Sermon for Lent 3 – 2018 YrB
Sunday 4th March
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The Great Overturning”
“The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple”
When I was a teenager, I sang in the village church choir, twice every Sunday – and I remember in particular one sermon where the Vicar told us that whilst they’d been at Vicar School they’d made a habit of criticising the Scriptures and crossing bits out with which they didn’t agree. This was a popular pastime amongst clergy trained in the late 50s and early 60s. He said that there wasn’t much left when they’d finished.
Well my mind went back to that this week when – I must confess – I crossed three words out of our Gospel book! Not however because I disagreed with them, but because they are not in the original text in any version. Stay awake for a few moments longer and I’ll tell you what you missed, and why . . .
Jesus comes to the Temple in Jerusalem and if we know our Scriptures we know that John moves this account of the Jesus cleansing the Temple to the beginning of Jesus’ public ‘ministry’ – Some ministry! This extraordinary – even Violent act, John sees fit to put at the beginning of his gospel, and we must always remember that John and all the other gospel writers are very very careful with their words – far more careful than we are as a culture. If John does this, it is for a Very Good Reason. Simply put, John puts this at the beginning as the Herald of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His Work which he sees the Father doing – cleansing and purifying. Why?
Well you cleanse and purify something that has gone to the bad. ‘Tidy your room!’ we know the story from of old, I trust, unless we now run round after our youngsters tidying up after them . . . more of that anon also. Things need putting right, and that is what Jesus has come to do, and it isn’t necessarily going to be pretty – and the significance of the Temple cannot be underestimated. The Temple is the very centre of the Life, the Existence of the people of God. The imagery constantly used of it from Genesis to Revelation is of the Source of streams of living water. It is The Place. The Beating Life giving heart of all Culture and Life amongst God’s people – it is the Source of the Goodness of God – or it should be . . . but it has gone to the Bad and so was a source of darkness, of evil.
Human life is utterly religious – even the atheists one way or another replay ancient religious ways of being in the World – it is Fundamental, Foundational, and so if it goes Bad, then Everyone needs to watch out – for the flood is coming.
The thing was that no-one seemed to see it, although the prophets had certainly pointed it out – the last prophetic word of the Old Testament was that the Lord would come to his temple to purify the sons of Levi -that is what Israel waited for, but for almost everyone, nothing would have seemed untoward on the day Jesus turns up. There are the animals available of purchase for the sacrifices (note by the way that Mary and Joseph bROught, not bought two turtle doves of the sacrifice . . .) And there are the money changers seated . . . Not as it is in almost every modern translation ‘seated at their tables’, but ‘seated’ Period. I crossed out the words ‘at their tables, because that is not what John wrote, and the Evangelists are Very careful with their words, for their words are light and Life. The money changers are seated . . . “so?” you may ask? “does it matter??”. Why does John say they are seated?
We are back to that question of Authority again, ‘who has the authority?’ and the answer is The One who is seated. We have a Cathedral – after Cathedra – Chair – whose Chair? The Bishop’s. The Cathedral is the Place of Authority of the Bishop – this is why the health of the Cathedral is of Fundamental Importance . . . I’m told that if you ever get pulled over by the police, the Best way to handle it is to get out of your car and get to the police car so that the officer is sat down – in their place of Authority. Having worked behind a desk as a teacher you become very aware of the power dynamic of the one who is seated – and Finally, What does Isaiah Behold in the Temple? I Beheld the LORD seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and the hem of his robe filled the Temple.
And Jesus comes to the Temple and sees who ‘seated’? The money changers . . . And we may remember how The Temple is a microcosm of The Creation, and ask who has the authority in the World in which we live?? Who is seated? To what do we pay true allegiance on our church? What is seated in our own hearts? When Mammon, the abomination of desolation, is enthroned . . . when Religious Life is corrupted by Money – watch out! The flood is coming.
And Jesus actions are that ‘Wake Up!’ ‘Pay Attention! call as we shall see in a few moments
The other text which may have caught our attention today is another familiar text, the Ten Commandments, or better ‘Ten Words’ – For the Words of God are Light and Life. As Jesus says to the Lawyer who gives the standard summary of the Law – ‘Do these things and you shall live!’
Jesus’s coming to the Temple is undoubtedly dramatic – and so are these Words of Life. unfortunately we have taken them out of context – for we are told that after the last Word is given . . .
‘When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’’
Why? Because this stuff leads to Life – ignoring it leads to Death, and like the Universal Religious Instinct – these are not arbitrary rules given by a ‘god’ who just pops into existence -these are Universal Truths. Fundamental – Life and Death. Do these things and you shall live
‘I brought you out of the Land of Egypt’ I have brought you to Life from Death – I am the Source of Life and your existence – do not lose Sight of me. No other Gods – NO IDOLS – Don’t let yourself get distracted by ‘gods’ who cannot save. Do not Make things and then treat them as if They give you life, as if they are your life. Carved images – cell phones – take your pick . . . Do not take my Name in Vain – God is The Ultimate Significance – do NOT trash my name by attaching it to your petty feeble schemes – can You give Life?? Only with Fear and Trembling declare – ‘Thus saith the LORD!’ ‘or worse – God is with us . . . as was written on the helmets of German troops in WWI, God is on MY side . . . REST . . . we must ask if we have completely lost sight of this in our 24/7 society. On those nights when sleep flees, I am all too aware of cars going and going and trucks at Yvette Williams through the night and the endless hum of the Air Con form next door, and we live in a quiet part of town. Only the demons have no rest – what can we say of a ‘city that does not sleep’?
Honour your father and mother that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you – This is the First commandment with a promise . . . and yet I spend far far too much time with people who are abandoned by their children . . . something a couple of generations ago we would have thought reprehensible is now normalised. Why this command? Because your parents are through God the source of your very existence, not the toys they gave you or the experiences or whatever – their Very Life was poured into you – into each one of us. None of us is an Island, and who we are is utterly inseparable from our parents, and to deny that is to deny our very existence – it is an act of collective Suicide – no culture will persist long in the land where parents are not honoured, where the elderly are seen as bing ‘past it’.
The first Five Words are all Do This! Do This! and you will Live. The next five are the Do Not’s – one word in the Hebrew to sharpen it up. Yet they are the outflow of the first five – Keep the first five and you will keep the rest. Whoever fails in one part of the Law breaks the whole – it is all woven together. If you know where Your Life comes from – from God, through your parents – you will know what life really is, you will not murder. If you know the utter faithfulness of God in this Flow of Life you will not live faithlessly, breaking faith, Committing Adultery – which usually leads to the Death of a relationship. You will not steal for you know the Life that is coming to you from God who provides Life and all good things freely, you will not speak anything but the absolute truth about others for they are beneficiaries of that same life and you will not covet, for when you See God, you Know you have all you need. ‘Seek is Kingdom and his righteousness – Look Always to Him – and all these things will be added to you’
But . . . the wrong authority has ben installed in the Temple . . . Covet?? Get a credit Card (malignly named – for in Truth it is a Debt Card) – and you can have it all – – – Satan’s last temptation is the one he holds before us in this Age – you can have it all . . . (only Worship me . . .) It is I think nothing short of Demonic our current Economic system . . . you can have it all – and if we don’t get it then like Cain we get resentful and the next moment we are talking about ‘those people’ who are in our way with words of hate and bitterness . . . Guard you heart says the Teacher! Is there bitterness within you?? Get rid of it, for it is a root which bears terrible fruit. If you take your Life at all seriously – Root out bitterness and Resentment – for they come from the pit of Hell . . . and then we take what is not by right ours – sometimes in the name of God – and well . . . in a world turned upside down
And the problem finally is rooted in the human heart. The Temple as the Heart of a Culture, The Temple as Creation, The Temple as the Human heart . . . made for the Throne of God, of Goodness, Peace and beauty – The Human Heart if we know ours at all is a battlefield . . .
The Russian Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn had seen first hand how grand human schemes to ‘put the world right’ by fixing other people only led to Hell. He had ended up in a Soviet Gulag. But he used his time well . . . rather than falling into bitterness and anger at those around him, he undertook a fearless inventory of his heart and indeed it requires great courage. He went forensically over his life and saw how the evil in his own heart had been part of the reason for the evil of the Revolution, how he had contributed to it – He saw how his life was woven into the lives of all those around him. He finally saw that the only hope for the Salvation of the World was not in ideologies of equity and liberty – but in the transformation of the Human heart, for in truth the line between Good and Evil which we see ‘out there’ in truth runs through the heart of every person
As I come to a close I recount some words I saw just yesterday in Father Stephen Freeman’s blog – “The contemplative need go no further than his own heart to find the source of all violence in the world.” – we need to know the truth of this, hard though it is – he goes on “When the battlefield within the heart is ignored and projected outwards, the result is a world of black and white, good and bad, friend and enemy. But both friend and enemy have hearts that are themselves a mass of contradictions, a battleground of good and evil.” and then quoting Solzhenitsyn
“ If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
The Ten Words bespeak the Fundamental reality of our existence – when the reality of our Heart – the ground of that existence is not carefully watched over and ignored, when instead it is projected onto the World \out there’ things fall apart, starting with our lives and then the lives of all those around us, for you cannot disconnect them – when Religion goes bad – culture fall apart, and there is only every one end to it
And so to the Cleansing . . .
From the earliest human stories we have known this. The labours of Hercules – he is told to clean the stables of King Augeas in a single day – and King Augeas had thousands and thousands of cattle and sheep and goats and every night they were put back in the stable . . . and what did Hercules do? How did he do it? He diverted rivers so they flowed through the stables . . . When God saw that every inclination of man’s heart was evil – he found one whose heart was good, Noah – Commanded his to be prepared for what was coming, to build and ark, and the LORD sent a flood . . . So Jesus comes to cleanse the Temple – he drives out the animals – he overturns all the money and the money changers – he Overturns their tables . . . later in secret he comes again to the Temple courts and stands up in the midst and declares ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’
Jesus comes to perform the deepest cleansing – Saving the World through the Transformation of the human heart. Cleansing The Temple which is Created to be the dwelling place of God in the World. We come to him, to allow our hearts to be changed, transformed illuminated – that they are no longer the dwelling place, the haunts of demons, of bitterness and resentment and all the rest which comes from Hell, but become full of Light and Life.
Our Work in Lent is to open ourselves to His Searing illumination – allowing His Light to Flood our Hearts that our Lives may be overturned and that through renewed Lives the World might be saved.
We might ask this week, what is the outflow of our hearts? What are our thoughts? Are they light or dark? Pay attention to your heart. Is there Hate lurking there for ‘those people’ – we live now in an Age where people are increasingly and dangerously polarised, and hate is rampant. The internet gives us ‘safe places’ where we only meet those who are like us and do not challenge us, we are easily blinded to our hearts, thinking The Problem is Out There. This way is Death.
But there is another way – a way that looks to the unseeing gaze as death – Christ and him Crucified, Foolishness to the Wisdom of the World, and Offence to those who think they can put themselves right before God – Follow me, says Jesus, in the Way of dying to yourself, of crucifying those parts of your heart from which darkness and hate flow out into the world – Come to me that you may drink from Streams of LIVING water. Life not Death – and you will now Life From Death
The cleansing of the Temple is the cleansing of our heart – Life not Death – Do thes things and you will live – do this and you will know Life From Death – Blessed Lent. Blessed Easter