March 4, 2018

Lent 3   March 4, 2018    Psalm 84, Exodus 40:1-3,16-17, 34-38; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17  John 2:13-22  [Partial notes, from before power went out in the storm that weekend.]

As people made in the image of God we’re wired for worship. Gifted with built-in yearning for worship – in the largest sense of the word – worship meaning loving, serving, thanking, praising, acknowledging God as the center of our being. Acknowledging our need of God – and seeking God’s guidance in all we do.

And – regardless of all of our differences in how we understand biblical accounts and church doctrines of the fall or universal sin – few will argue against all the evidence that strongly suggests – we all come with some wiring issues. (Though I don’t recommend pointing this out unwisely – telling anyone “hey buddy you’ve got your wires crossed…” or “ excuse me ma’am, I’m noticing your spiritual wiring is dysfunctional.”)

But as soon as left the garden the worship wars began… Cain making his offering, Abel making his, and God preferring one over the other…  We’re not going to go there today, except to notice – alongside all the excellent blessings that flow from good worship, worship has also probably always carried with it the potential for conflict.

And we may remember – Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell this story of Jesus driving merchants and money-changers out of the temple very near the end of their gospels, letting us know this is one of the main reasons Jesus is crucified by the religious and political authorities of his day. The powers that be did not appreciate Jesus’ worship offering – nor did even his closest disciples understand his offering… Till he raises up the temple of his body.

And to oversimplify a bit in the interests of time and keeping our focus on Jesus we can notice that from the beginning we are both wired for worship and also learning the arts of worship – as we travel along in the stages of faith and grace with Jesus.

John’s gospel starts where the other gospels leave off – and tells the story in a rather different chronological order – John placing this temple clean up story near the beginning not the end – which is one of John’s ways of telling us – Jesus and his gospel can’t be contained in just a linear chronological way of telling. And John’s gospel also starts up way before all the other gospels – telling us Jesus is the Word who was with God in the beginning… Through whom all things have been made… And the Word became flesh and lived among us – and the word for lived among us in the original language uses is actually became flesh and tabernacled among us. The tabernacle being one of the other names for the same tent of presence we hear of in Exodus in our first reading. This big tent takes a year or so to build, and the tent houses the arc of the covenant and the altar for sacrifices and the golden lamp-stand… And the presence of God fills the tent with cloud and light too thick for Moses to enter when it’s first set up and commissioned… And as God leads Israel through the wilderness for forty years, Israel takes down the tent and travels on and sets up the tent again and again…. as we travel on in life through the stages of life…The stages of our life of worship.

The Jerusalem temple is built by Solomon and a lot of forced labor workers, several hundred years later. It’s built roughly on the plan of the tent of presence, but it’s no longer mobile. God never actually gives instruction for anyone to build the temple. But God blesses the temple when Solomon dedicates it with a prayer that acknowledges – God, the maker of heaven and earth can never fit into any place of worship built with human hands.

We’ve always known this. It’s just that sometimes we forget – and act as if think… God is on vacation, and we’ve been left in charge.

Israel forgets to live by the word of God, and just as God has warned, the temple is burned and torn down by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Seventy years later it’s rebuilt in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. But as God’s people continue to have obedience issues, the temple, which has been undergoing re-construction and expansion under Herod (the-so-called Great Herod) at the time of our temple incident.

On one level Jesus is setting us up here for the time when the temple will be no more. In John 4, just two chapters ahead, he tells a Samaritan woman who asks him about worship that the time is coming and is now here when true worshipers will worship neither in Samaria’s religious headquarters nor in the Jerusalem temple – but anywhere God is worshiped in Spirit and in truth.

And yet at the same time, Jesus is very passionate here about cleaning up temple practices. He calls the temple “my father’s house” – here and also in Luke chapter 2, where Jesus says to his parents when he’s twelve years old and their looking for him, “did you not know I must be in my father’s house?”

Earlier in that same chapter in Luke Jesus’ parents make the offering for purification in the temple while Jesus is still a baby. It’s not likely Jesus is objecting to offerings as such being made in the temple.

It is clear though that Jesus is seriously ticked off by merchants selling animals for sacrifice and money-changers doing business within the temple gates. Money can serve a purpose. Money can even serve God. But money has a way of getting between us and God if we let it. Money or the love of money is one of our most popular idols. And as soon as we start charging admission to the kingdom of God we’re committing idolatry of the worst kind.

Our understanding of worship grows and develops and matures in stages… from childhood to maturity to older age… So too also with the church as a whole…

And Jesus is giving us here already a glimpse of worship in the temple St Paul is talking about in our reading from First Corinthians… Where both individually and together we are now the temple of God – built on the one foundation of Jesus, the new temple. Notice Paul uses the root word build – building – builder nine times. His way of letting us know we are a temple that’s simultaneously built on the one indestructible foundation – and at the same time still under construction… As we build together on the work of Christ… To be a house of God, our Father’s house, built on the life, death, teachings, and resurrection life of Jesus… A house of God, a home for the Holy Spirit, a temple of God for all to enter freely…

Offering together the true worship of hearts, minds, souls, and bodies presented as living sacrifice…

Open to all God is trying to teach us… in this stage of our life of faith and grace… and in all the stages of faith and grace yet to come…

Hear again the good news. Jesus our Lord is our sure foundation.

Together we are the body of Christ and the temple of God…

May we build – and be built by God – together into all the fullness of the image of God restored… Building carefully. Never destroying what God has made and is still making…

Never letting money or power or self or anything… separate us from the love of God… from the presence of God…

Thanks be to God. Amen.