Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Friday, March 30, 2018

YEAR B 2018 good friday

Good Friday, 2018
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1-19:42
Psalm 22

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What we just heard is a story of The Law v. Love.  What is legal v. what is moral.  A story of what is allowed v. doing the right thing.  What is Selfish v. selfless.

Everyone in the story is looking for justifications for their actions.  Here is why this man must die, and here is why it is not my fault.  You must be the one to kill this man because I am not allowed to, or I am not qualified to, or I am not a Jew.  Everyone is looking to be exonerated and everyone is looking to justify their own participation in this violence.

Except for Jesus.

Throughout this reading, Jesus keeps asking the obvious questions, the truthful questions.  An innocent lamb, headed for the slaughter.  Everyone else is trying to justify their own part in the slaying.  But there is no justification; there is no excuse; there is no exoneration.  For any of them, or for any of us. 

The temptation for you and me is to think we would have done things differently.  That we’re on Jesus’ side, unlike the chief priests, and the police, and the governor, and the disciples.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Putting ourselves into this story is a fool’s errand.  Because if it is a story about the people around Jesus . . . well, you see how it ends.

Look to Jesus.  This is a story about Jesus, not the people looking to be justified.  You and I play all the other parts at different times in our lives.  Sometimes we accuse, sometimes we deny, sometimes we call out for violence and death.  At one time or another, you and I end up standing in for each and every person in this story, except for one.  There is only one truly righteous person in this story.  Only one whose actions are justified.  Only one who is exonerated.  And by his wounds we are healed.

Jesus, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us your peace.

Amen.

YEAR B 2018 maundy thursday

Maundy Thursday, 2018
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17


In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You have heard me use the phrase, lex orandi lex credendi.  As we worship, so we believe.  Or, praying shapes believing. What that phrase means for Episcopalians is this:  If you want to know what we believe, watch how we worship.

All this week, what we call “Holy Week,” we use special liturgies from the Prayer Book.  There is no Christmas Liturgy, because that is not the pinnacle of our faith.  But there are special liturgies for Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.  That’s because these liturgies tell others and—quite frankly, ourselves—what we believe.  When you look at the readings, and the prayers, and the hymns, they tell you something.  In fact, they tell you a lot of things.

And tonight, the hymns and the readings and the liturgy say everything I want to tell you . . . except much better than I could ever put into words.  At the end of this service, we will share a meal together, which is called an Agape’ meal.  As you may know, Agape’ is a Greek word for love.  There are three Greek words for love, and Agape is the best one.  Unconditional love.  It’s the kind of love God has for us.  The kind of love Jesus has for us.  The kind of love we aim to have for one another.  As we heard in tonight’s gospel reading, Jesus gives his disciples—and us—a new commandant:  That we love one another, as he has loved us.  Unconditionally.  Agape’ love.

And after that meal together, we will return to this space, and listen to a very specific Psalm, as the Altar and chancel are stripped of everything beautiful.  We do this to symbolize Jesus being handed over to his enemies for execution.  And we also do this to symbolize Jesus’ giving up his glory, in order to do for us the thing we cannot do for ourselves: to reconcile us to God and to one another.  And, tonight, we will also set aside consecrated bread and wine for us to use tomorrow on Good Friday, the one day of the year when we do not consecrate bread and wine.  So many little important things packed into so short a time  As we worship, so we believe.

There is so much going on this week.  But the main thing I want to remind you of is this:  What we experience this week can be uncomfortable, and frightening, and sometimes overwhelming.  Through it all, I hope you will remember this most crucial thing: God loves you enough to give up an only Son, into human hands, and in doing so, God’s Agape Love for the world is made known throughout all human history, in the beginning, and now, and forever and ever.

Love one another, as Jesus loves us.

Amen.
   

Sunday, March 25, 2018

YEAR B 2018 palm sunday/passion sunday

Palm Sunday, 2018
Mark 11:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 15:1-47
Psalm 31:9-16

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Palm Sunday is a very hard Sunday every year.  When I was a child, it was always just the palms, and a fun parade around the church.  Or at least, that’s what I remember.  In the late 60’s, after Vatican II, the Passion of Jesus returned to its place as part of the beginning of Holy Week.  And, for Episcopalians, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer joins the two things together, in an official way:  Palm Sunday is also now the day on which we hear the story of the death of our Lord, to focus our attention properly on the week ahead.

But having the two things joined in this way goes against the way we view the world, to say the least.  We are used to having stories go from bad to good.  We like to hear success stories of people who come from nothing eventually having it all.  Our nation is pretty much founded on the idea of “upward mobility,” where people who work hard and play by the rules improve their lot and station in life.  A good rags to riches story warms our hearts.

That’s why Palm Sunday is so jarring, I think.  Because it goes in the reverse order.  The king who enters Jerusalem is being rightly honored, and people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  We entered into that story.  We picked up palm branches, took our place among the crowd, and celebrated the arrival of our Savior who will rescue us from our enemies.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, we heard that Jesus was bound and brought before Pilate for judgment.  We listened to his humiliation and sentencing to death by crucifixion.  We saw his friends all abandon him, and heard his final cry, and then his burial in the tomb.  This is not a story of upward mobility; in fact, it is exactly the opposite.  This apparent “downward mobility” is actually more like spiraling out of control.  The one we laud as our Savior ends up degraded and buried.

And, it is important to see that this progression mirrors our own downward mobility as well.  Though we might stand and praise the Son of David, our conquering King.  We also shout “Give us Barabbas,” and walk away in fear when the harsh reality of our participation becomes clear to us.  We like to assume that it is the Chief Priests and Judas who put Jesus on the cross, because that allows us to imagine if we were there we would have done something.  If we were there, we would have stood up for Jesus . . . not denied him in the courtyard . . . not fallen asleep when he was praying that this cup might pass from him . . . not run away to hide when he was lifted up on the cross of death.  We like to imagine that we are better than the other people in the story, and the distance of time and culture tempt us to believe that to be true.

But it isn’t.  Palm Sunday is the day for us to face the facts.  Yes, we praise the arrival of Jesus, but we also send him to the cross.  And if you doubt the truth of that, I ask you to remember the promise you make in the Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbor as yourself.  What you have done to others, you have done to Christ,  Plain and simple.  Just like me.  Watching Palm Sunday turn into Passion Sunday is a reminder of our own downward mobility.  It is just the way we are.  And if we deny that reality and pretend it isn’t so . . . well, then we are denying that we need a Savior.  We are pretending that what is broken is not broken.

But here’s the thing:  This downward mobility of ours is tied to the downward mobility of Jesus.  Because when he goes down into the grave, we go down with him.  Just as he was laid in a tomb, we each will follow where he leads.  From dust you were created and to dust you shall return.  And that’s the key moment for each of us.  Because when we do return to dust, we can finally stop pretending that everything is okay.  Dust has no illusions of being able to fix what cannot be fixed, or promising to do what cannot be done.  And then, when the dust has finally settled, God begins to make all things new.

You and I will each be called out of the grave just as Jesus was called out of the tomb.  As Paul reminds us, because we have been baptized into his death, we will also share in a resurrection like his.  The upward mobility of Jesus on Easter morning means that you and I will also rise up, to a new heaven and a new earth, to a time when God has made us into the people that we truly want to be, as God truly means for us to be.

And in the meantime, we keep our eyes on Jesus.  We enter into Holy Week knowing that things are not as they should be, but trusting that God is working in each one of us, to make the world a little more like it one day shall be.  May God give us the courage to see what we’d rather not see, the will to go where we’d rather not go, and the faith to believe what we’d rather not believe:  that God can bring joy out of pain, beauty out of dust, and life out of death.

Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Massillon Ecumenical Lenten Service, 2018

MACA Lenten Service, 2018
James 1:12-14
Matthew 6:9-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, back when the preachers got together and decided to divide up the Lord’s Prayer for preaching, I picked “Lead us not into temptation.”  Mainly because I was interested in it, and also because I was too dumb to realize how difficult it would be.  Pastor Gower, being a wiser pastor chose the phrase, “Our Father,” although he was hoping for just "Our."  Which reminds me, let’s begin by reviewing what we’ve heard so far.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with that phrase, Our Father.  It reminds us that—even though we tend to think of this as an individual prayer—it is a prayer from and about our community.  And the next week, we heard that asking for God’s kingdom to come is asking that life in this world would be like it is in the parables, when Jesus describes what the kingdom of God is like.  Then we heard that asking for our daily bread really reminds us that all our needs are provided by God.  And last week, we heard that—with God’s help—we can let sin pass us by rather than grabbing onto it when it comes to us, because come to us it will.

And that leads us to today:  Lead us not into temptation.  This is, perhaps, the strangest of all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.  In Matthew’s version, it gets coupled with, “but deliver us from evil,” which is the easy part.  Luke’s version stops with the hard part: Lead us not into temptation.

Even when I was a little kid, I thought this was a strange thing to ask of God.  I mean, God wouldn’t want us to fall into temptation, so why would we need to ask God not to tempt us?  It’s like asking God not to make me steal candy from the kids at school.  And, as I grew to be a teenager, I began to think of this phrase as being more like, “Lead us not into temptation, because I can get there on my own just fine, God, thanks.”

The more you think about this petition, the stranger it becomes.  If you have a world view where God is literally in control of everything, maybe it’s a less confusing request.  You know, everything happens because it is God’s will, even the bad things.  And therefore, it might just be God’s will that we fall into temptation, so we’d better be sure to ask God not to lead us into temptation, in case that’s one of the things God had in mind.  And if that worldview works for you, then, well, good for you.  But I just can’t embrace that, personally.  As best I can tell, bad things happen in this world, even though God does not want them to happen.  And not put too fine a point on it, a God who actually wants innocent people to suffer is a God I’m not that interested in.  Please don’t throw anything at me.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Job.  Some people will point to the book of Job as an example of God leading someone into temptation.  Now I’m not going to debate whether the book of Job is an allegory or not, since I feel like I just dodged being hit by a load of Bibles from you all.  But I do feel the need to point out that it is Satan who is tempting Job to denounce God; God is not leading Job into temptation.

And what do we do with that verse from the book of James that we heard read a little earlier tonight?  “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.  But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.”  No person should say, “I am being tempted by God.”  That’s pretty clear, right?

Huh.  So on the face of it, we don’t really see God leading anyone into temptation.  And we have James telling us that God does not lead us into temptation.  And yet, on a regular basis, we pray that God would not lead us into temptation.  As the Lutherans might say, “What does this mean?”

You may have heard that Pope Francis has begun floating the idea that this phrase ought to be rendered something more like, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”  And the Catholic Church in France has begun using that phrasing.  Well, in French.  And soon the Swiss Church will make the same change, starting on Easter day.  But I don’t think that’s going to catch on really, because language scholars have lined up against it and . . . well . . . people just won’t do it.  The Lord’s Prayer is the Lord’s Prayer.  Just ask any Episcopal priest how easy it has been to introduce the “Contemporary” version, which appeared in 1928, and is still considered “too modern” in many churches.

But here’s another thing to consider.  In the Gospel of Mark, right after his Baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he is tested, or tempted by Satan.  In fact, the actual phrase is “thrown out” into the desert.  The suggestion here is that Jesus was not looking for this; Jesus was not slipping into temptation; no, Jesus had to be thrown into temptation, since it is so contrary to his very nature.

And maybe that’s a helpful thing to keep in mind when we consider the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Like, it is certainly our nature to fall into temptation.  We don’t need to be thrown.  We don’t even need to be led.  Show us temptation, and the honest among us will say, “Where do I sign?”  We are all tempted to sin against God and our neighbor, and we are all prone to give into those temptations, no matter how hard we might strive to fight against them.  And that is why we constantly and consistently confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, and why we constantly and consistently need to hear the words of assurance and absolution, that God forgives what we have done, are doing, and will do in the future.

And so, what about this phrase, “Lead us not into temptation?”  Why did Jesus tell us to pray that, and why do we keep on doing it, even though it is so confusing to us?  The answer is . . . I have no idea.

HOWEVER, maybe this is something to carry with you, and it goes back to the first sermon we heard at these weekly gatherings:  Us.  Our.  The collective.  I do not pray that God would give me my daily bread.  Or forgive me my trespasses.  And you do not pray that God would not lead you into temptation.  It is us.  It is the church.  It is this collective, messy, struggling, hungry, forgiven people of God, following God’s call to go out into the world and make it a little more like the Kingdom of God that we pray will look on earth as it does in heaven.

You and I are in this together, whether we like it or not.  And my prayer for all of us is that God would lead us away from temptation and into being the church that God wants us to be.  Forgiven, united, welcoming, loving, and ready to celebrate the risen Christ who passes over from death into life, and pulls us with him, by the grace of God, and by the will of God.  The one who has the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

YEAR B 2018 lent 5

Lent 5, 2018
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33
Psalm 51:1-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, as you can see, this week we have another fine example of John being John in this gospel reading.  There’s a lot of mystical-sounding language, that we’re not quite sure we get, and—just like we had a couple weeks ago—John feels the need to explain the one metaphor we do get: that is, Jesus’ being lifted up indicates the way in which he is to die.  But let’s jump in at the beginning . . .

The scene is the Passover Festival, and people come from all around to celebrate, or to watch the Jewish people celebrate.  It’s, you know, a festival.  So even people of a different faith—or no faith—want to come by and partake in the celebration.  That’s why there are “some Greeks” there.  And they come to the one disciple who likely spoke Greek, Philip, who was from Bethsaida, and they say they wish to see Jesus.  Phillip goes to Andrew, and they both go to Jesus.  End of story.  We never get to hear whether the Greeks got to see Jesus.  It’s like they’re just left in the doctor’s waiting room and the story moves on.  Strange, right?

And in typical John fashion, after they say some Greeks want to see Jesus, his answer has nothing to do with their question.  No, instead, Jesus starts telling them about something else: The hour has come.  To us, that sounds like it has nothing to do with the request from the Greeks, but that’s because we forgot about the rest of John’s gospel.  So let’s leave the Greeks to reading their magazines in the waiting room and think back to what “the hour” means in John’s gospel.

Early in the second chapter of John, Jesus is at a wedding in Cana, and they run out of wine.  His mother, Mary, comes to him (seeking words of wisdom), and asks him to do something about it.  And Jesus says to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  In the 7th chapter of John, Jesus is teaching at a festival and the religious leaders are worried that he is winning over the crowds, and they try to arrest him, “but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.”  And then in the 8th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is teaching in the Temple, and the Pharisees are challenging his authority on technical grounds, “but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”

And today, in the 12th chapter of John, Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus about the Greeks who wish to see him. And Jesus answers them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  This is it, you see?  It’s a turning point in the gospel of John.  Twelve chapters in, and the hour has finally come!  Hooray!  So . . . um, what exactly does that mean?  We’ve been waiting for the hour of Jesus to get here, and now it’s here, but now what?  Well there’s the second half of that sentence to look at: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The Greek word doxazo is the one that gets translated as “glorified.”  (You can probably see that it’s where we get our word, doxology: words of glory.)   This doxazo word comes up in John’s gospel 23 times!  Clearly, it is an important concept in John.

So, the hour has finally come for Jesus to be glorified.  But what does that mean?  What does it mean for Jesus to be glorified?  Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  So it sounds like to be glorified means that Jesus has to die.  That is not how we think of someone being glorified.  We think of glory as being full of life , with winning and adulation, right?  Gold medals in the Olympics and stuff.  But here we have Jesus saying that he will be glorified by dying.  It’s not right.  You bring honor and glory by living, not by dying.

And right after that, Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  That’s kind of an unfortunate translation though, because we lose the sense of the present tense.  It sounds like, if you sacrifice now, some day you will have life.  But in the original text it is all present tense:  That is, those who love their life lose it, and those who reject their life have it forever.  But here again, it’s some of that tricky metaphor stuff that John likes to give us.  We’re not sure what it means, exactly.

I like to think of it as a call to turn away from turning inward.  To be open to others rather than focusing on ourselves.  Not like, lay down your life for others so that you will have eternal life some day.  But more like, lay down your life for others because you will experience the glory of God on this day.  If you want to truly live, stop focusing on living.  If you want to know how to be alive, well, remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Have you ever known someone who collects toys simply for the purpose of the monetary value of them?  Closets full of toys still wrapped in cellophane that no one has ever played with.  It’s kind of like that.  You don’t know the true joy of a toy until you are willing to unwrap it and hand it to a child so they can play with it.  And you can’t know the value of truly living if you are sitting in a box on a shelf, afraid that you might lose your life.  Take your life down from the shelf and hand it to someone else.

And speaking of sitting in a box on a shelf, let’s go get those Greeks out of the waiting room where we last left them.  Back in the 7th chapter of John, there’s this interesting exchange after they fail to arrest Jesus because his hour had not yet come.  Jesus tells them, “You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” They say to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

And right after the gospel reading we heard this morning, the crowd says to Jesus, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”  Jesus responds with some metaphors about light and darkness, and then, “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”

Jesus hides from the crowds.  Jesus hides from the Greeks.  Those who seek him cannot find him.  Then, he goes with his disciples to share a final meal, and then he is handed over to the authorities to be lifted up . . . on the cross.  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  The Greeks had come to Phillip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Can they?  Well . . . has Jesus been lifted up?  Yes, and he draws all people to himself.  You, me, Greeks, Pharisees, Phillip, Andrew, and the family that keeps toys wrapped in their original cellophane in the guest room closet.  Jesus draws all people to himself, because his hour has come.

And since we’re all floating around in John’s metaphors and deeply symbolic language already, let’s go ahead and press forward.  If someone comes to you and says, “Sir, Madam, I wish to see Jesus,” what should you do?  You should point to Jesus who has been lifted up, and draws all people to himself.  If someone asks, “Madam, Sir, where can I see Jesus?”  You can point to the place where he is lifted up, above the Altar in the hands of the priest, at that moment in the liturgy where you say AMEN, which means, "let it be so."  All caps.  In italics.  That’s the point where you are saying, “I wish to see Jesus, and by God’s grace he is here.”

Lay down your life, and God will lift you up.  Kneel down in Confession, and God will lift you up with forgiveness.  Go down to the grave, and God will raise you up in glory.  This is all God’s doing, and it is wonderful in our sight.

Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

YEAR B 2018 lent 3

Lent 3, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22
Psalm 19

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, as you have seen by now, I generally only preach about the gospel lesson on any given Sunday.  But today, I want to talk about all four of the lessons we just heard—so that should only take about an hour or so.  I’ll talk fast.

Let’s start with the reading from Exodus.  You and I know this reading by the name, The Ten Commandments.  And we usually view it as a bunch of things we generally try to do or not do in our daily lives.  And for that reason, we don’t give much thought to these Ten Commandments.  But for our Jewish friends and neighbors, the Ten Commandments are considered a gift from God.  No matter what you think of these commandments, you probably have a hard time thinking of them as a “gift” from God.

In order to understand why that is, we have to look at the context of the time(s) when Moses received these commandments.  And we also have to keep in mind that freedom is never absolute.  People want order and stability in their lives.  And complete freedom is just a myth.  You’re going to follow some laws and norms, no matter what.  To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you’re going to have to serve somebody, no matter what your anarchist friends might tell you.

This past Thursday night, we had a short Vestry meeting.  The snow started just as I headed home.  By the time I got off the 77 in Cleveland, it was pretty bad.  And the power was out all the way from E55th to E121st.  The whole way, no streetlights or signals.  Every intersection felt life threatening, because there was no guidance.  There might be no one coming, or there might be someone driving 40mph straight at me, since there was no red light telling them not to.  Laws and norms are important for our survival.  That’s why we have them.

So, for the ancient Israelites, wandering around in the desert, they did not have a specific set of laws and norms.  They escaped from Egypt, and then there they are: on the run, doing whatever it took to survive.  But, all around them, the people worshiping other gods have laws and customs.  The Canaanites who worshiped the god Moloch could expect to be required to sacrifice their own children.  The absence of God’s law doesn’t mean no law.  There were laws from other gods, but they were horrible laws.  These Ten Commandments are a gift for God’s people.  If you have to serve somebody, you might as well serve the God who created everything, right?

And all that background is important in order for us to make sense of the Psalm we read earlier.  “The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul.”  And God’s commandments are “More to be desired than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.”  It’s hard to imagine a poet writing such things about the Ohio Revised Code, isn’t it?  We don’t think of the law as a gift.  Well, at least not until we need it.  But the point is, the Psalmist is rejoicing on the gift of God’s Laws and Statutes.  They are a gift.

And then we come to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he freely admits that willful submission to God is foolishness to the world.  A crucified Messiah is absurd, to those who are perishing.  To the world, winning is good, and submission is bad.  To the normal ways of seeing things, a Messiah is a war hero, not one who is executed beside criminals.  But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.  God’s ways are not our ways, which is yet another gift from God, when you think about it.  Because left to our own instincts, we are just as apt to end up following the ways of Baal and Moloch, which most definitely are NOT far sweeter than honey, than honey in the comb.

Okay.  So there we have the first three readings.  We know that following God’s law is a privilege and not a punishment.  And we know that the Israelites over the centuries took the Law of God to heart, and followed the subsequent demands for how to worship God.  They set up a very specific and exacting system of how to get right with God throughout one’s life, a system that was carried out in the Temple, in Jerusalem.  As we read in Luke, 8 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to have him circumcised, and “offered a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

I bring that up to remind us that Jesus was born into this system of Temple worship.  These are his people and this is his culture.  And, it is important to remember, when faithful Jews came to the Temple, they could not use Roman coins to buy the animals for sacrifice.  So money changers were a religious necessity, to convert Roman currency into Temple coins.  Like buying tokens at the arcade or something.  You can’t have a Temple system and follow the Law of Moses without having money changers, is the point I want to make.

Right.  So, then we come to the Gospel reading.  We often call this the “cleansing of the Temple,” or something like that.  People love to point to this story as a time when Jesus got angry.  Some people use it as the justification for forbidding selling a band’s CDs and T shirts in the narthex after a concert.  Or so I’ve heard.  But, whatever.  I want to focus on what is unique about John’s version of this story.  Which means, first of all, we need to look at what is unique about John’s gospel itself.

To start with, John loves a good metaphor.  He’s a sucker for letting one thing stand in for another.  Right off the bat, John gives us that “In the beginning was the Word,” and also “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  But John also loves to give us some people who are too literal to understand those metaphors.  For instance, Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man must be born again.  And Nicodemus asks, “How can a grown man enter back into his mother’s womb?”  The Disciples want Jesus to eat something, and he says “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”  And the disciples are like, “Did someone give him a sandwich?”

Jesus meets the woman at the well and says to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  And she says “Sir,“you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?”  These examples are like when my mother calls to my father and asks, “What time is it down there?”  And he always says, “Same time it is up there.”  It’s like John was the inventor of Dad Jokes.  He sets up a metaphor, and then gives us someone who just doesn’t get it, and then he explains the metaphor so we don’t end up like the person who doesn’t get it.

And we have a great example of this today.  Jesus goes into the Temple and makes quite a scene.  And the Jewish leaders ask him for a sign that he has authority to mess up the Temple system, which has been commanded by God.  And Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (There’s your metaphor.)  They say to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” (That’s the Dad Joke.)  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  (There’s John explaining so we don’t end up like the people who don’t get it.)  Classic technique from John.  But what is the point?  Glad you asked . . .

Central to understanding this episode is to keep in mind that everybody in the Temple is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  The people are coming to make sacrifices, as required.  The money changers are changing money, as required.  The animals are waiting around to be sacrificed, as required.  Everyone is following the law—the gift from God—in an effort to get right with God.

Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  I should tell you right here that in ancient Greek, there is no punctuation or even capitalization, let alone italics.  But I think that statement from Jesus would have been better understood if we could read it like, “Destroy THIS temple, and in three days I will raise it up!”  The metaphor is lost because we don’t picture Jesus pointing at his body as he says it.  Do you remember how this reading ended?  “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.”

If you want to get right with God, do not look to the Temple, which was destroyed in the year 70AD.  And was not rebuilt.  John’s gospel is generally considered to have been written around the year 100AD.  To anyone who has ever heard or read John’s gospel, the Temple is long gone.  And has not been rebuilt. “Destroy THIS temple, and in three days I will raise it up!”  Jesus is the new Temple.

If you want to get right with God, look to Jesus.  If you want a sacrifice that will atone for your sins, look to Jesus.  If you want the best gift of all from God, look to Jesus.  If you want Communion with God, look to Jesus.

Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  And since he has been raised from the dead, may we—like the disciples—remember that he said this; and may we believe the scripture and the word that Jesus has spoken.

Amen