Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 3, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 3

Lent 3, 2024
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.

I think one way to understand today’s gospel reading is to view the anger and frustration of Jesus as being about the breakdown of community.  It looks like he’s mad because people have money and animals in the Temple.  But I think we have to look beyond those externals and look at how we got here.  And I think how we got here is because the people forgot that they are a community.  So, to understand that, we have to go back to the beginning of the community.  By which I mean, to the Passover.

If you think back to the stories you learned in Sunday school, or to movies like The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, you’ll remember that God meets Moses in the burning bush, and sends him to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go.”  And then there’s a bunch of plagues used as leverage until at last the angel of death sweeps over the city and kills the first-born sons of everyone who doesn’t have blood on their doorposts.  And where do people get that blood for their doorposts?  From the lamb at the Passover meal.

In the 12th chapter of Exodus, God tells Moses and Aaron how the people are to eat the Passover meal:
Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.

If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor.  You see how this includes everybody?  No one is left behind here.  If I have a lamb and my family cannot eat the whole thing, God requires that I invite in the neighbors, as many neighbors as it takes to eat the entire lamb.  And what does this do?  It creates community.  There are no leftovers, and no one goes hungry, and the people form a community by bonding over food.  We think the point of the Passover meal is to avoid death, but a case could be made that the point is to form a community.  To teach God’s people how to live together as one body.

And then let’s consider this morning’s first reading, also from the book of Exodus.  I’m sure you recognized what we heard as the Ten Commandments.  At first glance, these commandments seem like a hodgepodge of rules, just sort of randomly thrown together.  They certainly don’t seem to carry equal weight: don’t murder . . . and honor your parents?  But here again, it’s not about the specific rules for specific individuals.  No, the Ten Commandments are about community.  God is giving God’s people a set of guardrails for living together.  If you want to be God’s people living in the world together, following these commandments is the way to start that community.  

I mean, just look at how they are structured.  Off the bat, you get instructions for how to gather around the same God.  No other Gods, don’t make idols, keep God’s name holy, keep the sabbath.  And then all the rest are about community.  Don’t kill people (duh), don’t steal, don’t lie about other people, don’t commit adultery.  And then the outliers: honor your parents, and don’t covet your neighbors stuff.  Following these rules together builds a community.  It’s not about individual morality; it is about having a community.  The type of place where, “If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor.”  Nobody is left behind.  We’re in this together.

And, as an aside, I must say that this is why it makes absolutely no sense to post the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms and public spaces.  Because the Ten Commandments are not the basis of the legal system in the United States of America.  And it would be bizarre if they were.  Honoring your father and mother is not part of the Ohio Revised Code.  And, don’t make any idols . . . have you heard of social media influencers?  Don’t work one day every week . . . have you met any Americans?  Don’t covet your neighbor’s possessions . . . do you understand how capitalism works?  Our entire economy is based on coveting what other people have!  If we didn’t covet our neighbors’ goods, the whole system would fall apart!  And then what would we have?  Well . . . community.  We’d have community.  We may want to rethink the idea of putting the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms, is all I’m saying.

So we know that the Passover established a community of people, and we know that the Ten Commandments were intended to teach that community how to live together.  Now flash forward 1400 or 1500 years—depending on how you date things—and we go from the Ten Commandments to this scene with Jesus in the Temple.  A lot has happened in that time.  The Jewish community stopped wandering and built a Temple for the Ark.  That Temple was destroyed and then rebuilt and rebuilt again.  All the commanded sacrifices were now done at the Temple.

By now, there is a very specific and exacting system of how to do things right, a system that was carried out in the Temple, in Jerusalem.  As we see 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 those 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.

So why does Jesus get angry and upend the entire system?  What’s so bad about what he sees on this day?  Honestly, we don’t know for sure.  But look at what he says.  “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  A marketplace.  It sounds like the problem is that everything has become transactional.  Consider how back at the first Passover people were told to take their own lamb, one they had raised themselves, and invite over enough people to eat the entire thing.  That’s very different from bringing some coins to buy an animal you’ve never met, so that a priest can slaughter it in a room you’ll never see.  And what’s missing most of all is the communal element of the transaction.  The poor are left behind.  The lonely stay lonely.  You can do all this without ever talking to your neighbor.  It is transactional, a detached exchange: in the words of Jesus, a marketplace.

And then Jesus makes the turn and refers to his own body as the Temple.  Jesus will restore the community around the Temple of the Incarnation.  Around God in the flesh.  No longer disembodied isolating transactions between the people and God, but rather a community in Christ, gathered together around Jesus.  We are this community.  At our best, the Church is the place where no one is left out, no one is left behind.

And we bring our sacrificial offerings to this new Temple of Jesus Christ.  Our time, our talents, and our possessions.  And God does miraculous things with as much as we are willing to surrender of ourselves.  We have the perfect example of this in the ordinary bread and wine that we set on this Altar.  God takes the seemingly mundane and turns it into the body and blood of Jesus, who has been raised up, just as he said.  We don’t know how it happens, but it does.  And you are invited to this feast, because these gifts from God are given for the people of God.  Jesus creates community wherever he goes, and he is here today among us doing exactly that.


No comments:

Post a Comment