Telling God’s Story with Our Lives

Matthew 5: 27 – 37

You have heard that it was said, looks at  ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 

And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or “no, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

How will we choose to live?

There is no more important question. 

Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author, wrote in one of my favorite quotes of all time…

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Now Frankl was talking about those who had no choice but to simply survive the atrocities of the day.   But I have found his words helpful for living normal day to day life.  One corollary to choosing you attitude is you always have the choice to choose the story you will tell of your life. 

Here’s an example.  You see in the newsletter that our church is being recognized by the District 8 councilman, Al Austin, on Thursday.  One way, my cynical self, would tell this story is that by giving us recognition he is getting us to come to his meeting.  Another way to tell the story is he has noticed that we are indeed a star of District 8, we sure are a large land holder, and Councilman Austin wants us to be part of the future of the city.  And, still another way to tell the story is, in the past few months people have taken notice of this Christian Church because of the love people experience through food pantry conversations, our outreach through the gym, our worship, and your pastor attending a few meetings to join forces with others in addressing the struggles our community faces. 

All are true.  But which speaks most to who we are and who we want to become? 

Jesus’ challenge to us is to choose to live a story that tells others of our experience of the love and power of God.   We see the response to Jesus’ challenge in the way Matthew, writing out of his community of faith, chooses to tell Jesus’ words. 

Matthew places a pattern upon Jesus’ words:  You have heard it said…but I tell you.

You won’t find the verbal pattern in the other gospels.  So along with Jesus we hear the intent of the community of faith.  You have heard it said…but Jesus has more to say. 

Then Matthew turns to particularly challenging issues of his day. 

You’ve heard it said that it is unlawful to commit adultery…but Jesus says anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already done so.

Some of you may think this doesn’t apply to you.  You’re single or just not interested in women.  But, Bob Arthur’s translation doesn’t let anyone off the hook.  He translates the Greek word “moicheia,” not as adultery, but as a broken promise. 

27.  You heard that it was said, ‘You will not break a promise.’

28.  But I tell you that everyone who, when looking at a woman to long for her, already broke a promise with her in his heart….

You can read his full argument in his book, the Sex Texts.  But, if you simply look more closely at the word adultery you will also see it points to a larger meaning.  According to the Webster’s Dictionary, to adulterate means to debase by adding inferior materials or elements; to use cheaper, inferior, or less desirable goods in the production or marketing of ….

To commit adultery, or to adulterate, is to replace something God made to be holy, love expressed in a physical union between two people, with inferior motivations, cheaper desires, and less desirable goods.  In so doing, you do damage to God’s promise.

It’s like giving people a box of candy with the label of Godiva, taking those for yourself, and replacing them with Whitman chocolates.  You’ve changed it so that the contents no longer match the label.

And Jesus goes further, when you find yourself lusting, desiring one who has not been given to you, you do damage to her in your heart….

This scripture can sound so harsh.  Not even Gloria Steinem would bring about a law suit based on someone’s inward thoughts. 

Here’s where it is important for you to understand, Christians have always believed Jesus calls us to a very high standard, not by rules or law but by his speaking to us even now. 

Divorce is also a result of a broken promise.

But Jesus goes further than just saying “don’t divorce.”  He says if someone should marry a divorced woman he has done her wrong.  To marry someone who has been booted out of her house is to become complicit in the divorce–is to allow the discarding of a woman to be an option—to take on another’s responsibility. 

Notice too, there is also an understanding that, at times, divorce is necessary.  When the use or abuse of someone is to satisfy another’s desire, the promise of love has been broken.  The Greek word used in the scripture is porneia out of which Pornography is born. 

Again Bob’s translation: 

31.  Now it has been said, ‘Whoever should divorce his wife, he must give her a certificate of divorce.’

32.  But I tell you that everyone who is divorcing his wife, except for an assertion of selfish manipulation, is causing her to experience a broken promise, and whoever should marry her who has been divorced is breaking a promise.

Again you can see how the community of faith allows Jesus to speak to them about the very issues of the day.  There are times when divorce is necessary…there is an exception. 

Laws do not and cannot cover every circumstance. 

There was a discussion on the radio about legislating our use of mobile devices while driving.  Apparently a man used his phone when he had come to a stop in a traffic jam.  He looked at his map app to get around the traffic.  As he did, a traffic patrol officer saw him, pulled him over, and gave him a ticket which was struck down in a higher court.  A former judge who sat for traffic court called in and said you can’t legislate for everything that distracts a driver…he’s seen someone come before the court who was distracted by their parakeet being on the driver’s wheel.  There’s no law on the books for that one!  Instead the way you should decide which one to pull over is by how they are driving. 

Scripture reveals to us a community of faith seeking, by the way they move, to reveal God’s working in and through them.  They read scripture, took heart the words and stories of Jesus, and committed them both into prayer, seeking to understand God’s will. 

Scripture reveals how deeply, carefully, prayerfully the community of faith took on the issues of the day…how they took time to hear Jesus’ voice speaking to them, a voice of compassion, a voice that calls us reveal, with our lives, the love and power of God. 

The last part of our scripture talks about oath making. 

Jesus says:

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 

And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or “no, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Summarized…stop swearing or making oaths to anyone but God.  Any promise we, as God’s children make, reflect not upon heaven or the earth or Jerusalem…they reflect upon our God.  People will see how we are driving and they will determine whether or not they want to be anywhere near us…or the one who we say we seek to please. 

Oh, we can tell many stories with our lives.  But as Christians…the story we choose to tell with our lives becomes, in the view of others, God’s story.  Choose well the story you tell because it is not just your honor that’s at stake but God’s. 

 

An Old Fashioned Altar Call

An Epiphany!  I love it when I get to have an epiphany!  It is like the moment when, in your head, pops the word you need to finish the crossword puzzle but 100 times better because it isn’t only an answer you find but God. 

Of course, it is the wrong season for Epiphany.  Today is about Jesus, the cross, and the realization that, within the worst parts of our humanity, lay the seeds for Jesus’ death.  It is a time of confession and tears.  How much have we lost as a human race?  How much have we killed?  What have I done?

The music of the Christian church grows solemn; the words of guilt placed upon our tongues as we confess that our ways are what killed Jesus.  Today we feel the distance between us and God…a distance caused by tuning into the wrong voices and forgetting to listen to the only one that matters.  With Jesus gone, the voice that connects us to God, the universe seems so vast; we so small.  Silence. 

Gone is the chatty prayer.  Our friend is gone. 

Jesus’ absence makes clear that what our souls crave is that voice of God’s love, of God’s healing, of God’s leading…the voice of Jesus. 

And, so here’s the epiphany.

I was planning a baptism service for Easter.  It seemed like a good idea except I wanted to spring it on those who came…surprise, today you can get baptized.  And, then I wanted to include a liturgy that would allow people to join the church.  You see, I’ve been called to a very small elderly congregation and I’m eager to bring in new and young members.  I figured we could do it all at once.  I had started working on a liturgy taking a little from the baptism service and a little from the membership service and, just in case no one had the courage to come forward, a liturgy of affirmation we could all speak together. 

It was in the kitchen, after Thursday night’s Messianic Seder, that it came up.  I bragged:  “We are going to have an old fashioned altar call on Easter,” to a long time member of the Disciple of Christ Denomination.  She said, “oh, we used to have those every week.”  And, I who had never seen one, asked…”so how is it done?”

Pastor Eric of our partner church was also helping clean the kitchen at the time.  Eric has never gone to seminary but he is wise and understands liturgy.  Unlike me, he’s gone to churches that offer altar calls.  They both told me that all you do is use a scripture to invite people to ask Jesus into their heart.  And, Pastor Eric suggested, I phrase it in such a way that people can rededicate themselves to Jesus; that way, the congregation doesn’t have to know everyone’s business.  The people come forward, you pray with them, and then afterwards you meet with them who took Jesus into their heart for the first time and set a date for a baptism.

Oh my goodness…how simple! 

And then it dawned me…I was going to replace the voice of Jesus with the voice that is crying out within me, the one crying out for new members. 

For a moment, my ego fell away, and I remembered–because of church, I remembered–the first step of the Christian faith is to ask Jesus to come into your heart.   May we not be distracted!  For it is that Jesus lives, and Jesus lives in us, that makes this a Happy Easter!

Loving you, in Christ,

Heather

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

This rhetorical question is often used to get us moving and doing.  But that’s not the intent today.

Our Psalm proclaims “I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope…my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”

The words make me picture a long cold sleepless night.  Sometimes I have a little taste of it when I camp; when I wake, and it is still dark, and I cannot sleep again.  How I long for the light of morning and the bird’s twittering proclamation that night has become day.  But there’s something else that helps me get through the night.  For a little ways away from me in our tent is my daughter and all I have to do is take her in my arms, share warmth, and all is well.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!   Shouts the Psalmist

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

And with him is the power to redeem.

Notice–the Psalmist is in relationship with God, with the Lord.  You may know that, while it isn’t the majority of the scholar’s view anymore, the Psalms were, traditionally, ascribed to David.  The same man who was guilty of adultery, the one who took down Saul, the harp playing king of kings was thought to have authored the Psalms because the words sound like what a broken man of faith would sing.  Indeed scholars have simply expanded the authorship to include a larger community of faith.  Not one voice but many.  What is most important is not trying to figure out who wrote what but that these words were spoken in a faith community during worship.  These are the words spoken and sung by the broken people of faith–those who know the worst of life and the worst of themselves and yet dare believe God is near.   The Psalmist knows the love of the Lord.  The community who sings the Psalmist’s song have felt the power of redemption.  In their singing they open their arms wide to the God of love.  In some respect, the wait is over.  Even the words that come out of a long night ring with joyous faith.

Faith is always an invitation to take hold of a love and power that is beyond and yet with us.  We can choose to set our mind to wait, to believe all will be well someday, and then we will know love.  Or we can choose to set our mind to take hold of love already given.  As Victor Frankl, a survivor of the extermination camps of World War II writes, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/v/viktor_e_frankl.html#35iLDEkBbRxkeaY6.99)

Frankl’s writing comes out his observations that those who survived the camps held to something higher, more powerful than the overwhelming evil of the camp.  They could feel something else at work.

Faith is an invitation to make a choice to believe God is moving among us.  But when we are busy doing, we are often not even conscious of our choice to exclude God.

In college, my Sociology professor assigned his students to go to a public place and stand.  We weren’t to wait for anyone or anything.  The assignment was to stand for 30 minutes and then write about the experience.

Years later, I remember how out of place I felt at first.  I wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing around me.  I had no purpose and felt uncomfortable with my lack of intent.  But, then, after awhile, I began to see the laughing teenagers pass by; the baby calling for his mother’s attention; the man waiting for his wife outside a store.  I began to see.  And, as I stood there, instead of feeling the frenetic pull I often feel in a Mall, I felt more and more peaceful.  I didn’t need anything from the stores.  I wasn’t waiting for someone outside of a store I had grown tired of.  I wasn’t worried about being lost or left behind.  It was okay to not have a purpose.  It was enough to watch a bit of God’s work in the faces of those who passed by.

The difference between waiting for God and waiting for something less is when we wait for God there are no limits.  We give God permission to work outside of the lines.  In contrast, when we wait for someone or something, we become captive to one idea–like, waiting for a loved one at an airport.  Lots of people pass by before the one we desire appears.  We don’t really see their faces, just the fact that they aren’t the one we are expecting.

When we are waiting for the one, we can become irritated.  Our time, that precious commodity, is being wasted.   We are angry at those who keep us from what we are waiting for.  We feel both the loneliness and fear of being lost.

It is this kind of waiting that is most familiar to all of us and to those who disbelieved the words of Jesus.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will not hunger.  Whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  Those who heard him argue saying, “How can he say such a thing?  Is he not Joseph’s boy who grew up in Galilee?”

You can almost see the scripture writer’s smile.

On one level, there is truth to their complaint.  It would be difficult to believe that someone who grew up in your neighborhood is the one sent by God.  It is totally ridiculous.  On another level, the gospel suggests that disbelief and complaint go hand in hand.

You can fill in the larger conversation:  “Jesus can’t be what we are waiting for.   If he is the real thing, let him perform a miracle, like the one God did that day when our ancestors were in the wilderness and God sent manna from heaven.  Let Jesus do something grand like that.”

And Jesus retorts: “Stop your complaining.  Stop looking up to heaven.   I am here.  Besides, that miracle in the wilderness wasn’t so grand.  It didn’t overcome your ancestor’s disbelief.  Those complainers died before they entered into the promises of God.  Look at me.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

“I am here.”

What are you waiting for?

A young man worried about his soul going to hell because he didn’t go to church except on Christmas and Easter.  Some of his Christian friends had told him that he was doomed.  He, being at the age when the thought of death becomes scary (remember that age in your life…we don’t talk about it much, but it is part of our development), found it hard to sleep at night.

Pause here a moment.  Understand, when we are spiritually alone, it is easy for fear to take hold of us.  On one level, his friend was right.  Church could help bring this young man closer to God and love.  A faith community could love and shape him.  Where the friend went wrong is in deciding for God what God would do.

I asked the young man, What do you know about God?

God is a good being, he replied.

That got me thinking.  How do we know God is good?  How do we know God is the one we should look for in the morning?

There are plenty who would question God’s goodness and love because this side of heaven is not all good and sometimes acts against love.  How do you know God is good?

The Bible tells me so?  The preacher tells me so?

How do you know God is good?

Your Dad?  Your Grandmother?  Your Friend?  Your Sunday School teacher?

How about an experience you had one day.

How many of you here have had an experience of God’s goodness?

If I probed further, if we had time in this short hour to share of these experiences, I trust that many of your stories would be set in a time when you were forced outside of your normal habits and were able to see more clearly.

To wait on the Lord is to seek out the Lord as if God is here.  To take hold of the one we love in the middle of the night and let the Holy One warm our soul.   It is to believe that when Jesus stands in front of his hometown peeps and says “I am the living bread” that Jesus means to give us all we need.  It is to wait, not for someone to arrive, but to see the possibilities in the life that has been given all around us.  It is to stop complaining so God can get to work in us.

Henri Nouwen writes:

A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame, Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny wrinkle in his eyes: “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

 That is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then ‘fate’ can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.

– from Out of Solitude by Henri J. Nouwen

What are we waiting for?

I’m sure you have your lists.  I know I have mine.  It has been exactly one year since my last day at Community and there is no sign of a church call; nor a sign of full time work; nor a sign of financial stability.  There is much we all can complain about as the economy saps our confidence in keeping what we have.  There are those among us who are single after all these years who wish for a loving partner to share their lives with.  There are those among us who wish for a more just politic.  There are those here who wish desperately that their son/daughter will come back to a path of love.

Nouwen says,  “Fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.”

Jesus tells us who does the converting: “Do not complain among yourselves.  No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me….”  (John 6:44)

”unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”

It is God who draws us to Jesus, to healing, to hope, to love present now.  It is God who converts fate into vocation, wounds into deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.  There no stronger image of God breaking into this world than the heaven sent Jesus standing in front of us, saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

“I am here.”

Today, hear the call:  Let go of the lists, the complaints, the worries, and frenzied acts.  Instead, take hold of the invitation of faith…Wait on God … wait on God

I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 

July 28, 2012

John 6:  35 – 51; Psalm 130

Reverend Heather Miner

Change Your World

The Bible never depicts this world as being fair but it does show us a way through the trouble.

A very Jewish tale is told in Mark 6: 17 – 29.  In summary, Herod divorces his first wife to marry Herodias.  John the Baptists suggests that this is not a good idea.  His advice angers Herodias who decides he needs to die.

Herod liked John the Baptist.  He liked to listen to him even though he didn’t understand him.  He didn’t understand him because he refused to follow the heart of the message–to repent.  He refused to turn from being his own Lord to the humility and faith which allows what is good and holy to take hold of him.  So, when Herodias became angry, in order to keep the peace in his home, Herod had John the Baptist arrested.

On the day of Herod Antipas’ birthday, Herodias gets her revenge.  It begins when her daughter dances for King Herord and all the guests.  Artists have captured this dance on many canvases.  This one, from Reni who lived in late 1500s, portrays the daughter as aloof, dancing, holding the hair of John’s head as it is presented to her.

It is a picture of a great wrong.

I wonder what she, the daughter of Herodias, understood?  Did she know the game of power being played by her mother?  Maybe not for the word used for the daughter is “girl” not “woman.”  The same Greek word is used earlier in Mark for a 12 year old girl who Jesus lifts out of death.  When the dancing girl of the banquet is offered half of the King’s kingdom, instead of saying, “alright!” and living large, she goes to her mother, and says “what shall I ask for?”

Evil manipulates the one with the crown, of one who refused to learn the language of humility, or faith, or grace.  Take heed.

The story suggests evil is born of a grudge and spread by the innocent.

A simple birthday party, a celebration of life, corrupted.

On the one hand, I want to condemn Herod Antipas.  Herod–the man who is the center of his own dance.  He makes himself an easy target.

On the other hand, how many times have we held in higher regard something other than what is right and holy?  Even Peter denies Jesus when push comes to shove.

It is hard to hold on to what is right and holy.

I have opportunity to speak to couples now and then.  Everyone fights.  There should be a book about that for couples similar to the one for mothers and their little children called “Everyone Poops.”  Everyone fights.  This is true about all our relationships—friends and coworkers alike.  What often happens is we feel slighted in some way.  The other doesn’t understand us.   Lists of wrongs are kept.  Anger grows.  We’ve tried everything, we say, as the one who we once loved and respected becomes the enemy to our peace.

The best general reminder scripture gives about all of our relationships is that our first priority is not the happiness of the other person.  Herod tried to make his wife and niece happy and it led to the death of the holy one.

Our first priority is to do right by God, to hold on to what is right and holy in ourselves and in the other.

As Christians, we do this by looking to see Jesus.

In this scene from the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus has been brought to Herod Antipas having been arrested for treason.

It takes time to find Herod among the dancers, underneath the many bulbs that light up the “H.”  But it is not hard to see Jesus there in white lit robe in the foreground.   In the midst of all that is wrong, there is Jesus, waiting.

When we look to see Jesus at work in us and in the other person, we will often find him there, kneeling before the Herodian dance, the ego’s masquerade, waiting for us to repent.

Look for him.  Call for him to stand up.  Unbind him.

He is there in the one who is hurting herself beyond recognition.  He is there in the boss whose heavy hand you have felt.  He is there in the “other” and he is there in you.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equality, not with a violent revolution, but with a Christian witness calling the enemy to take hold of what was holy and good in them.

Look for Jesus.  You may not ever be offered half of the King’s kingdom but you will see your way through to what is good and holy.   That is enough to change your world!

In Christ,

Heather

Speaking Jesus

Christianity certainly has a rich back story found in the Hebrew scriptures.  But today I’m more interested in the “after story,” what happens when the final scene has ended.  The gospel of John tells the story of Jesus but is written long after Jesus died; long after the resurrection encounters.  Yet, despite John being the latest gospel written, it, alone, is filled with Jesus’ speeches, Jesus’ words.  And, it is the only gospel that we hear Jesus pray for us (John 17).  Here scripture points to a principle of faith.  Only after the church has been around awhile, only when they have dwelled within Christ for some time, can they give Jesus a clear voice.  Only when we have dwelled with Christ for some time can we give Jesus a clear voice.  I suspect this is why the epistle, 1 John, talks so much about abiding, dwelling in Christ.  What I understand from this scripture is that there are times when it is best not to act but simply to abide that we might give Jesus his truest voice.

In Christ,

Heather

An Easter Call

Easter morning—He is Risen!—He is Risen, Indeed!

Sin and Salvation

Jonathan Edwards shouts out

We are sinners in the hands of an angry God

Look what we have done

To ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Look at what we haven’t done

For ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Should God not be angry when we stand apart, build our own towers, testaments to our own strength?  Should God not be angry when those God loves abandon each other?  Should God not be angry when we abandon our world and ourselves when the tower falls?

We are not made to stand alone!

We were made to stand with…

Salvation is connection.

At the cross we stand with

Jesus who believed

God is more than anger

Or vengeance

People are more than sin

Or arrogance

Easter morning dawns

Mary and Peter peek into the

Empty tomb

And are afraid.

Resurrection possibilities

Strewn about in torn cloth.

“Mary,” calls the gardener

Recognizing Jesus’ voice, she cries out, “Rabouni!”

Salvation is connection.

Jesus’ faith  in and Jesus’  love for

God’s faith in and God’s love for

you and me

live on

connect

you and me.

Leave behind Eden

The serpent will never have

The last word.

Leave behind the tower

None of it is yours

Anyway.

Free your hands

Together let us

Take hold of the cup–

The cup of salvation.

Together, let us come into love.

Far and Wide

In seminary at Yale Divinity School I was awed to find myself in a vast landscape–that of the Christian witness spoken through the centuries.  My perspective, having grown up in the Southern California United Church of Christ, was limited by comparison.  I realized I had only seen faith from one small corner of scholarship in this time and place.  There were more voices to hear, endless voices of faith and ways of understanding God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Add to that the Jewish traditions that are woven into scripture, and the totality of the Judeo-Christian witness reaches back to the days of creation.  This faith tradition is varied and beautiful, reaching far and wide, inviting us into a relationship with the living Creator, God’s self.

The vastness of the Judeo-Christian faith starkly contrasts with the image of the temple, the day Jesus arrived, as described in the gospel of John.

“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.”  (2: 14)

Entering into the space where people came to meet God, Jesus is accosted by the sights and sounds of animals being sold for sacrifice to atone for sin.

In the claustrophobic chaos, the faithful find their way to the stalls in order to buy the appropriate animal as described in Jewish law.  Imagine the sounds, the smells, and the difficulty of holding an animal long enough to carry it to the priest for the altar.  How easy it would be to lose the intent, to lose God’s larger story, in the business of what must be done.

Recall, the Jewish people have come to the Jerusalem temple to celebrate the Passover, the day when God freed Israel from Egyptian bondage.  They remembered a day of blood and horror and salvation.  The night before Passover, each family of Israel was to sacrifice a lamb and put the lamb’s blood on their door.  God passed over the households that had this sign, inflicting the last plague on the rest of Egypt, killing their first born sons.  Only this last plague turned Pharaoh’s head long enough to allow Israel to leave his service and enter into a new life with God.

Israel, the freed people, enters into the wilderness, a vast landscape which opened them to experiences of God they had never before known.  Beautiful experiences, as when they saw God as a pillar of cloud and fire.  Frightening experiences, like a snake rising up from the desert floor.  After a generation had passed away, the new generation led by Joshua, entered, with God, into the land God promised.  God’s presence there is marked by the Jerusalem temple.

Having come to the temple, the symbol of God’s promise and presence, the crowd enters in thinking about what must be done to atone for sin. How small is their view as the din of animal noises and seller’s voices echo off the high walls of the courtyard.  Is this really the freedom that God envisioned long ago when blood was shed in Egypt?

Jesus gets angry…very angry.

“Making a whip of cords, [Jesus] 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.  He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (2:15 – 17)

I’m sure Jesus’ actions confused the temple leaders of the day.  They were only doing what was expected.  Maybe the root of that which would debilitate the churches of this day is similar.  It is all too easy to get into a business that, in its essentials, is quite similar to selling sin offerings: we do what has always been done in order to placate what someone has said is the Holy Way instead of seeking to invite all people into God’s grace.

Jesus was angry because the temple had created a way for people to placate the Holy One instead of opening the doors to a relationship with His Father and our Father.

Church practices are rarely questioned, indeed, just as in Jesus’ time, there is always a scripture to point to defend them.  Every such practice can be justified through tradition…and will continue to be as long as we are trading in our earthly temples.

Would that Jesus enter in, whip in hand, to tell us to get out.  Stop selling your doves here, your narrow way to peace with God.  This is my Father’s house.

In Christianity, we come to know God through Jesus.  When Jesus saw the faithful confined to buying sin offerings, he overturned the tables.  Given this, is it not possible that God is unhappy with tradition bound rules even if they can be justified by a small portion of scripture?  Isn’t possible that, even now, God continues to overturn the tables of our limited understanding that we might better know God’s way?

When Jesus saw that the temple, the place where one could come to enter into God’s presence, had as its first and foremost concern making people act according to tradition, he told them to get out.

Then, he pointed to himself as the temple which would be destroyed and in 3 days raised up.

Of course, the temple faithful had no idea of that which he spoke.  For it required leaving behind expectations in order to imagine God in a new form, one who would not kill, but would die to set us free.

May we allow God to make us free to enter a faith which is varied and beautiful, which reaches far and wide, and invites us into a relationship with the living God.

In Christ,

Heather