Part of the reason I wanted to serve here at St. Andrew’s is because of this beautiful sanctuary. Its open contemporary feel attracted me. I’m fully aware that isn’t true for everyone, some prefer the gothic sanctuary, and I’m glad for that. But this is a wonderfully conceived building; its purpose is mission and growth. It shows us that everyone is welcome, it teaches that the table, the word, and baptismal ministry are the triangular center points of who we are here at St. Andrew’s. We have a glorious connectway that fills with warmth and light during the day. The stained glass tells us a story of faith; the artwork helps us to shape images in our imaginations. We invite people into our building, we invite people to come and see, we invite people to encounter God here, and we trust that God will show up in the encounter.
We also spend much of our resources on keeping this building beautiful. This building is precious to us. It is special, it is comfortable. It works for so many reasons on so many different levels. But what if I were to tell you that it all must come down? What If I were to tell you that this building was an impediment to our encounter with God? What if I were to tell you that we could no longer worship here? What if it burnt down? What if…….?
The temple that every good Jew made their way to at the Passover was built by Herod. Herod built it as a monument to himself, and as a way of keeping the Jews in his good graces. The Temple was huge, it had side-buildings and porticos, in fact it was like a traffic center, to get from one place to another place it was shorter to go through the temple. You really did not even need to go near the holy of holies, the physical place where God resided in the ark. A toll was collected from those who used the temple as the shortest route between here and there. In addition the temple traders would barter one sort of animal with another, so that those who needed to leave the proper offering could do so. There was much trading going on, humanity teeming at it’s worst and maybe even at it’s best.
Jesus was disgusted with the Temple traders. But in this story from John, not only was he disgusted, he also was frustrated that they couldn’t’ see what was really going on, what was really happening here. They ask him, what sign can you show us? Which in the gospel of John, is ordinary, John is full of signs and wonders. Jesus’ response is “destroy this temple.” If I responded to you that way, you’d have me thrown out before you would destroy this church. What kind of talk is that, destroy this temple. Jesus continued, “in three days I will raise it up.” It took forty-six years to build this temple, this was their lives work, and their fathers’ lives work, who does he think he is? In three days I will raise it up.
Imagine how afraid these followers of Jesus must have been. Imagine what it must feel like to be told by your leader that the building you had always known to be your center, your center of worship, your social center, your economic center, is to be torn down and taken away. Did it even matter to them that Jesus wasn’t really speaking about the temple, the place of worship at all, but he was speaking about himself? Change was happening for these folks, change they didn’t want, didn’t think they need, change they would really rather have stayed away from.
The hard and scary part of all this is that Jesus was talking about a change that was absolutely never experienced before. He was talking about himself supplanting the temple, no longer would there be a temple to go to, to worship at, to trade in, to walk through. God’s physical location in the holy of holies in the ark, no longer would be. God would now be located in Jesus, and in each one of God’s creations. God would now be located in each one of us. This would be accomplished by the very frightening journey to the cross. Jesus would live and love, suffer and die, and would be raised again. That is where God’s love would be located.
That’s a tough one, but it is as true for the first followers of Jesus as it is for you and for me. You see, when it becomes about the temple, the facility, the building, when it becomes about something other than God’s reconciling mission in the world, we’ve missed the mark. That is when our own temple cleansing needs to happen.
Lent may be our own temple cleansing. Lent may be our time to examine what is really important; lent may be our time to throw out the trash, even the trash we tend to bring back in with us. Jesus is now the temple, that’s what this story is all about. Paul understood that. Paul wrote about each one of us being a temple. God in Jesus Christ resides in each of us, no longer is the temple outside of us, but it is within us. Therefore, we must pay attention and do some temple cleansing. What Paul also understood was that God in Jesus Christ resides in each of us, we may be the temple, but individually we are not whole, collectively we are whole, individually we are just broken fragments, stones with no order. Together, we can be the whole
Temple cleansing, examining how and where we meet with God’s mission in Jesus Christ of reconciliation, is sometimes about discerning how we miss the mark. Where is our own brokenness that needs putting back together, that needs healing? Where is it that we neglect to treat others with respect and dignity? How are we like the temple traders, forgetting that worship is about relationship with God and with others, and instead come to believe it is about our own gain, or taking care of our own needs?
Our Lenten temple cleansing may also be about the stripping clean of the stuff that keeps us separate from God and from others. It may be about taking the time to lie fallow while God does God’s work in us, so that we may be fertile for the new growth of Easter. Whatever our Lenten temple cleansing may be, it is about tossing out and making room for the new, the change that God is preparing us for. It is about that completely new thing, that we can hardly even imagine yet, that thing that scares us to death, but that gives us hope.
Our adult education in recent months has been talking about rummage sales. The author of the book we read and talked about used the metaphor of a rummage sale to show us how things change, or must change in the church. She says that when it comes time for a rummage sale, you go through all your stuff, and you decide what you want to get rid of, what you need to get rid of, and what you think you must hold on to. If your household is cleaning out stuff, there may be quite a bit of discussion about what may stay and what may go, and that conversation begins to turn into disagreement. What some through out may be someone else’s treasure, that’s the way with rummage.
Our Lenten temple cleansing is like the rummage sale. There is much we must examine, and much we must let go of in order for God to find a place to be home with us. Much we just don’t need, much clutters our homes, our hearts, and our souls that we just need to throw out. We need to do the cleansing, so that what is left can grow and flourish, so that we can live the new life that God promises us in the resurrection. Happy Spring cleaning!
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.
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