This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on March 8, 2015.
Gospel: John 2:13–22
13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making 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. 16He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After 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.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
That’s how long it took to build the great temple in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. That must have been a pretty impressive structure.
And, as those 46 years passed, this great temple, became much more than a building, a simple place where God could be worshipped. Indeed, in a way, that temple became a sort of god in and of itself.
The temple, one of the finest examples of what humans could build, offered in its permanence and grandeur a sense of security and stability. For many of the Jewish people, the presence of the temple was synonymous with the presence of God. And over that time, instead of life revolving around and depending upon a living God, the life of the faith community revolved around that magnificent building.
While the building of the temple was a well-intentioned and faithful process, over those 46 years, sin, as it always does, made its way into things. Sin, caused these People of God to build a temple where the creator of all things could be domesticated and structured, so that faith could be lived out according to the will and agendas of humans, rather than God. The temple became symbolic of human dependency on humans, rather than God.
Today, over 2000 years later, not much has changed. This imagery of the building of a great temple, applies to our lives both as individuals, as societies, and even as communities of faith.
To illustrate this, we’ll use the game, Jenga.
(At this point, I pulled out a Jenga game and put it on a table.)
Now, when we start out, we see a good, solid structure. But this is the middle, this is what we’ve accomplished in our lives. It’s what we have to show the world. This, is the temple of our lives.
Though today, with the blocks already in place, we sort of have a middle point that we’ve built too.
So, we have this structure, the metaphor for the temples we build in all parts of our lives. But, because we become dependent on our self-sufficiency and independence, we as humans need to become great. We need to be bigger and better, and so here’s what happens. We pull out pieces, important pieces, from the bottom, and put them on top.
The first ones don’t seem so bad, they’re the low hanging fruit:
(I start taking pieces from the structure and putting them on top)
Maybe, in order to reach our goal of greatness, we sacrifice some time for family and friends. Or we take our hurts, disappointments, and feelings of inadequacy, but rather than admit to being vulnerable, we turn these things into strengths.
As a society, in an attempt to make our towns and cities greater, we pull the lives out from under those who have less stuff. Schools, transportation, access to food, and other social concerns seem to be societal luxuries that we are regrettably willing to sacrifice, as we seek greatness.
And in our faith communities, Christian congregations across time and place, get caught up in this quest for greatness. Take just a moment and think of what things we sacrifice, what things are collateral for the sake of becoming a greater congregation, at least according to the measurements and standards of the world.
As people think, I continue to build.
It doesn’t take long, and pretty soon, we are a little greater, at least in the eyes of humans. We can build something pretty big, and we could build it even higher and greater if we start taking blocks from others…
Over time, in our desperation for greatness, the low hanging fruit becomes greater sacrifices, and maintaining what we have built, maintaining the god of our own greatness, in whatever metaphorical temple form that is, becomes the sole focus of our lives.
But as we build lives of greatness, we also build lives of isolation. After a while, we’ve become so unstable, that our greatest concern is keeping things upright. We lose all flexibility and our comfort zones get smaller and smaller. If there is any change, we topple. Or, if we allow others to get to close to us, they might touch us with their love and lives, and in doing so could cause us to topple.
As we look at our unstable Jenga tower, it reflects the sentiment of a recent newspaper article titled “The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us”, George Monbiot writes about our state, saying there is
…A life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.
As we take stock of our situation, our vision, our hope, is that a miracle will happen, and restore some of our old life. Finally, when we realize we can’t save ourselves, we look for a savior to come and save us.
The Good News is that we have been given that savior, in Jesus Christ. And with unending love for us and this creation, Christ comes to us, and our various temples of human accomplishment, just as he entered the Temple long ago, and… well.. he…
.tip table over Jenga pieces fall to floor.
Well, Jesus turns the tables over, he turns the whole world upside down.
Then, with our old life in ruins, Christ makes for us a new temple. A temple in our community of faith, in our hearts, and in our world that is worthy to be the house of the God who created all things.
But it’s not a Jenga temple, or anything that shows the greatness of human accomplishment. Rather, this new temple is more like a cross, a cross metaphorically made out of legos, (take out lego cross) a cross that connects all of us and all of creation, regardless of color, shape, or size, with God, and with each other. A cross that is the most foolish of ambitions for us humans, but yet has the power, the power of God, to change and transform and save each of us, and all of creation.
Through the waters of baptism we are sealed with the cross, God’s loving presence with us in the temple of our lives. And, through the meal of Holy Communion, we are given this loving power, as Jesus’ life is broken and poured out for us again and again. This morning, may we go forth from this place, leaving the pieces of our old lives and human puruits behind, and so that we may share the life of Jesus Christ, dying on a cross, and being broken and poured out for all of creation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,