Holy Havoc – March 18, 2012 – John 2: 13 – 22

It was the time for Passover, Jesus and Disciples who were all faithful Jews made the trek to the Temple in Jerusalem like so many other Jews.  The Temple was being restored, still it was magnificent.  Afterall, it was the house of the Lord, the very place where God was believed to live.

Can you imagine this particular scene?  Jesus walks into the Temple courts with the Disciples.  The area isn’t as magnificent as the Holy of Holies, but you know you’re in the Temple.  There is a huge area bustling with people like an open air market with pens of cattle bellowing and sheep bleating, cages of turtledoves cooing, people gathered around tables chatting, and coins clanging.  Every person who had traveled any distance making the pilgrimage to the Temple for Passover needed to visit this area to purchase an animal to sacrifice to God.  Everyone needed to trade their Roman coins with the image of the emperor engraved on it for a coin with no graven images to pay the Temple Tax.

The sight infuriates Jesus.  He walks over and gets down to His Father’s business.  He takes a whip and while yelling drives out the animals from their pens and flings open the cage doors to let the birds fly free.  Then, he unleashes his fury on the tables heaving them over dumping the coins as they clang against one another and the stone floor.  All the while, the Disciples, money changers, and others stand frozen with jaws dropped to the ground.

This is not the Jesus we read about in other Gospel stories.  This is not gentle, kind, compassionate, healing, teaching, patient Jesus.  This is a rabble rousing, ruckus raising, whip snapper.

This story was recorded after the Romans had destroyed the Temple.  Until this point, about 40 or 50 years, the Jews and the Jewish Christians worshiped side by side and offered sacrifices together at the Temple.  They studied the Jewish Scriptures together and followed the Law.  The Jews and Jewish Christians met on Friday evening to observe the Sabbath and the Jewish Christians celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday mornings.

Once the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the Jews had a bit of an identity crisis.  They had no place to worship and offer sacrifices.  The Jews had to figure out how they would live as God’s chosen people under the rule of the Roman Empire with no central place for their cultic practices.  The Jewish Christians needed to make some decisions too.  The two groups both originated in Judaism; now, each was seeking to discern the action of God and clarify their religious identity. 

Ultimately, it came down to a decision of authority.  Jews would hold Moses and the Law as their authority.  Christians would hold Jesus and his teachings as authority.  It wasn’t a matter of you’re in and you’re out; this decision came down to which group to belong to. Each person would have to decide, Jew or Christian, Moses or Jesus, Law or grace.  Christians were telling and retelling the story of Jesus and its meaning.  They proclaimed Jesus, not Moses as their revealer and way to God.

The Jews and early Christians made the decision of authority for their lives.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy for everyone.  Choosing Christ over Judaism meant renouncing the faith traditions of your childhood and your ancestors.  Jews would follow the Law and Christians would believe in eternal salvation by grace.  The Jews weren’t wrong – they just weren’t Christians.  The Jews were still God’s chosen people, but the Christians were also favored by God.  Christ was a new revelation of God and the followers of Christ had to rethink what it meant to gather as a people to worship God.

The decision they faced seems an easy one for us.  We know Jesus.  We’ve made the great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  We come to church on Sundays, we tithe, we pray, we read the Scriptures, we attend church potlucks. 

Does all that matter? 

What make a group of people a church?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  Other groups regularly gather for fellowship.  Other groups eat together.  Other groups collect an offering for the continued mission of the group.  Other groups want others to join the group. 

When we’re not gathered on a Sunday morning in this room, how do we remain church outside these four walls?

Those early Christians had a major shift in their thinking as they decided how to organize themselves.  The Temple had been the place where it was believed God lived, it was the house of the Lord.  Now, Christians came to understand Jesus as the dwelling place of God. 

Throughout the Gospel of John, we hear that message: like in the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the Word was God.  In this passage, Jesus tells His Disciples and the crowd that the Temple, that is Him, can be torn down and will be rebuilt in 3 days. 

The Disciples didn’t fully understand this message until Christ had been raised to glory on Easter morning.  Then, they all knew that the once visible glory of God in Israel’s Temple could be seen in the living Jesus and could not be witnessed in the Risen Christ. [1] 

This was a defining moment in the Christian Church.  Historically, the God of Israel dwelt in Temple; then, God entered into human history in the incarnate Christ.  Around this new thinking, the Christians stopped worshipping in the synagogues with their Jewish friends.  And, they began to form for themselves traditions and practices that were uniquely Christian.  They met in house churches remembering the Last Supper.  They prayed to Christ and were baptized into the new life of a Christian community.

The Church of Christ has been forming and transforming Christian practices for more than 2,000 years.  The core of that tradition tells us that a gathering of people is the Church of Jesus Christ when it cares about what Jesus cares about and gets angry about the things that anger Jesus and continues the healing, teaching, and reconciling ministries of Christ.  This particular congregation has been that type of Christian community creating and recreating herself for more than 100 years. 

We can see our past in this story in the Gospel of John.  Sin has already torn apart this church and Jesus has already ripped through here setting your free for the future and turning over the tables of power.  God has already begun the reconstruction.  God has been raising you up through all the work you’ve done over the past couple years.  You’ve thought about what makes this congregation unique and uniquely Christian.  You’ve done the work of visioning and planning. 

As we live into that vision, let’s remember we have the passion of Christ within us. We have 2000 years of tradition beneath us.  And, we have the glory of God before us.  Amen.


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