The audio was recorded at our Traditional Worship Service on March 8, 2015.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Turning Over Tables and Imagining New Possibilities
We find ourselves in John’s Gospel and encounter a familiar story. Jesus’ temple tantrum. All four Gospels narrate it. But John changes things a little. The other three Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke - have this temple tantrum near the end of the story. Jesus’ clearing of the temple becomes a catalyst for his arrest and trial. But not John.
In John’s account this moment happens at the beginning. Jesus hasn't done much yet. He’s been to Cana. He’s turned water into wine. He’s been thrust into the spotlight by his mom. But that’s it. His ministry still has that new car smell.
So Jesus journeys to Jerusalem for the Passover, the first of three Passover celebrations in John. Upon walking into the temple is met by the hustle and bustle of a marketplace. And to be fair, this was needed for the temple to survive. The sacrificial animals. The money changing. It was all needed. But Jesus drives them all out. Upsetting the rhythm of the day. Making quite a statement. Shocking the temple system.
Some of the Judeans approach him - “What sign can you show us for doing this?” That’s code in John for displays of Jesus’ power - his signs. The wedding at Cana was a sign. Perhaps they had been at the wedding - stayed at a B&B for the weekend. They tasted the amazing wine that Jesus used to extend the party. And now they want more! They want another sign of power. Perhaps it will all make sense.
But instead Jesus gets cryptic. “Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it.” That’s a strange thing to say. And did you notice? Jesus changes words. There are two different words for temple in this story. The first one is temple (hieron) -used in verses 15 and 16 for the larger, temple complex. The second word for temple (naos), in verses 19-21, is better understood as sanctuary, the inner place. The dwelling place of God. The holy of holies. It was off limits to normal folks. Only certain priests could enter on certain days of the year.
Here Jesus shifts how we encounter God. No longer in the holy of holies, but present in the beating heart and calloused hands of a carpenter from Nazareth. God present in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. God changes how God encounters the world through Jesus.
We have already heard in John that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And a then a little later, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” God is present in Jesus. Something new is taking shape.
Through Jesus God changes the whole system. The temple system was based on rules and tradition dating back to Abraham. The temple system had be perpetuated by those rules. And it ran like a well-oiled machine. And it was needed.
The livestock was needed. Not everyone was a rancher and ran cattle or sheep, but everyone need them to make a sacrifice to God. And you were not going to travel across Judea with your animal in tow. It might get stolen or die along the way. So you bought one at the temple.
The money changers were needed. When you got to the temple to purchase your sacrificial animal, you had to get rid of that blasphemous, dirty Roman money. You could not use it to buy holy things for the holy purposes of God. So you changed your money.
Jesus upsets this system. What Jesus is doing here is not so much attacking the temple. He is not dismissing it as a part of the people’s lives. But Jesus recognizes that this system is no longer working. God is doing something new.
Traditions can become deadly when they cease to be life giving.
God is no longer present in the temple and its rhythms and rituals and rules. But in Jesus. A living expression of God’s love. This is the story that John tells. And the signs of Jesus are expressions of that love. Healing a crippled man. Restoring the sight of a man born blind. Abundant bread in the wilderness. Raising Lazarus from the dead. These are the signs that God is at work in the world. Not just the temple.
So if Jesus came in here this morning, what would he turn over? What would Jesus help us to re-imagine because it has ceased to point to God? Has ceased to give life. This is hard for churches to talk about and act upon. We like our traditions. We Lutherans do tradition better than most. We German Lutherans do tradition with a great deal of pride. But we must be weary.
Because traditions can become deadly when they cease to be life giving. Traditions become deadly when we get stuck in the ways things are that we can no longer imagine what God can create anew in our midst.
God is present in Jesus - a living expression of God's love.
We remember fondly the things that worked well in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s. But our world in 2015 needs something different. Culture and context have shifted. And if we recognize this and respond we will fade away. That’s what happens.
I am not saying this is us. I don't want to put us in a negative place. We’re actually pretty aware of the shift in our midst. But the question is important. Could we use a little table-turning? Could we use some bold re-imagining of our traditions? We need to be willing to ask ourselves if our traditions exists for themselves, or do they help us to see what God is doing in our midst? And if they are no longer life-giving, do we have the strength to give them up, so that something else may take root? Critical questions for us as a community of faith. And we’ll ask them together.
Or maybe this questions are good for your life or your family’s life together. What do you need to turn over? What do you need to re-imagine so that it is life-giving and points to God? Critical questions for sustaining and nurturing our relationships with God and with one another.
What would Jesus do? If he walked into our midst this morning, what would he turn over? What would he help us to re-imagine? So that it points to God. So that it’s life-giving. Let us as these questions together as we are continually shaped anew by our living God.