Sermon for Sunday March 4, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
A new broom sweeps clean! (Jesus cleansing the Temple)
When Kay Dila was the Rector’s Warden of this Cathedral I was a deputy. The building’s architecture was slightly different then… the organ blocked both sides of the crossing… and the place was frankly grubby. Kay got the four of us wardens to come in one evening and dust every pew, side aisles and centre aisles. She made a kind of game out of it. And we got rid of a lot of dust and grime. That memory stirred up in me this week when I pictured Jesus in the Temple, driving out the money changers.
This was certainly a prophetic act—Jesus acting out in deed what he was proclaiming as God’s message.
If there’s one thing we know about the Prophets, it’s that they have always mixed politics and religion. Jesus was no exception. He was showing by his act tha the sacrificial system in the Temple was not only corrupt… it was finished, because the Temple itself would be destroyed in 70 AD. As you likely know, this happened after Jesus had been crucified and risen but before the Gospels as we know them were actually written down.
The challenge for Jews at that time was to find a whole new way to get right with God, to draw near to the God who gives us life… without the central focus and the powerful rituals of temple worship. Not only that, but … they had to do it while being either oppressed by the occupying Romans, or fleeing from them into different communities scattered all around the Mediterranean.
Judaism was changing rapidly. Scholars today who want to study that part of Jewish history read Saint Paul’s letters to learn about what was going on.
By the time this story was put in writing, there WAS no temple, and there were small groups of both Jews and gentiles worshipping locally, inspired by Jesus teachings and the story of his resurrection. They were hearing the accounts that later become our Gospels, and circulating letters from leaders like Saint Paul which we heard read this morning, and attempting to move forward as faith communities. Christianity was being born.
Often enough, when we say “a new broom sweeps clean” we are warning each other to beware—bad stuff will be thrown out, yes, but our settled routines and ways of thinking might be subject to disruption too. So remember, if you will, how NICE it is to work with a new broom, or vacuum, or even a kitchen sponge. Really getting beneath the grime and dust, to what was originally there. Cleaning is not just sanitizing, it renews what has been there all along.
The Temple of Jesus day was a political and economic player in a system where Jerusalem was occupied by Rome. Its ritual functions were intact, but its situation at the heart of Jewish life had been compromised. There’s no doubt that Jesus’ attack on the Temple did set the authorities against him. It was seen as more than a prophetic act, it was politically insubordinate—and led to his execution.
What’s important to rescue from this cataclysm this is that Jesus was not prophesying the destruction of the Jewish faith. He didn’t see himself as creating a different religion. He did foresee the actual destruction of the Temple—there are writings that describe holy Jews contemporaneous with Jesus fasting for the deliverance of the Temple from destruction, so we don’t have to think this is an example of history being written backwards, so to speak.
In fact, Christianity and Judaism because they have a common root, have continued to evolve in parallel. Both have grown in two thousand years, but in parallel ways not divergently. One example might be how the Amish and Mennonite denominations, and the Hassidic branch of Judaism, emerged at about the same time and persist, with their distinctive clothing and their practices that set their members apart from the more worldly or secular believers.
And just as Christianity has a tradition of lore beyond the Bible—just think of the story of the child Jesus making birds out of clay, or the cult of Mary’s mother Saint Anne —so Judaism developed the Mishnah, a whole body of teachings and stories that amplify our understanding of scripture.
So while our texts today might come across as scary—the dark side of Santa Claus—to frighten us into better behaviour during Lent—that’s not the only way we can understand the ten commandments. There’s a wonderful story about them in the Mishnah that is also an answer to Christians who basically have been brainwashed into thinking only Christians have good news. God has good news for all God’s people, and God has not stopped revealing it.
Here’s the story:
When God gave the ten commandments they were spoken very quietly. God invited all the people—not just Moses—up onto the mountain so they could hear them. And God whispered them, not as words of judgment but as words of loving advice.
So I invite you to imagine you are there, hearing these loving words for the very first time ever, whispered to you by your Creator:
I’m the God who gives you life again and again.
Don’t be in awe of things that don’t give you life.
Don’t use my name for small stuff like swearing.
Give yourself a whole day to really rest every week.
Love your moms and dads, it will be better for you.
Don’t kill each other. You are all precious.
Don’t mess with other people’s husbands or wives.
Don’t take stuff that’s not yours.
Don’t tell lies about each other.
Don’t ache after stuff other people have. That’s not good for you.
These are words of life.
As we heard in Saint Paul’s letter, we find that life in Christ, too. So I will tell you another story.
I think you know that I’m a spiritual director. One of my directees—people I meet for spiritual conversation—gave me permission to share this story.
For years and years, she and her sister had been living in the duplex their parents had left them, one upstairs and one downstairs. But their relationship was difficult. The sister that lived downstairs finally decided to ask for her share of the inheritance to buy a new condo, close to her daughter. This triggered old bitterness. After she moved, they didn’t speak for weeks and weeks. One Sunday, as she came forward for communion, she heard God telling her “This is wrong. It must not be like this.” She knew this word was from God. So she went home and wrote a letter to her sister, telling her she loved her and was sorry for the hurt. Then she called and made arrangements to meet in a restaurant. She gave the letter to her sister, who read it. Then they talked for four hours. By God’s grace, healing began.
Today, Let God speak to you, let God feed you.
Thanks be to God.
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