John 2:13-22, Lent III,
I was once accused of having too much passion. No, this is not a story for mature audiences only.
It's a Vacation Bible School story!
At the church I served 5 years ago, we had a story-telling station where every day we LIVED a different Bible story.
We invited the children to enter the past when they waled into the room and became part of the story.
To do this, we built a completely new set everyday so we could explore
Joshua and the Midianites
Daniel and the nearby Lion's Den
and the 1st Century world of the disciples.
Each day got more exciting. For 20 minutes the children LIVED in another world and another time!
Walls crashed down around the children while they were in a prison cell with St. Paul.
Guards broke into the room to arrest the children along with Daniel for praying to the One God.
One day, we were to bring the children into the catacombs to experience the clandestine meetings of the early Christian community. My intern, Adam, my daughter and I brainstormed the layout. We covered the floor in plastic dropclothes, turned over the sofas and joined them to make tunnels, and draped painted sheets over a variety of framework until we had a 8' by 6' cave which you crawled to thru a damp 15' tunnel that even included a dead-end. We tied a rope to the the first person in and each child (and unhappy adviser) crawled along a dark wet tunnel floor until we reached the small cave. It was AMAZING!
I had a PASSION that week and my co-workers thought I was CRAZY. To have those 20 minutes for each group (repeated 4-5 times each day) we spent 6 HOURs (or more) creating the set! (none of my other work got done that week and still I was exhausted)
Have you ever had a passion that consumed you so much you didn't mind the exhausting work?
Have you ever driven you friends and co-workers crazy with what consumed you?
Where is your passion today?
Is it vacationing in a certain place, maybe the beach - where you run off to at every chance?
Is it gardening, or bicycling, or marathon running?
or work? or maybe its playing "Angry Birds" on your cell phone? (an addicting game)
I am sure you can recall that feeling of being consumed.
Long after Jesus' "Cleansed the Temple," his disciples put prophecy, scripture and his actions together to say, "We remember what was written, 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'"
Regular 'house cleaning' may not be YOUR passion, but cleansing the 'House of God' certainly was for Jesus.
I hope the re-enactment with the children helped you envision what a shock it must have been for the clergy of the day who watched it happen.
A little background investigation tells us that this story appears in all 4 gospels, but only in John does it come at the beginning of JESUS' ministry. The others report it during Holy Week, but John is trying to tell us something special with his story that reaches beyond the CHRONOLOGY of the event to the THEOLOGY OF the event.1
Jesus’ objection (to what was going on) went far beyond money in the temple, after all clergy had developed the money exchange in order to OBEY the 10 commandments. Roman coins had the emperor’s face engraved on them, therefore it was an idyllic image. - AND
the Temple Tax wasn’t an arbitrary amount to sustain an oppressive institution. The small tax enabled the daily sacrifice for the SIN of the community to be made - which is also COMMANDED in the Law.
If anything, the clergy were being meticulous in their observation of the Law and they were HELPING people be obedient by providing animals for sacrifice that were ‘perfect’ unblemished specimens which would never make thru the long journey to Jerusalem.
So, if all this activity of money exchange and animal sacrifice was right according to law, what was Jesus’ problem?
The gospel’s author’s THEOLOGICAL point, is
Jesus “disrupts business as usual to present himself as the NEW source of Divine presence. He is the new ‘House of God’”.
Therefore he can speak coded words about tearing down of the current house of God = Temple and rebuilding it with his resurrected body.
Remember ALL of John’s gospel is written from the perspective of those who have peaked at the ending. Jesus, and the story narrator talk as if Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have already happened. - even while the events of his life are still being written. (This is one reason the language of John sounds ‘coded’ & can be hard to follow.)
Actually Jesus isn’t ANTI- Temple at all, he’s so PRO-temple that he can’t stand anything or anyone to distract worshippers from the real point of worship.
One commentator brought the message home when he wrote, “Surely we can be honest enough to acknowledge that we often put ourselves and our institutions at the service of powers that are decidedly less that God.”2
We have a passion problem; not Jesus.
We get embarrassed at such a visible display of passionate devotion.
again we get a nagging feeling, what could drive us into passionate acts for God?
I think someone at our church retreat said, "wouldn't it be nice to be passionate about something again?”
Our passion-problem, isn’t too much, it’s not enough!
New Christians, or new members, like new employees, or new converts to any discipline - enter with passion. They often are more passionate than those of us who have been at it awhile.
Whether we were convicted and ‘born again’ in a moment of dramatic conversion or
our Christian belief is a gradual and incremental process, we can’t sustain Jesus’ level of passion. We lose traction or something happens to turn us away from God. Even when what takes us away, is good work.
This ‘turning away’ from God is the definition of SIN. It is what we confess, not just as individuals, but for our part of humanity.
The corporate SIN of facing away from God is why a daily sacrifice was made at the Temple on behalf of ALL God’s children.
We can’t sustain the passion for obedience, by ourselves.
You remember me telling the story of the little girl who was excited about her new little sister who had just returned from the hospital with their mom. She asked to be alone with the baby. . . the curious parents allowed it, but turned on the baby monitor to listen and heard her ask the new baby, “please, Tell me about God...I’ve almost forgotten.”
We do forget, & get distracted
And we lose our passion.
We feel it in our souls, an emptiness that fills us.
It’s an oxymoron. Being filled with emptiness and yet knowing that something else belongs there....something we have felt before.
It is an ache of loss because we miss what we can’t seem to get back on our own.
The loss is described in stories and parables all through the Bible.
We are in darkness and need the light.
We are hungry and need the bread of life.
We are thirsty and Jesus is living water.
We are lost and Jesus is the way, the door.
We need healing and Jesus makes us whole.
We want to enter into God’s presence again, and Jesus is the New Temple and somehow also the sacrificial lamb.3
In theological language, we need salvation.
In heart language, we need to feel God’s love.
The only solution is to be ‘born again’ and we can’t make it happen, it’s the Spirit’s work.4 Marcus Borg, a scholar and author says, “we can’t make it happen by determination or by learning and believing the right beliefs, but we can ‘mid-wife’ the [Spirit’s] process. Spirituality is midwifery. .. it’s purpose is to help birth the new self and nourish the new life.” Borg defines Spirituality as becoming intentional about a deepening relationship with God.5
If our commitment has been a gradual process, so gradual that we hardly know when to say, “I want to be baptized”, then we can pick any point to recommit and ask to be ‘born again’.
And with this new birth comes new passion. It is born from the ache of the soul. Perhaps the ache is a labor pain. And like any new or RE-newed relationship we become ‘intentional’ by paying attention TO the relationship. We spend time on it. We are thoughtful about the one we love.
We change our habits and practices to MAKE time for our beloved. Very soon, we find we are transformed.
“Spirituality is the process of being ‘born again’ and again and again." (Borg)
From the point of our baptism, and again from our renewal, and again each time we confess that we have turned our faces away from God.
We turn around and are welcomed home to an ever deepening relationship with the one who loves us completely. This One, doesn’t forget what we are like, even we have completely forgotten.
Do you need rebirth into passion?
How can your practice of ‘paying attention’ during the remainder of Lent increase your participation in Christ’s passionate life?
During baptism I ask three questions of the candidate who is committing their life to Christ.
1.- 1st is about belief, who do you say that Jesus is? The Christ! the Revelation of God’s eternal love and promise for humanity.
2.- the 2nd is about how you promise to live. For Brethren, not by a creed or merely a FEW words but by ALL the collected words of scripture that tell us in story and people about God.
3.- thirdly is the vow to community; to support it with your
prayers and presence,your substance and service.
Like marriage, there will be good days and not-so-good ones.
There will be life...and death, sickness and health.
Thru it all God promises to never leave us.
THIS 3rd vow is the foundation of passion.
Our Presence HERE, our prayers TO God and FOR each other,
the Service we offer to the world
all comes from the SUBSTANCE of our lives.
These are the elements that build passion.
Passion is craziness to those around us who can’t see what we see, who are still lost, in darkness, hungry and thirsty, and searching for the way.
We get fired up with the passion of frustration with a world which turns and walks away from the God, while pretending to be holy.We get fired up when we listen to the memories of the young - who are come fresh from God, and the stories of the old who are moving ever closer to God.
Passion comes to us, again and again, when we are immersed.
Whether in the waters of baptism or the life of christian community.
We CAN FEEL that passion again, when we ACT like the passionate One, the Christ,
who WAS, who IS, and who is to COME -
always on fire with the Spirit of God.