Clearing the Temple (Lent 3) – Sermon 7th March 2021 (1 Corinthians 1.18-25; John 2.13-22)

V17, zeal for your house will consume me.

Have you ever tipped over a table in anger?
have you ever banged the table in frustration?

it creates a great noise, it creates a clatter, you might even break things.
Today we see Jesus getting angry, righteous indignation, frustration that his Father’s house has become a market place. This isn’t a babies tantrum, this is the reclaiming of space for the Gentiles to worship, as they’d been excluded and disenfranchised.

Here is Jesus in the temple over turning tables, creating a whip and lashing out at people. We might be thinking we know the story we know it’s just Jesus being angry for Lord‘s house. But actually I think on this third Sunday in Lent there is a reminder that God wants to be at work in us and too often we think the furniture of life can stay in the same places.

Before we explore that, let’s just think about the context of what’s going on.
The gospel writer John has the story at the start of the gospel – unlike Matthew Mark and Luke which has it as part of Palm Sunday.

John has this story at the start of the gospel to remind us that Jesus is setting new standards, and reclaiming for God what is amiss. He is creating a new space for worship or rather he is reclaiming the space for worship. This happens in the temple at Passover , we need to realise why the space needed clearing.
       Let’s try to visualise the temple courtyards around the Temple itself. The outer courtyard was the space where the Gentiles worshipped.
The inner courtyard where the Jews could enter to offer their sacrifices and in the middle of that – the temple itself containing the holy of holies – where only the priests entered to offer incense.

The problem has become that the Jews had brought their marketplace for the buying and selling of animals into the Gentile Court, and this has displaced the Gentiles from being allowed to offer their worship.

So Jesus found in the temple space buying and selling, the exchanging of money and in the temple space were the animals making dung with the smell and the reek of profit hungover it all.

We are told Jesus makes a whip out of cords and drives out of the temple area sheep and cattle, he upsets the tables of the moneychangers, he turns out the doves. Everyone would notice this, everyone would see what Jesus was doing.

It was his righteous indignation, his anger that his Fathers holy space had become a market and it excluded the non Jews from being able to worship.

His actions do not go unnoticed and the leaders challenge him, this is the first time they ask about his authority, they don’t understand who is this disruptive person?

And Jesus gives a cryptic answer v19, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days”. Of course the leaders think of the physical temple, but Jesus is referring to the Spiritual Temple of his body, which is beyond their understanding. Which is an early hint to his death and resurrection, which we can understand.

Now I have two applications for this reading as we journey through Lent.

First of all after our period of lockdown, after our isolation and after our year long drought of church activity, I think Jesus has used this year to turn over the tables of everything that has become comfortable and familiar.

I think Jesus wants to create in the church a new space for worship, a new space for prayer which previously we had minimised and which we had diminished with our busy-ness.

Whilst some are hoping for a return to “normal” God is challenging us to think differently.

This year has created space for us to think more widely about the mission of God and this gospel reminds us that we need to make space and be creative for others to feel like they can engage with God.

If the tables of old routine have been turned over by this year’s absence – what space does that create for us to step into?

In addition there is a harvest to be reaped, there has been soul-searching by the community and we need to make space for people to find answers to searching questions.

In the Lent group discussions, we heard that now is the time for the kingdom, now is the time for harvest now is the time for action so we need to sieze the impetus, to grasp this opportunity as we look forward to reopening our buildings and to think of new ways to operate – undergirded by prayer for the harvest.

The second way I want to look at the story at this mid-point in Lent is to make it personal –  what are the tables of our lives which need to be turned over, where are we using money in ways that doesn’t honour God?

Perhaps there are bad habits which we’ve got familiar with and not noticed?

Perhaps there are routines which we think are more important than making time for God?

If Jesus is to look at our lives, what things would he want to throw out? what things would he tip over?  where would he lash out with a  whip to clear the counter?  We’re all at different points of our journey of faith but God wants to be at work in us and doesn’t need to work around our furniture of bad habits.

To conclude – Jesus creates space in the temple for the Gentiles to worship, our time in Lent is to create space for us to come close to God so he can be at work in our lives.

Paul writes that our bodies are the temple of the holy spirit that’s why I think we might need to do some spiritual furniture removing of our own. If we are individually the temple of the holy spirit – do we have space to receive more of Jesus? Are we open for him to create new things in us? Are we able to hear and receive his call upon our lives?

I said at the beginning of Lent, that it is a difficult season – it requires something of us.

As we are looking forward to re-opening I think God is requiring more of us in the future than in the past. The church can no longer be a comfort blanket of security. The church has to be an army ready for action, the church has to be the labourers ready to reap the harvest.

His disciples remembered it was written “zeal for your house will consume me.”
May that zeal be at work in us as the army of labourers for the harvest of the kingdom.           Amen

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