? What do we have to overturn in order to see Jesus?
Once the “overturning” work begins, we have the opportunity for new life to be raised up; we can be raised up with the glory of our Lord and our God. In this new life we have the opportunity to bring bits of heaven, God’s world, into this one.
We pray to God for each other as we continue the hard work of “loosing” – letting go, that we might wait with expectant joy for the new life that is to come. Amen.