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Cleansing the Temple
Jackie Parry, Sunday, March 8th, 2015

I consider myself to be a peaceful person, quiet (although my friends might sometimes say otherwise!) and a bit of a pacifist.  I’ve mentioned before that I have, on the odd occasion, sat on the fence rather than get stuck in the middle of an argument.  However, if I witness an injustice, then I will speak up, even though it might get me into trouble. 

When I was a teenager and at college, I joined the student union because I was told to it was the right thing to do, but nothing every really happened.  However, an issue arose between the student union and the local council and, as discussions didn’t resolve the situation, it was decided to hold a protest in the form of a sit-in at the local council offices, and I was asked to take part.  I was terrified to tell my mum, she was quite strict and I knew I’d get into trouble for being involved.  However, I felt that the injustice at the time warranted my involvement and, taking comfort in knowing that she would be in work and therefore unaware of my activities, I went along and joined in the protest.

Unfortunately for me, the local paper decided to write an article on the students sit-in and it was published in a few days later; right on the front cover, together with a large photograph of the students involved in the protest.  And there I was ……clearly visible, right in the centre, sitting on the stairs with the other students, staging a sit-in. 
My mum was furious with me because I’d missed college that day.  I was grounded for a few days; but when she’d calmed down, she admitted to being pleased that I’d stood up (or sat down in this case) for what I believed to be a just cause, and she also found it hilarious that I’d tried to hide my actions from her, only for my photo to be splattered across the front cover of the local rag.  The truth will come out!

Well, my story is probably no different to any other person who speaks up for what they believe to be right, and I’ve no doubt that some have, on occasion, got into trouble for it too. But at least they took action and did what they believed to be right. 

We heard in today’s Gospel reading about Jesus in the temple, and his reported riotous anger as he turned tables upside down, and sending the money-lenders cash cross the floor.  This was a very powerful action from someone who was relatively unknown until this point, because Jesus had not yet started his preaching.  This ‘story’ is often considered to be about seeing Jesus in a rare act of anger; but if we look into this a little closer, we can see his actions were not so much done in a moment of mad rage, but in fact was a very considered and careful action. 

It was the custom for all Jewish males to go at least once in their lifetime to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  So when Jesus arrived in the city, there would have been thousands of people there, a huge crowd crammed into the narrow city streets, and an incredible bustle and noise in the temple itself.  It must have been a chaotic scene, but a highly excitable and thrilling experience for everyone there.  And, of course, it was peak time for all the religious artefact traders; selling their goods which were associated with temple worship, and no doubt making a lot of money in the process.  As Jesus walked into the Temple, into the midst of all this chaos, and seeing the traders making a lot of money, it would be understandable for his emotions to rise to fever pitch.  

But in fact he didn’t act straight away; he went off and made a whip of cords first, which would have taken some time to do.  I can imagine him sitting there, his fingers busily making the whip, whilst quietly watching the crowds and the market sellers, and planning his next move.  Only when he was ready, did he act accordingly, and began overturning tables and shouting “How dare you turn my father’s house into a market!”

This was an act of deliberate disruption, rather than an act of hot-headed anger.   Not just disrupting the events of that day in the Temple, but also an act of disruption that would cut to the core of the historic Jewish faith and all it stood for.  Jesus was saying that the old way of “doing faith” was no longer appropriate; that the heart of faith had become lost in the ritualism of the time, and that the passion for God had become lost in the passion to buy animals and birds to use as sacrifice.  He is confronting the people of God with a deeply uncomfortable truth.  This was a moment for them to re-assess their spiritual life.  The Jewish nation had lost sight of what was truly important.  They had become more focused on material things, even when being used as a sacrifice, for people were benefiting financially through the materialist ritual at the temple, instead of focussing on God and making Him the centre of their worship and life.

Jesus saw that the purity rituals of the time had become rituals of discrimination:  Jews in the Inner Court, Gentiles in the outer court; Men and women segregated.  In focussing on their need of material things, their purity of heart had become lost. Therefore, Jesus cleansed the temple to make room for everyone.  He came to welcome all people into God’s family.  His prophetic action points ahead into the future at the end of his life, when he would make a New Covenant, not based on animal sacrifices; not dependent on one holy building; rather, a New Covenant made effective through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection for all humankind.

In order to keep our church buildings comfortable and viable places for worship, it is a fact that we need to raise money to cover these costs.  And this is fine, as long as we keep God in the centre and the focus remains on him.  It is when people become obsessive about materialistic things, that there is the risk of unknowingly pushing God, and loving one another, to one side.   

I love watching the Vicar of Dibley, but there was one particular episode which reminds me of this very subject.   During a storm a tree had fallen through the large picture window in the church, smashing it to pieces.  The parishioners quickly started fund-raising to get the money to pay for a new one, and there were huge discussions and arguments as to what images should be portrayed in this new stained glass window.
At the same time, there was a news report highlighting the plight of the starving people in Africa.  Seeing this, the vicar was so moved by the plight of the people, that she felt it was wrong to spend so much money on a stained glass window, and so she sent the money to Africa, and replaced the broken window with a much cheaper, clear, pane of glass.  The businessman who had donated a large amount of the money was quite irate at first, but then, as they all stood in the church and looked through the window, with the sun setting in the valley below, the image was more beautiful than any stained glass window could ever be.  The people realised that they didn’t need a new window to remind them of God, because He was clearly present in the unspoilt beauty of the earth, in his people gathered there, and in their gift given to help those who were suffering. 

When Jesus showed his anger in the temple, he was telling the people they needed to change, to re-focus and put God back into the centre of all things.  Until that moment, people had constructed temples and looked for places where they could meet God and obtain his favour; but now God had made himself present in Jesus.  He was, is, the living temple; broken, crucified, and resurrected. 

It is He who delivers Gods riches to us, and He who is to be found in the centre of our life.  Jesus calls us to change; to change ourselves and the world around us.  As Micah reminds us, “What the Lord requires of you is to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with God?” 

And in His presence, may we be an instrument of his love and peace, and have the wisdom and courage to turn away from those material things which can distract us from God; to stand up for Him, and make Him the centre of our life. 


Sermon St Faith’s, Great Crosby           Jackie Parry
Readings:  Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25; John 2: 13-22    8th March 2015
Jesus clears the temple

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