FIRST READING Exodus 20:1–17
1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
PSALM Psalm 19
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork. 2 One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. 3 Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, 4 their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber; it rejoices like a champion to run its course. 6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7 The teaching of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the simple. 8 The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean and endures forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 11 By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can detect one’s own offenses? Cleanse me from my secret faults. 13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 1:18–25
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
GOSPEL John 2:13–25
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 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. 23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
There are two things I’ve come to realize over the years, first, things have a tendency to pile up, get in our way and mask the important things in life. As materialistic creatures we hate to throw things out. Most of the time it’s trinkets that line our shelves or out dated decorations that are simply not good enough to display or are too good to throw away. Oftentimes it’s things we’ve received as gifts and we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings so we keep it, only to stash it along with countless other things in closets, the basement or any number of other out of the way places. My dad had a great solution for this phenomena; put it in the trailer.
Dad’s idea of controlling clutter, thus keeping the house, storage areas and workshop clutter free was to put anything “to good to throw away” out in a utility trailer. If by the time the trailer was full and you haven’t needed it, than either the weather had ruined it or you didn’t miss it anyway and off to the dump it would go. Now by Dad’s own admission, there was the down side to that approach; he was forced to admit, on several occasions, that the day after he made a dump run, something he discarded was something he needed. O well we simply can’t keep everything. The second thing I’ve noticed is that even with the best made plans, what starts off as a good thing ends up out of control.
There are times that even when we start a project with the best intensions, something can grow out of hand and become nothing like what we intended it to be. Now my first reaction was to point to the many programs that our government has been involved in over the years, how they start off with good motives but once our law makers get a hold of it and regulate it to death it becomes a massive mess. But that’s simply too easy a target and besides we hear enough of that every evening on the news. Rather a better example of good intensions running amuck can be seen in our gospel lesson for today.
In our reading from John this morning we have the famous story of Jesus cleansing the Temple. Now the Bible doesn’t specifically record the motives and events that led up to Jesus’ rampage, but I bet if you could travel back in time, you’d find that what started out as a good idea to help out traveling folks, ended up with a holy or should I say, unholy, marketplace.
The portrait of our Lord in our lesson for today has proven to be something of a conundrum for interpreters through the years. What we see is Jesus in a violent rage driving animals and people out of the Temple. Years ago Bruce Barton, in a very popular book, The Man Nobody Knows, used the story to demonstrate how virile Jesus was. He surmised that Jesus was capable of herculean strength and prowess because of His outdoorsy lifestyle and vigorous walking missionary tours. However, others have been concerned that this public demonstration, which had all the earmarks of a near riot, was most unbecoming of the normal life style of Jesus. Also, if this were a pique of temper, couldn’t someone accuse Jesus of being guilty of a sin which contradicts the Bible and everything we’ve been taught about Jesus’ sinless nature?
Then, of course, there’s the additional problem of finding this story in the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, whereas the other gospel writers place it in Holy Week at the beginning of His passion. Is it possible that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice? Is John right and the others wrong? Or is it the other way around? Or could there be another reason why John places the story where he does? There’s good reason to think that it’s the latter. John places this event at the beginning of his gospel to help us understand several very important aspects of the church and its worship. His first point is the context and the importance of the Temple to the Jewish people.
To set the story in its proper setting, John records that this event occurs during a Passover festival. The Passover attracted worshippers to Jerusalem from all over the world. They came to Jerusalem speaking different languages and carrying foreign monies. Initially, I’m sure that the fine religious authorities set up exchanges in order to ease the burden on these traveling pilgrims. I would never accuse these pious leaders of setting out to take advantage of the visiting worshipers. I’m sure their thought was to make the exchange of money and the procurement of approved sacrificial animals as stress free as possible. That way these folks could fulfill their obligations with as little hassle as possible. However, with all their other duties, this became cumbersome and then someone suggested the exchange of money and the sale of approved animals be outsourced, for a small fee of course.
The next thing you know, things have grown beyond the original design and now these Enterprising merchants have set up booths and stalls in the Temple to accommodate the travelers. With the outsourcing comes tables for the folks who need to exchange their monies in order to pay their temple taxes and make their contributions. Pens, cages and stalls are brought in by those busy selling animals to be used in the sacrifices. To be sure the whole operation was running smoothly and with all the business being conducted there was great commotion and excitement. One can almost imagine the Mardi Gras like character of those festal days as travelers found relatives and old friends among the many consumers who populated the precincts of the Temple. I’m sure there was lots to do and plenty to see.
The temple area covered some 35 acres. It had originally been built by Solomon about 950 B.C., but was burned to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. The Temple was rebuilt under Zerubbabel in 516 B.C. It was then desecrated and stripped by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 B.C. and cleansed and restored by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. The temple in which Jesus found Himself amid these cattlemen, sheep wranglers, bird raisers and money sharks was the glorious temple envisioned by Herod the Great, who began the work in 20 B.C. It was still under construction while Jesus was there and wasn’t finished until 68 A.D., a short time before its complete and final destruction in 70 A.D. Surprisingly, the Herodian Temple was extremely lavish and even more beautiful than the Temple of Solomon.
With this long history of the Temple in the life of the Hebrew people, one can imagine how important a shrine it was. From the very beginning of the Hebrew people, sacred places had been important to the patriarchs. Then, the tabernacle, the traveling shrine of a tent, had been the center of the life of the Hebrew community. However, just as the people longed for a monarchy with a throne as other peoples had, they wanted a permanent shrine. It was king David who gathered the materials for his son Solomon to build the first temple on that holy site, Mount Moriah, where, according to tradition, Abraham had offered to sacrifice his son Isaac. The temple had always symbolized, for the people, the presence of their most holy God, YHVH. That’s why it was so important that after each time the Temple was destroyed that it be restored to proclaim once again the assured presence of the Almighty and Holy One of Israel.
It was especially gratifying for the people that Herod the Great should have given so much attention to the restoration of the Temple in such an extravagant manner. Herod had done much to promote the hellenistic or Greek culture with special buildings. However, he also curried the favor of the Jews by investing so much in the building of their shrine. The people were grateful to worship in Herod’s temple, regardless of Herod’s motives. The temple was the center of their life and helped to define what it meant to be a Jew. It gave shape and form, not only to the Hebrew worship, but also to their entire culture. As I said, I’m sure everything was going well that day until Jesus comes on the scene and challenges the old system.
Recognizing the centrality of the Temple, and the joyous character of that festal moment, you can imagine what kind of shock waves ran through the Temple and the entire city of Jerusalem when this controversial Rabbi created the ruckus He did in the temple area! It appears this happened at the beginning of the feast, when the greatest excitement had to do with the preparations, so the commerce had to be at its height. Into that busy crowd Jesus rushed with a homemade whip of cords and struck out wildly at people and animals to put them into a rout. And the actions of Jesus that day were an important part of the message John wants us to understand.
The reason that John includes this story at the very beginning of his gospel, is that he wants to show throughout his book that Jesus gave new shape and meaning to the worship life of the people of God. In this very early story, John is able to set the stage for all that is to follow in explaining the sacramental character of the worship life of the church. Therefore, it’s quite striking when Jesus shouts as He confronts those selling the little doves for sacrifice, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Jesus had come to replace the sacrificial system of the Hebrew Covenant, by making a New Covenant, His once-for-all sacrifice on a cross.
Quite symbolically, Jesus was driving out the old system. However, at the same time, He was making it clear that He was highly displeased that people had made their sacrifices and their worship commercial. As you can imagine, Jesus’ actions in the Temple that day had a stunning impact.
The disciples were shaken by what they witnessed Jesus doing. The actions by their Teacher didn’t appear to be the same Jesus who was to this point so gentle and considerate. However, John also records that they “remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.'” They recalled the words written in Psalm 69 which they saw Jesus fulfill. They understood at that moment that Jesus was making a rightful claim to His Father’s house. That meant He clearly identified Himself as God’s Son, who was linked to all that God had revealed in the covenant, part of which we read, in the First Lesson this morning. That covenant established God’s claim on the undivided attention, affection, and trust of this people. Just so, Jesus forcefully demonstrated His right to claim the fidelity of this people. And His actions made an impression on those gathered that day.
The people there that day were impressed, taken back, but quizzical. “What sign can you show us for doing this?” they asked. Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That sent the people reeling. They responded, “this temple has been under construction for 46 years, and will you raise it up in three days?” The Herods had been at it all this time and it still wasn’t finished, and Jesus thought He could rebuild it in three days! To them the thought was ridiculous. This Jesus of Nazareth was impossible. The disciples were also confused at the time. John records that “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.” Jesus, by clearing out the clutter, was saying that a new era was being ushered in.
It was in the light of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ that we can understand this spectacular event. As John had placed this event at the beginning of his gospel to indicate how Jesus had come to replace the former manner of worship with the sacramental life of the church, he was also saying something about the nature of the church. Formerly, the people of God had to be reassured of the presence of God by symbols and the people had to gather at shrines symbolized by the likes of the Temple; now they would gain those assurances in Christ Himself.
The assurance of God’s presence among us is the Risen Christ. Jesus died for our sins and rose again that He might be present among us. Because this Risen Christ is present among us in the Spirit of God given to us, the Apostle Paul could refer to us as the Body of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ. Thus it was true that the people did destroy the Body of Christ, but He was raised to new life in three days, and we are all now part of that Body. The boast that Jesus made that day, in view of the promises of God and in perfect trust that God would complete them in Him, are now fulfilled in us.
What was also important to John was the sacramental character of the church. When our Lord talked about the temple of His body replacing the Temple at Jerusalem, that was also true in a sacramental sense. The sacrificial system that was practiced in the Temple at Jerusalem, along with the priestly entrance into the Holy of Holies, were signs of God’s grace and mercy for God’s people. The people didn’t have to sacrifice themselves and they were always reminded of God’s presence and their access to Him. Now it’s the Risen Christ who offers His body to us in the Holy Eucharist as the sure sign that He has been sacrificed for us and is present with us. In the giving of His body and blood to us we are literally filled with the Presence of the Risen Christ. Together we are His body.
Luther found it fascinating to talk about us as being baked into one loaf. As we all receive of the same bread and eat of the same together, we become one loaf. We are bonded together in Christ. For us, that means that we’re never alone. Not only is God present in us, but we’re also present in one another, to be a strength and a presence for each other. We emphasize that when I go to the home of our shut-ins bearing bread and wine that have been consecrated in Holy Communion. For those who were unable to be present with us, Christ is present with them in the Sacrament, so we also are united with them in this body of Christ.
Later in his gospel John gives an account of a confrontation between Jesus and a woman of Samaria. When the woman perceived that Jesus was a prophet, she asked Him why the difference in attitude of the Samaritans and the Jews, who each claimed separate shrines for worshipping God. Jesus said to her, “The hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
Taken with the Holy Gospel for today, we should understand that we can never allow the clutter of our lives, be it decorations, buildings, symbols, signs, organizations, traditions, customs, liturgies, or any features of personal, church life or worship to become substitutes for our real devotion to our Lord Himself. All these things in themselves are important, but we can’t let them become too important. We know how difficult it is to introduce new customs into the church, because people love tradition and at times make idols of those traditions. Just ask church officials how difficult it is to close down a church building where only a handful still come to worship.
When we worship God in spirit and in truth we know His Real Presence in us and among us is the Risen Christ, who is our Real Temple, our Real Altar. We worship Him and adore Him when we receive all that He offers to us by His grace. We dramatize that when we come together for worship, and we gather Him to ourselves when in faith we receive Him. It’s time that we clear the clutter from our lives; clear the stuff, be it personal or communal, that can hinder our worship and praise of God. Christ is present in us and among us, and it’s God alone that should be center and foremost in our lives.