March 7 2020 John 2:13-22

I don’t know, what I don’t know.

Scripture

John 2:13-22

Jesus Clears the Temple Courts

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[a] 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Prayer

Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, lead us to life with You in the center.

Sermon

Our church is so blessed. We have heard Mark exhort us to love one another and then show us what the bible says that looks like. We have heard Bob speak on seeking peace and truth and how the only place we can find it is in the hope we have in Jesus and that love trumps knowledge. We have heard Cheryel speak about our wilderness places and how God grows us there and the checklist that Jesus gives us for how to live. I look at this wealth we have, being able to listen to all of these teachings. I think about how many years I have been in church and heard The Word and you would think that I would be ready to take the quiz and get my degree in being a Christian. As I get older, I find that I know less and that knowing becomes less important than just walking and talking with God. 

The last time I spoke, it was on a reading from the book of Mark. Mark was action. Mark was all about what Jesus was doing. Today We are in John and John is all about who Jesus IS. 

This week, I read a quote that stuck with me and I want to share it with you. I do not know the author.

“Father forgive me for the times I desired a seat at a table you would have flipped”

I wanted to speak on this passage, not because I understand it, but because I don’t.  This passage jars like no other I have read in the bible. This is angry Jesus. How do I reconcile all of the pictures I have of Jesus. The first bible song I ever learned was Jesus Loves Me! Jesus who tells stories to make us think. Jesus who healed a leper. Jesus who laughed at the wedding and then turned water into wine. Jesus who walked on water and summoned the little children to come to Him. Jesus who willingly died on the cross for each of us. It is just hard for me to picture this angry Jesus. I read commentaries. I read and re-read the passage. I read the text surrounding the passage. and you know what? All I got was MORE uncertain!  Angry Jesus.  What am I supposed to do with that??

I tend to read references to the Jews and especially to the Pharisees as though they are bad. This passage at first glance seems to point to Jesus indicting the Jews and Pharisees for their abuse of the temple. I don’t think it is a difficult assumption to make. Even in bible story books for children with illustrations, I can remember Pharisees being portrayed with squinty evil eyes and leering smiles. And it seems like it was always the Pharisees that were questioning and plotting against Jesus. I always considered them “others”. Not us. Not like me.

The line in this scripture: “Zeal for your house will consume me” comes from Psalm 69 which is attributed to David who was…a Jew. 

What I have come to realize, is that I cannot fit Jesus into the Jesus shaped box that I have. Do any of you have one of those?

We can make the argument that the poor were being taken advantage of in a place of worship.  But who were the poor? Many were non-Jews relegated to the outer courts.

We can even talk about the fact that Jesus did not have a raging fit. He took the time to make a whip out of cords. I wonder if He was thinking while he made that whip, about exactly what he was going to do and why He was going to do it.

We can talk about this being the event that put Jesus on a trajectory that led to His arrest and crucifixion which was ordained to happen.

The Jewish people welcomed gentiles into the outer court of the Jerusalem temple so that box that informs what I have always understood as the role of “The Jews” in the New Testament and their treatment of Gentiles gets a little blurry. If the Jews welcomed the gentiles which we know just means anyone who is other than Jewish, into the holiest place in Judaism then why would I think that the focus of Jesus’ anger was specifically the Jews?  Is that because I assume that the people selling doves and changing money were Jewish?  Nowhere does it specify that. It gets a little confusing when you remember that the Jews from the old testament are commanded to love the poor, the widow and the resident aliens. Gentiles would be the resident aliens. Maybe we need to take more than a second look at some of these passages.  We don’t know, because we are not told, but it is plausible that Jesus was not the only one who looked on what was happening in the church with dismay.  

I am not certain. And I think it is fine to be uncertain. Not about bedrock beliefs. I believe all of the parts of the Apostles Creed. That lines out our basic theology. But we learn who Jesus is and who we are through the parables and the writing of the gospels and the Epistles. How often have we read about Jesus saying, I know you have heard – fill in the blank, but I say – usually something that makes the hearer question their understanding of something they had thought they had a grasp on all of their lives. We read these scriptures through the lens of the present and we each bring our own emotions and life situations to these readings. without having a clear picture of the people who were hearing the words in their time and we, well at least I, nod my head and think “I get it. I understand this.” And then I move on.

One of the most comforting conversations I have ever had with a pastor was at Walk to Emmaus years ago. It was a time when pastors were available for you to talk with and to pray with you. I had questions. And they were serious questions that weighed on my heart. I was shaking even as I asked. Because they had to do with my dad and heaven. My dad had not stepped foot in church for years unless someone was getting married or buried.  I poured my heart out and was all set for this poor pastor, bless his heart, to give me the answers. Back then I believed that pastors had the equivalent of the Teachers manual of the bible. You know – the one that has the answers in the back?  But that was not the result. This poor guy looked at me when I was finished and it took him a few moments to answer. I know he was thinking hard about this. He knew that his answer was going to have a direct effect on my faith. When I think back, I think, what a burden I placed on this poor man’s shoulders. He took my hand and he quietly said, “I don’t know. But I will pray with you.” I would like to tell you that the words he prayed are still with me but I could not tell you a single word he said before we ended with Amen. What I do remember is that in that moment, I realized that there are some things that I just have to trust God about without having certainty. And that sometimes the most profoundly comforting thing that can happen to us is to have someone hold our hand and admit, that they don’t know either.

So maybe not understanding this angry Jesus is actually a good thing. Maybe being uncertain is a gift I can offer to God because as long as I am uncertain, God can still teach me. As long as I am willing to look at the tables I wish I could sit at and ask the question, is this a table Jesus would flip? Maybe I have a better chance of navigating this earthly world and holding on to the hand that I need most – the hand of our savior, Jesus.

Because Jesus constantly challenges us by refusing to fit in our Jesus shaped box. As soon as I think I KNOW who Jesus is, He comes knocking on my heart either through a part of a scripture that I have glossed over, or through a friend saying something that makes me rethink my certainty, or a quote pops up that just will not get out of my head until I figure out why it is sticking. In those moments, I get a fresh perspective on my faith.

We all have different relationships with different people. There is our family who knows one aspect of us. Maybe a best friend who sees us as being like minded. Co-workers see the professional. We show more or less of our true selves as relationships and trust grow.  The more we get to know someone, the more comfortable we are and the more apt we are to be ourselves. The more comfortable we are with being ourselves maybe the more we learn about the other person and…ourselves. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more open our hearts become to who He is and who we are IN Him. 

You see, I think (I think! I am not certain) Jesus wanted to make a point in a very dramatic way. He was saying you are not worshipping God. You have made the church into a collection of rules and business that copies the world instead of being a place to gather and manifest the kingdom of God on earth by loving, healing, feeding, teaching, worshipping, and caring for the widow, the poor, and the resident alien. The problem is not so much what you are doing. The problem is where is your heart?? Maybe He was saying that sometimes, you have to get rid of the things that are weighing you down, that are of the world, before you can rebuild not in the Jesus shaped box you wanted, but in the much bigger kingdom that He is bringing to earth and that He alludes to when He speaks of the temple you destroy, that He will raise again in three days. There was a Jesus shaped tomb that He knew was waiting for Him but He also knew that He would not be staying there. Every time we try to make Jesus stay put, He gets up to some kind of saving business that changes us and blows our little box to pieces.

Romans 12:1-2 says  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul doesn’t say, read the book, write a five page book report and you will graduate. He says we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, testing and discerning. Lucky for me at least, there is not a time limit on that assignment. It is not an end, it is a process.

So here is my challenge to you. Read a parable this week. Any parable. Read it carefully and intentionally and ask questions. What am I missing.  I will even give you an example that challenged me. In the parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15: 20-28 (excerpted.)

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in.

I have always focused on the younger son and how wonderful it was that he is redeemed and restored to his family. I always thought the older son was a bit of a brat, sort of throwing a fit because of how it all played out. The part I never payed attention to is the dynamic that happens in 22- through 25. The dad had time to call the caterer, hire a band, invite all his friends before telling his older son.  I am not saying the older son was all sweetness and light. But reading this little detail makes me think maybe he had a little bit more of a legitimate right to his feelings than I previously thought. I always had a picture of the father as a metaphor for God, welcoming the repentant sinner with open arms but what if the dad was supposed to be just a guy who thought he was doing the right thing but in the process of regaining one son, completely lost another? I completely dismissed that aspect of the story because I was focused on one thing and I was certain I understood. What if the focus of this parable is what did the father miss? What are we missing? Who have we not counted? And just to throw another little detail question in there…where is mom? No mention of her anywhere. How often do we do something with loving intentions with an unexpected result because we missed something?

What table have you wished to sit at? What would you bring to that table? Who would NOT be sitting there with you? What box have you tried to fit Jesus into? Who are the resident aliens in your life that you are commanded to love? As we walk through Holy Week and follow Jesus to the cross, I would leave you with this thought. If you were one of the disciples walking this last week of Jesus life and you knew He would be leaving, what would you ask Him?

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Dad if there is another way, let’s do that. He finished with not as I will but as you will. 

Jesus took his gift of questions to His Father, and still, trusted. Isn’t it funny, that the disciples – Jesus’ bffs, missed this exchange because they fell asleep, but we get to witness this intimate conversation between the Father and the Son!

Prayer

Will you pray with me?

Father we thank you for Your gift of Your Son who is still teaching us how to live. We thank you for the gift of Your living Word that sometimes comforts and sometimes shakes us to the core. We thank you for reminding us to pay attention, to stay awake, even as we fall asleep and miss what you are trying to say. For those moments, Father, we thank you for your unending grace and trust that you will not leave us asleep, that while we now see through a mirror darkly, you will make all things clear and right in Your time. We thank you for time knowing that you want everyone to come to you and Lord, I know I am one of those who needs that extra time. We thank you for Your church and how you are constantly challenging us to seek You because of all the things we are unsure of we know that Your son is the way, the truth, and the life and we can cling to His hand in the midst of our uncertainty. Wake us up, flip our tables, turn our attention back to You. This week, we remember just how far You have gone to make sure that we know you – all the way to the cross and through the grave to Your Glory. May that always and forever stop us from thinking we are standing firm and put us on our knees before You in awe of that amazing love. May we always, in our uncertainty, trust in You.

Amen

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