Walk on By

A Sermon for Lent 3; Exodus 20:1-1, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

 A few years back in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station, a man played his fiddle for the passersby. Some children stopped and stared but were quickly hustled off by their parents. A few people stayed for a minute or two before rushing on to catch their train. A few people threw money into the open violin case. The violinist collected a total of $32.17. The fiddler was Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists. Just weeks earlier he played to a packed house, where tickets sold for $100. Bell was playing one of the most difficult and intricate pieces ever composed for the violin. He played it with world-class skill, and on a world class Stradivarius violin worth million. The whole stunt had been set up to see if anyone would notice. No one truly did, except perhaps a few children who sensed something was up (Hoezee).

This morning Jesus is at the Temple during the Passover festival. There is a money exchange. The local regions where pilgrims came from each had its own currency. Temple tax could only be paid in the temple currency (Harrelson) in part because Greek and Roman coins had the image of a human on one side which made the coins an idol (O’Day). The exchange swapped the pilgrims’ money into the local currency (Keener and Walton). The cattle, sheep, and doves were required for burnt offerings in the Temple were designated in Leviticus. Many of the pilgrims coming to offer sacrifice in the Temple journeyed a great distance and would not have been able to bring the specified animals. They needed to buy animals in Jerusalem. The animal market was needed so they could (O’Day). Both the exchange and marketplace are necessary. Both are provided for in Deuteronomy and Leviticus (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). But something is not right. Why else ~ would Jesus disrupt the whole thing?

It is entirely reasonable that the Temple priests and others would want to know what authority Jesus has to disrupt the Passover Festival. It is a reasonable question after all Passover is the defining Jewish Festival. His answer Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). isn’t really an answer to their question. So of course, everyone misinterprets him. Ask a question about a temple and get an answer with ‘temple’ in it, and the second is the same as the first. Unless of course, you have been to political spokesman school, or you are the Messiah.

John wants to be sure the readers understand, so he tells them, tells us, that Jesus is talking about himself. No one knows about Jesus life to come. There are no great reveals in John’s Gospel story. The story of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension is revealed in his actions.

Part of understanding what is going on at the Temple is to understand how God has been present to us, specifically Israel, up to this point. Here is a Cliff Note, well a Fr Scott Note version. The Garden is where God met us. However, we listened to the Tempter, in the form of a snake, and messed that all up. After the Exodus in the wilderness journey God met us on mountain tops; well ~ at least he met our representative, Moses, there; we were afraid to meet God in person. After the wilderness journey is over God meets Israel through the wisdom and saving actions of the Judges. But the number of Judges stories and the repeating cycle of those stories tell us that that didn’t go so well either. At Israel’s request, God establishes a King to “fight our battles for us.” That doesn’t help the divine-human relationship; now Israel is now relying on the strength of Kings and not trusting the strength of God. God has the smartest man in the world, Solomon, build a Temple to be God’s home on earth (it is far grander than Herod’s). Before long Solomon is married to wives from Egypt, the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonian, and Hittites. They turn his heart away from God and towards the gods of his many wives (1 Kings 11:4.) The Temple has become the home of all sorts of gods. Throughout the many intra and inter kingdom wars God calls prophets to speak the truth and restore the divine-human relationship. We have the stories of 23 or so prophets in the bible who do speak the hard truth. However, there we a whole lot more, hundreds more, in the royal court who tell the king what the king wants to hear. So much for the divine-human relationship.

We have seen that the animal market and money exchange served a purpose. Because of Jesus’ actions, we can discern that once again, the place and how God is present on earth has turned into something else. But there is still more else going on here. The previous story in John is about that wedding in Cana that Jesus saves by turning 180 gallons of water into extraordinary wine. This reveals something of his identity, and the abundance of God’s love (Harrelson; O’Day). So, if Cana is about the revelation of God in Jesus, what does this story reveal about who he is?

The temple is the meeting place between Israel and God. It is a holy place. It is the place where human life and divine blessing meet. It is a thin place. It seems that it is following in the steps of its predecessors. The Temple can no longer be God’s presence on earth. If not the Temple in Jerusalem, then where? John tells us Jesus’ answer to the authorities is not about the Temple, but about him. What we are witnessing through holy story is Jesus is proclaiming that his body is the home of God on earth (Shore; Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Harrelson; O’Day; Gaventa and Petersen).

Continuing with our model of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup, what might lentil soup look like in this story? Jesus challenges the Temple, which like it religious predecessors, is so convinced of the divinity of its rules and practices that it is no longer open to a new revelation from God (Harrelson). It is no longer a thin place. From a church institution perspective, we are called to actively be aware of the trap of equating the authority of our own structures and traditions with the presence of God that we close ourselves off to the possibility of reformation, change, and renewal (O’Day).

The personal perspective it unwinds like this. Many of us have known a thin place, like Camp Mitchell, or church retreat weekend, where we deeply feel God’s mysterious presence. Jesus invites us into a personal relationship. Jesus is the presence of God on earth, therefore, Jesus is a thin place. So, Jesus is inviting us into a thin personal relationship. When we encounter this invitation do we explain away its presence? do we explain away its impact? do we explain away God who knows us and insist we know God? do we explain away I AM in our I AM God? Or ~~ do we risk experiencing the fullness of the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit? (Lewis). Do we risk experiencing Jesus as our thin relationship?

We have been asking “What do we sell our Christian birthright for?” We can miss out on our birthright not only by selling it but by ignoring it, walking on by. Who knows how many people walked on by, rushed on by Joshua Bell? Who knows how often we walk, rush on by a thin relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit? Perhaps we are not being called to give up, or to take on, but to slow down so that we can see, so that we can hear the abundance of divine gifts that are simply all around us all the time. Perhaps we are being called to slow down so we can experience and live in the thin relationship between ourselves and the abundance of divine love.

Amen


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 2:13-22. 4 3 2018.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 4 3 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Body Zeal. 4 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 2:13-22. 4 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

Whitley, Katerina. “Resisting the Idolatry of the Age, Lent 3 (B).” 4 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Woodrum, -Br. Jim. “Depending on God.” Meeting Jesus in the Gospel. SSJE. Cambridge, n.d. Email.

 

 

 

Advent Crockpot

A sermon for Advent 3: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Psalm 146:4-9 and Canticle 15

Williams Concrete was the largest concrete company at home. They poured most of the concrete for the interstate system. The owner built a home on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River. The driveway was far too steep for trucks to get up, so, they built conveyor system to get all the concrete to the building site that was powered by a truck. They burned up 3 trucks to get all the concrete to the building site. Itconcreteficent home. You can see if from the river, a marvelous sight. You can also see it from a narrow road on the other side of the river; at least the passenger can, the driver has to pay attention to the road’s narrow curves.

Herod, King of the Jews, and the Roman Empire’s officials had similar magnificent villas along the Jordan River. Jesus asks crowd who overhears his exchange with John’s disciples “Who did they really go to see? The grandeur of Herod and Rome?” perhaps pointing to the magnificent villas; before he continues “Nope you went to see the prophet!” Saying that the crowd is more interested John’s baptism than Rome’s opulence is  a way Jesus supports John (Allen) (Harrelson).

John could use some support. His situation has dramatically changed. The last we heard he was down by the riverside baptizing people and challenging Pharisees and Sadducees who were more than interested, more than curious to see what he was up to that drew all those people to him. Now John is alone in a dark prison cell ~ perhaps ~ waiting for death (Lose).

A change of place and or circumstance like that can cause a change in one’s perspective; which leads to different questions (Lewis). When we learn that not all Jewish communities were focused on the return of a messiah or even how God is active in the world or what God might be up to John’s new question is all the more understandable. (Allen). Questions that arise from a change in circumstances, or anything else, are not necessarily bad. They do represent that the asker has a clear-eyed understanding of the world around them. So yes, John’s question indicates he has preconceived ideas about who the messiah should be and how the messiah should be acting (Nagata). And yes, John may express some doubt; but, his doubt just may be his seeking the path from uncertainty to confidence; from disappointment to anticipation (Lose). It is important to hear that Jesus understands John’s question as an expression of faith (Lewis). And we know this because Jesus’ reply is not full of fiery judgment but it is full of compassion (Boring) and the hopeful vision of Isaiah 35 (Epperly).

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters, shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

And so yes, Jesus is indeed the “coming one,” but he has reversed all the expectations; and questions should arise. And yes, John faith does waver, but such wavering is the nature of discipleship and faith, which must constantly be renewed (Boring).

I’ve always found it just a bit curious that Jesus tells John’s disciples to go tell him what they see, and then he tells them what they see. For a while, I wondered if he was just preempting the foolishness he has come to expect from his disciples. But not so any more, I think Jesus was/is seeking to reassure John, and anyone else who might be wondering what he is up to. He is seeking to reassure folks that healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing sight to the blind, really are grounded in the prophetic vision of God’s redeeming work.

So, we have answered John the doubter’s questions about the Jesus’ authority. However, there is more to explore. John’s imprisonment and change of circumstance led to his questions.

What imprisons you?

-What so changes your circumstances, or which of your preconceptions have been so badly shaken that they are limiting your imagination of God’s redeeming work, and raising new questions (Lewis) (Nagata)?

-What events in your life, or of your community or of the world, are raising fundamental questions:

• Is there really a God who knows and cares?
• Is there a divine purpose for the world?
• Is there a purpose for me?
• Is Jesus the definitive revelation of that God,
• or should we look elsewhere for answers to ultimate questions (Boring) (Nagata)?

–  What new idea has you all stirred-up (Pankey, Stir Up!)?

Can you place all those emotions in an Advent crock pot? Will you use this Advent time, while we are waiting for Jesus, to slow down, to reflect, and to pray ~ lifting all that has you off kilter to God in Jesus through the Spirit? Will you allow your questions and doubts to actually bring you closer to God (Nagata) (Boring)? Will you allow God’s reply, to your Advent waiting question, to inspire you to action?

Waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming is not a passive venture. God is already coming to us and wants us to use divine answers to get us all stirred up with new ideas to act with grace and persistence for the well-being of the planet and for all its peoples (Epperly) (Pankey, Stir Up!). And yes, new ideas are ugly, messy, and frightening, they threaten what we know, they scare us, and they are fragile. But when we nurture them with God’s light they bring beautiful transformation into the world (GE).

ideas

New Ideas can reveal how we can participate with God in restoration; they can help us identify other communities that share similar hopes and seek common purpose (Allen).

This morning’s collect asks God to stir up divine power and come among us. It is a great, though dangerous, idea. In it, we are asking God to turn lose power and light that we would much rather keep under a basket. In it, we are inviting the Spirit to work in our lives for the restoration of not only our souls ~ but the whole world (Pankey, Stir Up!) . We are unleashing God to help us be the prophets pointing to The Kingdom’s presence right here – right now, not only in what we say but most importantly in how we love all our neighbors. We are asking for directions and inspiration and power to follow Mary as

[Her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
[and her] spirit rejoices in God our Savior.

 

References

Allen, Ron. Commentary on Matthew 11:211. 11 12 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Boring, M. Eugene. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X!! vols. App Olivetree.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes. 11 12 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 12 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

  1. “Ideas Are Scary.” 2016. web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfmQvc6tB1o&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Advent 3 A Matthew 11:2-11 . 11 12 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Are You The One? 11 12 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 3 A: John’s Blue Christmas. 11 12 2016.

Nagata, Ada Wong. “Can You See and Hear God’s Presence in Your Life? Advent 3(A).” 11 12 2016. Sermons that Work.

Pankey, Steve. How are we judged? 11 12 2016.

—. “Stir Up!” 11 12 2016. Draughting Theology.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.