Sermon/Homily


Sermon:  Second Sunday in Lent, Year B
Radical Living
Mark 8:31-38     March 1, 2015

Introduction

More than any other time in the Church year, Lent beckons us to consider living in a radical and electrifying fashion.  Lent cries out to us to engage in radical behavior.  Lent cries out to us to take the plunge in the cool, energizing water of being different.  Lent cries out to us to transfix our inner thoughts on death and resurrection and then to live that tension out in the world of people and places and things.  Sigmund Freud pointed to this reality in his little book, Civilization and its Discontent when he philosophized that humanity found itself in the tension between Thanatos and Eros:  between the inner forces of death and its opposite Eros, the life impulses.  

You won’t find the term “Lent” in the Bible.  There is no Old Testament Hebrew reference to Lent nor any New Testament Greek  reference.  Yet it became a crucial avenue that the early Church followed in strengthening it’s spirituality, in preparing new believers for church membership, and in highlighting teachings of Jesus on discipleship—on what the gospel communities saw as central in their early musings on what it meant to be followers of Jesus.

Today, for the most part, Lent has lost its central meaning.  Many of us use it in a positive fashion as an an opportunity to strengthen healthy habits, try our hand at an increased self-discipline, spend more time in prayer and Bible study.  Some may simply smile at the idea self-denial as if it were some ancient custom that has no real meaning in contemporary 21st century living.  And that would be absolutely correct.  The practice of fasting from foods or activities as a sign of penance for our sinfulness has clearly lost its foothold in our secular culture and for the most part, in our church practice.  This has happened as a result of significant cultural change.  First, very few of us have any real sense of sinfulness, or of being under God’s judgment.  many may have no real sense of God—and thus they/we have little sense of needing forgiveness or any need of spiritual renewal, transformation, conversion or what not.  On the other hand, many may feel unfulfilled, or empty, or even ensnared in addictions—and self-destructive life styles, but the contemporary sees little connection between these conditions and the ancient’s church’s concept of God, even a loving God.
and regretfully they do not look to the church or the faith community for help—rather we go to psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors to seek some sense of healing and even salvation.

Today’s culture elevates self absorption, self-gratification, and the gratification of our children and grandchildren are the true gods to be worshipped and served with a single-minded devotion  devoid of religious insight and unchallenged by religious values or the spirituality of the early Christian community.  

II.  Jesus Speak Out

There are times in the life of Jesus that he becomes quite intense.  You know:After he had entered Jerusalem during his last week “Jesus entered the temple[a] and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
    but you are making it a den of robbers.” 

 He became intense when he said of the Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  Jesus became intense when he said of King Herod: “Go tell that fox, Look! I'm driving out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete My work.”

In todays Gospel we fine Jesus speaking with that same intensity to Peter and to his disciples:  "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  It is in this sense of urgency and passion that Jesus also looks at us eyeball to eyeball and delivers his earth-shattering, world-changing declaration on the essence of being his disciple:  "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Let me be clear:  everything else that Jesus or Paul or any of the other writers of Hebrew and Greek scriptures pale in comparison with this single statement.  It is like the purest oxygen possible for a person who cannot breathe.  It is like the purest and most possible pain reliever discovered by medicine.  It is the pearl of great value; the diamond of unimaginable beauty.  It is like the most beautiful Hollywood damsel; like the most attractive Hollywood star; it is like the most powerful and sexy automobile; like the most perfect gift one an imagine.  And perhaps it is the worse at the same time.

This single statement about being a follower of Jesus captures the essence of Lent and for that matter, the very essence of authentic spiritual life.  Without its reality in our lives, nothing we do will ever satisfy our sense of emptiness.  The context of this statement is essential if we are to understand what Jesus is saying to his disciples and what this will mean to us.  Peter and the disciples have finally got it through their thick heads that Jesus is the long-awaited, God-promised Messiah whose mission it is to deliver God’s people from injustice and slavery and sickness.  Now Jesus seeks to bring them to the fuller truth—that he will be arrested, humiliated and executed by the Romans as part of God’s plan and then raised to new life.  

And Peter and the disciples  will have none of that.  Not Peter and not the rest of his disciples.  No way Hosea.  They have followed Jesus and seen his miracles, his healings, his walking on water, his casting out of demons, his feedings of the thousands, his inspired teachings and they want this Messiah to be the strong man of Israel; to be the leader of God’s armies; to be the ultimate hero who vanquishes forever the enemies of God. They have no intention of letting Jesus be anything less than the conquering hero promised by the OT prophets.

The disciples of Jesus have no interest in pain, self-denial, vulnerability, sickness or death.  The events surrounding Jesus’ ministry have made it quite clear that he is God’s anointed, appointed and reigning Messiah and that is exactly who they plan to follow.  So Peter, their representative, chastises Jesus for his foolish speech:  “Have done with this nonsense and get on with being God’s deliverer.  No one wants to follow a loser, a weakling; no one wants to follow someone who will not take the sword and stand strong in the face of adversity.  Get on with being the powerful hero king of Israel, king of the Jews.  Rid us of these heather Romans; heal all of us.  Destroy our enemies.  Bring us into prosperity.

So Jesus responds with equal passion:  Death and vulnerability and weakness  is part of how God demonstrates his love for me and for you and for the world. And guess what:   if you want to be my follower, you will have to buy into it for yourself.  To truly be my disciple, you need to discover the radical and electrifying truth that real discipleship means letting go of your life and grabbing onto God’s life—which is radical, electrifying and it fills all the deep recesses and spaces of our souls.

III.  Conclusion:

So what does Lent mean for us?  It means we move through death to life; it means we chose now, tonight, tomorrow morning and every day to allow God to be in control of our lives—to let him empower us to say yes to his life; to say yes to being like Jesus; to saying yes to following his values, his teachings and his guidance of our lives.  For those outside the faith community, Lent makes no sense:  letting go of placing oneself first; letting go of seeking all the material comforts we can afford; helping the poor; feeding the hungry; caring for the sick—especially when they are strangers:  this makes no sense to anyone who has not been embraced by the love of God.  It makes no sense to anyone who holds onto the inherited belief that meeting our own needs is the most important reality in life.

But for those of us who have sensed God’s love in Jesus; who have felt his soothing Spirit call us into relationship, into intimacy, into service—it makes all the sense in the world.  And thus, anything we do to celebrate the call to renounce our self in favor to loving God and loving others—anything we do—no matter how small, is significant in God’s sight.  Because it alerts him that we are trying and perhaps that is all we can do.


Jesus confronted Peter because at that juncture Peter was choosing the ways of this world over the ways of God.  Our challenge remains the same:  do we choose the me-first values of this world or the   love-others values of God’s world.

   

Sermon:  5th Sunday after the Epiphany Year B
The Morning after the Night before
February 8, 2015   Mark 1: 29-39

 Introduction

Have you all had the experience of the “morning after the night before?”  You know, when you stayed out dancing until the sun came up; drank one or two  too many drinks; decided you couldn’t put down the book until you had finished it, only to realize it was 3 or 4 in the morning; or start watching a late night movie and decide you have to see it to its end, only to realize that you have only several hours before you have to get up and go to work.

In today’s gospel, we have an example of the morning after the night before.  No drinking; no carousing, no late night movies or dancing.  Just being surrounded by people who were hurting.  They brought their sick and hurting and demented loved ones to Jesus at night—after the stars had come out.  Strange you say.  Well it was their Sabbath—our Saturday, and the Jewish inhabitants of Capernaum and elsewhere were forbidden from doing any work on that day.  And, believe it or not, carrying a sick person was considered work.

So they weaved their way to the home of Peter, his wife, his mother-in-law and where Jesus and Andrew and James and john had come to rest after a day of teaching and healing in the Synagogue.  Jesus had healed a demented man in the synagogue,  He healed an un-named woman who as suffering from a potentially lethal fever and now he stretched out his heart and his hands to all who came burdened by emotional distress, physical pain, disease, and demonic possession.  

Who knows how long this continued—perhaps only an hour; perhaps into the wee hours of the dawn.  This was the night before the day after.  Exhausted, Jesus must have dropped into bed and instantly gone to sleep.  We don’t often think about what kinds of energy and emotional drain Jesus faced in reaching out to the sick and the suffering.  Just think how it is for you to sit with someone who is ill or in pain or suffering from an unknown disease.  How long do any of us stay with the suffering before we chime in:  well I’ve got to go—my wife—my husband—my children—my work is expecting me back home or at the office or wherever.




I don’t think Jesus just snapped his fingers and people were healed.  And the reason for this is that I don’t think there could be any real healing unless and until Jesus experienced the person’s pain and suffering himself and reached out and literally touched the sick and suffering.  Just think of the doctors you have encountered.  The ones who remained distant and professional may have been excellent in their knowledge of ailments, but I suspect it was the MD who listened with concern, who looked you in the eyes, who took you by the hand—it was that MD who made you feel better—even it he didn’t have the answer for your disorder.

II.  The Morning after the Night before

So, what does Jesus do on the morning after the night before?  Does he sleep in?  Does he take it easy?  Have a couple of cups of coffee and read the Capernaum Daily Times?  Have a leisurely breakfast?  Go for a jog with the boys?  Check his emails?  Gossip with Peter’s wife and mother-in-law?  All, by the way, are nice activities.  

While it was still dark:  no while it was still “very dark,”  in the early morning hours, Jesus arose and went into the wilderness—not to fish or hunt—mind you, but to pray.  And this tells us a great deal about Jesus and it tells us something about what we need to keep at the forefront of our minds.

There were two things that Jesus needed and those two things he sought to find in the wilderness, free from the increasing demands on his healing powers.  You are thinking, I suspect, that he needed to be alone.  And this very true but I was assuming that.  What did he hope to achieve by being alone?   That’s the real question.  And you are thinking, I  suspect, that he needed to be away from the distractions of others so he could collect himself and clear his thinking, perhaps plan for the next day.   Yes, yes.  That is all true.

Our Gospel writer fortunately for us, does not leave us in the dark.  Jesus went out to pray.  And of course, we all want to know what he was praying.  The two  things Jesus needed was to be refueled on the morning after the night before.  He had expended such emotional and spiritual energy and caring and healing that he must have felt depleted.  So he went to pray—to give himself over to God to be himself refueled and healed of the pain and sorrow and suffering he had encountered.  

And I think Jesus went into the wilderness to discover or rediscover what God’s plan was for his  continued ministry.  Jesus could easily have stayed right in Capernaum and spent the rest of his life healing the broken-hearted, the sick, the demented, the depressed, the bipolar, the schizophrenic, the deaf, the blind.  

Jesus knew this.   It would more likely have led to a quicker death.  The Jewish authorities would have become more paranoid, more jealous, more threatened more quickly had Jesus remained in one  location.  The Romans would have become increasingly worried about this charismatic healer and their ire and power would have come crushing down on Jesus most likely within a year or less.

Jesus was no dummy.  He was not a simpleton, nor a hapless romantic nor a naive goody goody two-shoes.  He knew something of the consequences of coming forward as the purveyor of God’s kingdom and as one who  saw that  reality is a vastly different light that his  contemporary rabbis.  

So, at this juncture if Jesus’ ministry, when he was collecting his disciples and planning his strategy, he needed two things:  he needed to be refueled for the trip and he needed a map to envision where he was heading and what he was gong to do.  And he discovered the answers to those questions in prayer.

III.  Conclusion  

The two needs that Jesus sought to address in solitary prayer are exactly the two primary needs that  are universal to the human condition, regardless of race, sex, age, economic status, marital status.  We all need to discover how we can be refueled to meet the demands of each day.  And we all need to daily rediscover the game plan for our lives:  what we plan to do this day, tomorrow and next week, month, year.

There are many ways we can address these two questions.  We can ignore them—which most of us do from time to time, generally until we run out of energy or lose our way in life.  We can keep so busy that we never have time to consider these questions, losing ourselves in our smart phone, iPads, computers, games, work, recreation and what not.

But our gospeler Mark gives us something invaluable in today’s gospel.  He reveals a Jesus who needed to keep his spiritual life vital and needed to consult his map for his travel directions on a daily basis.

And so do we.  if we find ourselves feeling tired, irritable, depressed, lethargic, unhappy, sad, pessimistic, angry—well the list could go on and on—it might be that we have some physical disorder—but it might equally be that we have simply forgotten to gas up our tanks.  And we do this in prayer.  We talk to God about the things that bother us.  we talk to God about things we want out of life; we talk to God about what we want to accomplish in life; we talk to God about our health, our wealth; our children; our spouses; our grand-children—we talk to God about everything.  And we keep talking until we find ourselves refueled, re-energized.  This may take 5 minutes or 60 minutes.  Martin Luther is rumored to have asserted that if he did not spend the first 3 hours in prayer each morning, he would never be able to accomplish all that he needed to do.  If Jesus needed to be refueled, how much more do we.

And we talk to God about our journey:  where are we going in our lives?  what is most important at this juncture in our lives?  where do we want to invest our time and energy and resources?  Every day is a new  road untraveled.  We can try to trust the old maps of yesterday, yesteryear, but life has changed; we have changed and we need to constantly download new information.  That comes from talking with God.

Jesus concluded that he could not stay in Capernaum.  He concluded that it was not in his best interest to invest all of his life as a healer in one community.  That was not what God wanted for him.  He was called to spread the good news that God was coming into  the world to bring healing and freedom not just to a select few but to all and Jesus had to move from community to community to share that and to teach about the heart of God and to reveal and embody that reality.  

We are called to embody God’s love for this faith community—don’t forget Jesus started his healing at home—at Peter’s home. and we are called to embody God’s love wherever our journey takes us.  And we need to be refueled daily to accomplish that.


     Sermon:  Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B
Snakes in the Wilderness
John 3: 14-21  March 15, 2015

I.  Introduction

In the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, throws a large snake out of the small plane he using to escape the enraged natives, growling out:  "I hate snakes."  Many of us might likely echo that sentiment.  Snakes have a bad rep.  Perhaps it's just that they are slithery and sometimes poisonous.  Or perhaps it's the Genesis story of Adam and Eve being seduced by a snake.  Whatever the reason, most of us simply don't like snakes, even the non-poisonous  black snake or the quite innocuous green garden snake.  For most of us, the slogan:  "A good snake is a dead snake" would ring true.

I think we might all agree that the Israelites who were fleeing Egypt to find a land promised to them by God would certainly have echoed these sentiments.  You may remember their predicament.  They had left their homes and the Egyptian environment with which they were familiar and had followed the charismatic and miracle worker, Moses who promised them that God wanted them to have a new life where freedom and justice and mercy would be the normative experience rather than being Egyptian slaves with little freedom and almost no status.

Yet three days after they crossed the Red Sea, their food and water began to give out and they complained:  "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food."  They just didn't like how God was providing for them.  And in addition to poor provisions, they have come upon snakes that are lethal and those bitten have started dying.  The Israelites are not having a good day or a good week.  I suspect we have all been there.  Nothing seems to be working out.  A flat tire; an important meeting canceled; a loved one forgets your birthday; the item in the store we wanted to buy has been sold; a loved one dies; a job we had been hoping to secure is not offered; no thank you notes for the lovely gifts given; the weather is too hot or too cold;  just when you were hoping to get ahead financially the refrigerator/heat pump/air-conditioner dies--or even worse, the auto dies;  and up goes the credit card bill/bank loan.

What do we do?  We do what the Israelites did:  we look for someone to blame:  usually our spouses are a handy target; our doctors are good targets if we get sick--they should have known about this or that disease/ or our employers--what do you mean we are not getting a raise; or the local government--how dare they raise our taxes up; or the federal government:  how dare they try to cooperate with Iran; or if worse comes to worse, we blame the president:  "who does he think he is?" and finally, if all else fails to make us feel better, we blame God:  surely a good, loving God would not allow me or my loved ones to suffer! 
Well, the Israelites jumped right to the top and blamed Moses and God.  Who did they think they were to bring us into the wilderness only to be killed by poisonous snakes--not to mention lousy food and little of that and no fresh water.

Well, it's no question that the pilgriminaging  Israelites were having a bad-hair day. (You know, when you read that Old Testament lesson, it does not say that God sent the snakes to punish the Israelites.  In the setting of that time, anything that happened in nature was considered to be caused by God.)  It is the Israelites who conclude they are being punished--but this idea of punishment does not come from Yahweh.  When they implore God for help, he does not simply destroy the snakes but provides them a way to counter the snake bites, when and if they are bitten. 

God tells Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and hold it aloft and when any of the Israelites are bitten, they are to look at the bronze statue and they would be healed.  This seems like a strange way for God to respond:  why not just zap the snakes and be done with it.  Perhaps the point has to do with God's desire for all of us to exercise our faith in him.  IF God just zapped the snakes that wouldn't require the Israelites to exercise their faith; but if they have to actually take some action in order to be healed--that is, they have to trust Moses and God enough to find Moses and get their eyes on the bronze snake, then they are exercising their faith.
Of course, you can just hear some of the fleeing Israelites saying:  "This just doesn't make any sense to me--I'm not going to be that foolish."  And their unwillingness to exercise their faith would have caused they their lives.

II.  Jesus as the Bronze Snake

Just when we might think that we are exempt from any such ridiculous activity, Jesus proclaims to Nicodemus"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

It is quite shocking that God devised his healing/saving image to be that of a snake and even more that Jesus likens himself to that image in our Gospel.  The snake has a biblical annotation of being evil, of being the image of Satan, of being sneaky, dangerous, and lethal.  This play on images may suggest that the very thing we think is harmful, evil, dangerous may in fact lead to our salvation.

After his encounter with Jesus Nicodemus walks back into the darkness from whence he came.  Jesus was simply too dangerous, too lethal for him to embrace.  As John concluded: " The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil."  We think of Jesus as being this nice guy who went around doing good deeds, loving his fellow human being, healing the sick and the blind, feeding the hungry, raising the dead and essentially avoiding controversy and conflict and not causing any problems.  And that certainly describes some of the person of Jesus.

But when Jesus said that he had to be raised up like Moses'  Bronze serpent in order for people to believe in him, he was talking about his crucifixion and his resurrection/ascension.  He was saying to Nicodemus that he was the new Snake in the Garden, who instead of offering life that led to death, he offered new life that led into eternal life.  And that life had to do with dying and being born again; about dying to a life of self-focus, self-control, self-first, self- interest, and being born into a life where faith in God and commitment to caring for others were the operating values. 

This was too much for Nicodemus.  And it may be too much for all of us.  When Jesus affirms that God's love for all the world is poured out on the cross, we shout:  Hooray and Hallelujah.  But then we began to realize that all of this is God's invitation to a life of caring about others--even the homeless--even those who are different than we are--we persons who have different values, different life styles--and we all say:  "Just hold on!  I didn't sign on for this kind of life."

III.  Conclusion:

And that's exactly correct.  We didn't.  None of , the one who pours out his heart and blood for us.  And God keeps saying:  just keep the eyes of your faith on him.  On Jesus who is lifted up on the cross; in heaven and that faith will lead you through the messiness of life; through the heartaches and losses and it will be real life--not pretend; not simply living on the surface of life, but it will be a life of authentic encounter with God and with others; it will be painful; it will be joyful; it will cost you your life and it will give you new life.us did.  We didn't sign on to be Jesus' disciples.  We signed on to be those who receive God's love and God's blessing.  We want to know that God will take care of us.  We want him to zap all the snakes in our lives--all those uncomfortable, painful, horrible things than can inflict us with so much pain and unhappiness.  We are very much like those Israelites who really don't want to content to the sufferings in life.  Come on God; have done with this bronze snake and just zap all the things that trouble us.
But no, God keeps pointing us to the Bronze Snake; the new snake

 Lenten Chats with Your Priest
March 15, 2015    John 3:14-21



Our Old Testament lesson reintroduces us to the idea of the Covenants that God has made with his people—his covenant with Noah; his covenant with Abraham.  These covenants are God’s commitments to his people to bless them and to care for them.

Covenantal thinking attaches itself to our season of Lent.  Many of us covenant  with God to be different during Lent as a way of following Jesus into the desert during his 40-day fast; and as a way of preparing for the Easter Season; and as a way of signaling to God that we want to be "better" Christians.

What we tend to forget, however, is that Lent and our covenants with God have much more to do with God that with us.  It is God who covenants with us.  It is God in Jesus who establishes a new and better covenant with us. 

It is God who promises to write his laws on our hearts.  It is God who promises to come close to us in Christ so that we will truly “know” God.  It is God who continues to transform us.  It is God who takes us by the hand and leads us through this life to the next life.  It is God who gives us His Spirit at baptism, who prepares us for our new home with God.

That is why Lent leads us to Easter.  Lent reminds us that in ourselves, we are but "dust."  The resurrection of Jesus declares that God loves us beyond measure and that God takes our "dust" and adds bones and muscle and skin and spiritual vitality to our lives.  “For God so loved the world.   
                                      Charles      


                             
Lenten Chats with Your Priest:
March 1, 2015             Mark 8:31-38





Jesus.   Wilderness.   Temptation.
I kept hoping that, as I got older, temptations to live in a way that is contrary to the character and will of God will slowly evaporate. Such has not been the case for me.

There is a stream of thought that has permeated different religious groups that asserts the view that one can arrive at a state of "higher life" or "enlightened consciousness" where one is no longer tempted.  Sadly this has not been the case for me.

As one who has looked at the human predicament/condition from biblical, theological and psychological perspectives, I am inclined to think that the propensity to be self-focused and to be less than totally trusting in God is universal and permanent in this world. Alas, what are we to do?

Thank God for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.  Without these wonderful opportunities for self-reflection, confession, and repentance, we might be tempted to assume that all is well with our souls. And, more positively, these times provide us with precious opportunities to refuel, and discover  new direction and empowerment for our thoughts and activities.

If Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, tempted again and again during his ministry, then clearly we face the same potential to lose our trust in God and our direction in life.


            Charles

       Sermon:  Third Sunday in Lent, Year B
The War against Jesus
John 2;21-38   March 8, 2015

I.  Introduction

This month's issue of National Geographic has as its feature article a summary of contemporary attitudes toward scientific inquiry.  The title of the article is "The War against Science."  This article is quite short and very readable and I highly recommend it to you.  The article highlights contemporary opposition to the fluoridation of our drinking water, securing vaccination shots against measles,  and widespread denial of global warming.  It suggests that many of us hold onto views that may actually harm us, not because we don't know the results of scientific inquiry but because of our deeply held beliefs.  Such was the case when Galileo suggested the preposterous idea that the earth was round and rotated around the sun rather than being flat and square and having the sun rotate around it.  Everyone in here would scoff at the idea of a flat world--why, because we can now see pictures from space that clearly prove this beyond any doubt.  But Galileo was forced to recant his views on the pain of death. 

The reality is that changing our ideas about the world is a challenging experience.  We hold on to our views of the way things were because that helps us make sense of who we are, where we are going in life and how we plan to get there.  Obviously if the world is flat, one has to be careful not to fall off of it.  And if in fact the world is moving around the sun, not to mention on its own axis, then why don't we get dizzy or somehow experience that reality.

II.  The War on Jesus

Our Lenten season calls us to look more deeply into our faith experiences, to see if there are are ways that God is speaking to us that we have ignored or avoided.  These weeks in Lent are precious gifts from God to slow down, look more deeper into our own souls and find new ways that God is showing us is love and his new life.

This morning we could easily title our gospel not the "War on Science," but  "The War on Jesus."  And it would seem from our Gospel that Jesus is the one who starts this war.  Keep in mind the very significant fact that our author John has decided to play fancy free with his arrangement of the incidents in the life of Jesus.  The synoptic gospel writers place this incident as the end of Jesus' ministry, and identify this as the incident that led directly to his illegal arrest.  John, however, is placing it at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, days after Jesus turned the water into wine at the marriage in Cana.

Be that as it may, we might argue that Jesus was having a bad hair day; or that he got up on the wrong side of the straw mattress; that he hadn't had enough sleep.  We might even hypothesize that he had had too much to drink at the wedding in Cana, that preceded this incident.  You remember--this was the wedding where the hosts ran out of wine--a horrible social faux pas in that day and age; and Jesus rescued the family from shame when he turned the six barrels of water into six barrels of delicious red wine--perhaps a Merlot or a Cabernet sauvigno or perhaps a rich cream sherry.
But the reality is much deeper than this.  This incident where Jesus made a whip of cords and drove the animals and money changers out of the temple took place during the 8 day celebration of Passover--the most significant feast of the Jewish year,  when all Jews in a radius of 15 miles were obligated to come to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship, pay a temple tax and offer an animal for sacrifice.  The temple was huge, and there were different areas that became increasingly restricted.  The first area that the worshipping pilgrim entered was the Court of the Gentiles (Court of the women, Court of the Israelites (male if you please) and the Court of the priests)--perhaps as large as several football fields.  And itwas in the Gentile court where Jesus chose to do battle.  

This was where all the animals to be  sacrificed were brought to be sold to the pilgrims; this was where the profane money of Greek and Roman origin was exchanged for the Jewish sanctuary shekel that did not bear the imprint of Caesar on them. There was nothing out of the ordinary happening her when

Jesus entered.  It had become a market place because the temple worship demanded a ready supply of oxen, sheep and doves to be used a ritual sacrifices.  There had to be money changers because Greek and Roman money was considered profane and could not be used to pay the required temple tax. 

Certainly Jesus may have been angered because the money changers were fleecing the Jewish pilgrims who were simply doing what the law required.  The temple tax amounted to about two days wage; the money changers were essentially charging a day's wage to make the transaction.  This may not sound like much since a day's wage was so little.  However, keep in mind that Jews came for the Passover service from all over the world.  There would have been between 500,000 to almost 2 million people attending this ceremony.  That would have made the money-changers and the Temple wealthy beyond imagination.  Certainly this would have outraged Jesus and for three reasons. 

Many of these pilgrimaging Jews came from distant lands at great personal expense.  There was essentially no middle class in  1st century Palestine--so most of those coming to worship were poor.  That the temple was allowing and encouraging this legalized robbery would have been absolutely infuriating to Jesus.  The very institution that should have been a place of prayer and solace and a place to experience forgiveness of sins and a connection to God was being used as an illegal market place and corrupt bank.

Secondly, there were Gentiles who came to pray to God in the temple.  They were not allowed to enter the more private courts of women or of the Israelite men or of the priests.  So they were left to find some space within the thousands of pilgrims buying and selling animals, changing money, arguing, yelling, pushing and shoving to get into the temple proper.  How could they find any peace and quiet to speak with God.  Jesus proclaimed:  You have turned my fathers' house into a marketplace--that was designed to be a house of prayer.
  
And finally and most importantly, Jesus came into the temple to destroy it's validity and its meaning.  Jesus came into the temple to destroy it symbolically.  Most likely he only drove out some of the animals and overturned some of the tables.  Had he done more than that, the temple police would have charged him with insurrection, arrested him, imprisoned him and executed him. 

Jesus came to proclaim he was the true temple of God; that in him the old sacrificial system with its market place mentality and its corrupt moneychangers and even more corrupt priestly order was finished; that in and through him there was a new way to access God; that in Jesus one could find a personal relationship to God; that in him, sins were forgiven; new life was offered; peace with God reestablished and eternal life given freely.

The wedding in Cana some weeks earlier and this clearing out of the temple lift up and inaugurate this new work of God in Jesus.  Turning the water into wine highlights the unlimited grace and love of God that springs forth from Jesus.  Clearing out the temple highlights how much Jesus wants us to realize that he is the one who leverages our relationship with God. 

III.  Conclusion

The question for us this morning is what would happen if Jesus came into our worship service.  Would he find it a house of prayer?  Would he find parishioners experiencing the presence of God?   Would he find people following along in the prayer book while daydreaming about some task or plans or a meal or what not.