Friday, 13 March 2009

March 15th sermon

I have decided to use 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
instead of Exodus - since at the Parish church we will be getting the 10 commandments in any case (being Lent).

The sermon is sort of done - I'll look at it again tomorrow to try to make the end less abrupt - but this is more or less it:

Lent 3 (1 Corinthians 1:18-25 John 2:13-22)
One of the great things about reading the Bible is that every now and then you read or notice something that is completely new to you. That happened to me this week, reading the gospel reading set for today.
The cleansing of the temple by Jesus – we read it every Lent, it’s part of the story of the growing opposition to Jesus from the religious authorities: opposition which ultimately leads to the crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew relates it in chapter 21, just after his account of Palm Sunday.

But this year we read it in John. Chapter 2. Hang on – chapter 2, that’s very early in Jesus’ ministry, surely. Yes, John places this story very early, after his prologue, the story of John the Baptist, the call of the disciples and the wedding at Cana – just before the story of Nicodemus, the death of John the Baptist and the story of the woman at the well.
Here, in the early chapters of John, is Jesus ‘setting out his stall’ – the baptism by John, the calling of the disciples, the performing of a miracle, and then the cleansing of the temple.

John must have thought that this was an incredibly important act of Jesus, to put it so early in his account of Jesus’ ministry. This is what Jesus is all about – the first sign which reveals his glory to his disciples– the wedding at Cana – and then the clearing of the temple. This story comes in John before even the classic John 3: 16 statement to Nicodemus ‘God so loved the world he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’

What is happening in this story is more than just a skirmish between the money-changers & Jesus.

So what is Jesus doing?
John describes the action as taking place in the temple precincts – in the outer court of the temple, the space that was known as the ‘court of the Gentiles’. When the temple was built, the idea was that space was deliberately made for non-Jews to come to worship God. Over the years this space had been cluttered up with the money-changers and animal-dealers – and Jesus once again makes room for those not born as Jews to be part of the worshipping community.
More than that, he puts the money-hangers & animal- dealers in their place.

Money had to be changed because Jews couldn’t bring ordinary money into worship, to give as their offertory. The ordinary money in use had the Roman Emperor’s head on it – together with an inscription that declared him to be a god. It would be sacrilege to offer this graven image with its blasphemous inscription to the God of the Jews – and so special temple money had to be used, bought by ordinary money, to be offered back to God.

Similarly animals needed to be bought to be offered as sacrifice in the temple. Remember when Jesus is brought to the temple as an infant, (and spotted by Simeon and Anna) Joseph and Mary have come to offer a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. These animals had to be the best that could be offered – most people would have bought them at the temple itself, so they could be as fresh and as perfect as possible.

There was a need to have money-changers and animal-dealers: but where there is a human need there is also, often, human greed. These merchants were taking up valuable space in the temple, and perhaps also they were charging a little more than they strictly needed to for their services. They were getting between people and the worship of God both physically and financially.
And Jesus says they have to go.
Nothing must get between people and God – not animals, not trade, not the greed of others. Jesus is creating a clear path into the presence of God. This is the purpose of his ministry.

But what about us? We don’t find our way to worship blocked with money-changers (we can happily put simple sterling onto the offertory plate). And we aren’t left haggling with animal dealers over the best price for a sacrificial animal.
What, if anything comes between us and God? And what does Jesus do about that blockage?

The answer to the question ‘what comes between you & God’ may be different for each one of us.
But it seems to me that a huge blockage many of have about God centres around the problem of suffering: if a good God exists, why does that God allow suffering in the world?

You will guess that at this point in the sermon I don’t intend to give a comprehensive answer to that question. But I do believe that the life and death of Jesus gives us some kind of answer, and that Jesus is determined to clear this blockage away for us.

Yes – there is a good God, a loving, healing, creating God – we see that God in the flesh in Jesus.
Yes suffering happens – we see that in the life and death of Jesus too: ultimately we see Jesus nailed to a cross. But suffering and evil cannot have the last word – as we see in the resurrection of Jesus. Love and life are stronger than death and evil.

And we can celebrate the life of Jesus Christ – given for us to clear our way into the presence of God – in this bread and wine.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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