Jealous, Zealous God
style='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal'>I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – Amen
At our house I do a lot of dishes – Kelly is a great cook and so we have fallen into the pattern of Kelly cooking and making the what we enjoy, and I cleaning up – now I don’t totally mind this, sometimes I begrudge the time it takes me away from other things, but I actually enjoy the orderliness of cleaning
Deep inside me there is the desire to order things
In fact, at the end of the day, once the kids are all in bed, and it is time to relax, I don’t just sit in front of the TV very often
Not saying that I don’t enjoy the TV, but I don’t just sit watching… I usually have on my lap my laptop computer and I am busy playing a game of solitaire
I play a Spider solitaire which is basically a game of ordering things
My mind just works that way, I am generally always thinking in a linear, orderly way
I tell you this because today we have three passages of scripture that speak to us about the ordering of life
We began in Exodus with The Ten Commandments
Although there are apparently 613 commandments in the Old Testament
The Ten Commandments reign as the most recognized and influential
Many would say that they are the basis for modern law
They are the understanding for the ordering of the world
Commandments from God continue to cast an influential shadow during the life of Jesus
A lawyer asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
All the Law, all of God’s ordering of the world – and all the teachings of scripture by the prophets, inspired by God, for rebuking the mis-order of the ancient Hebrews
All your heart – all your soul – all your mind
Or as one contemporary translator put it - all your passion, prayer and intelligence
Secondly - love your neighbor as yourself
Most scholars agree that The Ten Commandments can be divided between these two categories
With the first five falling under the first half of loving God with all your passion, prayer and intelligence
1. I am the LORD thy God, Thou shalt have no other gods
2. No graven images or likenesses
3. Do not take the LORD's name in vain
4. Remember the Sabbath day, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy
5. Honour thy father and thy mother
And the later five falling under a relationship to our neighbour
6. Thou shalt not kill
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
8. Thou shalt not steal
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness
10. Thou shalt not covet
Today we also have our reading from 1st Corinthians and the monumental statement about what orders and governs our lives
For the wise, the scribe, the debater of this world, Jews and Greeks – it is foolishness and a stumbling block to logic
But for us Christians, brothers and sisters – The Cross… is the power of God
It shames the wise of this world; Because Jesus Christ is the VERY source of life
And St. Paul continues by stating that Jesus is Righteousness and Sanctification and Redemption
Finally we come to the story traditionally known as ‘The Cleansing of the Temple’
Where Jesus, upon entering the temple and seeing the money changers and seeing the merchants of animals for sacrifices
Jesus clears house – Jesus, in what many call a display of righteous anger, makes a whip out of cords and drives the animals from their stalls and over-turns the tables that a moment ago held the commerce of the Temple
Jesus in the centre of the chaos declares “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”(John 2:16)
Jesus in cleansing the temple is declaring ‘Our Father in heaven – has a proper order – a proper purpose for His house
This display of emotion that we commonly understand to be ‘anger’ seems out of character for Jesus
Jesus, who in a few weeks we will witness, did not offer any physical resistance
Even when he was falsely accused and sentenced to death – death upon a cross
Jesus who calmly accepted His responsibility even in the face of the greatest offense to a person – brutal, humiliating death
This is the same man who fashioned a whip out of rope and drove the animals out of the temple and overturned the money tables
Anger seems so out of character
Maybe the term anger is the problem
You see in our modern understanding of anger – we see that akin to rage
And it coming from an out-of-control – harmful perception
But like so many terms that have changed over time – anger is a misunderstood term to our modern ears
And, in fact, nowhere does it actually say, in all four Gospels that it was ‘anger’
The term used was ‘zeal’ or ‘zealous’
This is a word of passion – of intense emotion often associated and followed by action
And Zealous is from the same Hebrew word for Jealous
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me (Exodus 20:5)
Our God is intensely passionate for us – and intensely passionate for how the world is ordered
That passion for the ordering of the world – that zeal can still be understood, to our modern ears, as Righteous anger, good anger, healthy anger.
Righteous anger is when people are deeply angry at something that is wrong
· For example, Abraham Lincoln was angry at slavery. That was righteous anger.
· Martin Luther King, Jr. was angry at racial discrimination. That was righteous anger.
· Nelson Mandela was angry at apartheid in South Africa. That was righteous anger.
There is always a time and a place for righteous anger – even, and especially if the cost is high
In our personal, day to day, lives when we see any form of injustice, it makes us mad inside.
There are so many examples of injustice that we can’t count them.
Some simple examples are when we see a bully beating up on a young kid,
When we see a thief stealing an old woman’s purse,
When we see a group of girls being catty and mean to another girl at recess,
When hear of abuse in a relationship - The list goes on and on.
The Lord God has wired us in such a way that most healthy human beings are angry inside when we see evil and injustice being done to someone.
We are angry at evil and injustice, just as Jesus was angry that day in the temple
Now it is true that the story of the cleansing of the temple does come near the end in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Jesus' outburst in the temple was one of the last straws that led to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
And this is the reason that we have it in preparation for Easter, during our time of Lent
But in John's Gospel, the story comes in chapter 2.
It's not near the end but very near the beginning. What's going on here?
Jesus' passionate demonstration at the temple is the second sign in the narrative. John’s Gospel which shares the story of Jesus using ‘signs and wonders’
The occasion of the first sign is among family and friends at a wedding in Cana.
Do you remember? They ran out of wine at the wedding and Jesus told the steward to fill six stone jars with water.
Then he told the steward to taste the water, and the water had been turned to wine.
That story is deeper than wishing Jesus would come to our parties!
John tells us ‘a particular detail’ that we sometimes miss in our fascination with all that wine:
The stone jars were used for the rites of purification. Jesus turns the purification water into wine.
By the time of Jesus, an elaborate system of purification had been developed.
Some things were considered pure and others impure.
Women were impure seven days after the birth of a son,
14 days after the birth of a daughter.
Dead bodies were impure.
People with blemishes such as leprosy were impure.
Certain foods were impure… and the list had gotten very, very long.
The temple was a complex institution in the first century. For Israel the Temple in Jerusalem was God's permanent dwelling place, a sign of the covenantal promise of eternal presence.
The sacrificial rites were administered here according to biblical law by priests descended from priestly lineage.
Jews throughout the land, and beyond, made pilgrimages at feast times.
The temple was a potent symbol that bound Jews in a common identity.
At the same time, there grew a seed of mistrust, the temple priests evoked resentment because of their inherited status, their connection to Roman authorities, and their distance from those who suffered under imperial powers.
People would bring their Roman and Greek coins with images of the emperor on those coins.
Such coins were inadmissible in the temple because they were unclean due to the pagan image of the Caesars on those coins.
Those coins with the image of Caesar would have to be exchanged for Jewish “kosher” coins. The money-changers made good profits.
One scholar, that I read, indicated that the profit was as much as 15 times the normal rate – and the animals made available were equally over priced
That the Priestly ruling family business was, by today’s standards, a multi-million dollar venture over only a few significant times of the year
And it is suggested that this excessive abuse, this deep gouging was the cause of Jesus’ anger
But may I suggest that this was likely, at best, only a small part of our Lord’s Zealous behaviour
Changing water into wine at Cana was not so much the way to a great party, as a way of breaking down the barriers.
It was a different way of seeing the world and God's presence in it.
It's no accident that the miracle at Cana was the first sign Jesus performed in the Gospel of John.
It's also no accident that the next action takes place in the temple, for the temple was at the heart of the purity system.
Jesus challenged the purity system in almost everything He did. It cannot be accidental that so many Gospel stories talk about Jesus getting His life dirty.
Story after story, person after person, like Israel's greatest prophets, Jesus longed to draw people back to the heart of God, back to the first commandment:
"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no others god before me." (Exodus 20:2)
This is a commandment grounded in relationship--the relationship between God and God's people.
Remember who you are… Jesus was saying,
And even more importantly, remember whose you are.
Your worth is not measured in categories
But in God's liberating miracle bringing you out of Egypt, out of exile, out of whatever bondage you were in,
Out of whatever binds you now.
The Cleansing of the Temple story asks some other important questions
Where is God? … Where, that is, do you expect to meet God, to experience God, to participate with God in God's ongoing work?
David Lose a Professor at Luther Seminary suggests that clergy and lay people answer these questions differently.
He suggests that Preachers -- and church professionals in general -- are likely to talk about God at work in the world and the invitation each of us has to participate in that work.
These convictions come from our theology of vocation -- the belief that all Christians are called by virtue of their Baptism to participate in God's work to care for all creation.
This theological category is incredibly important to us and, as a rule, we are committed to teaching and preaching a vibrant theology of vocation.
He further contends that most lay people believe that most of their lives -- at home, school, work, volunteering, civic responsibilities, etc. -- aren't particularly worthy of God's attention or the church's.
He states that First: Most of our people believe they are leading their Christian lives most fully and visibly when they are at church or doing church-related things.
The next place is when they are "helping people," whether through their work, volunteering, or more informally.
But most of the "regular" work they do doesn't seem particularly connected to their faith.
Secondly he states that people typically understand "living your faith in daily life" to mean "witnessing" or "sharing your faith,"
And almost immediately after naming it this way they feel guilty because they don't do this as much as they believe they should.
The next most common way of understanding ‘living your faith’ is in terms of character and ethics -- doing a good job, being an honest person, etc.
Very few people can imagine that they are living their faith in the regular and mundane activities of work, school, family life, etc.
I think the account of Jesus' demonstration at the temple invites us to consider the complex relationships between civil and religious life.
I believe that Jesus’ zealous behaviour, both in the temple that day, and the whole of His earthly ministry was challenging us to a relationship, including, but much more than the religious systems
Traditionally it is thought that Jesus’ dissatisfaction stemmed from corruption he perceived among the priestly elites,
Who held significant civil authority as Roman puppets, and whose hypocrisy and disregard for the poor struck a raw nerve in the zealous preacher from Galilee.
The gospels give no real evidence to conclude that Jesus rejected temples as a matter of principle, or that he regarded sacrificial practices as inappropriate.
Yet it is reasonable, when considering this story on the surface, to ask the question – Is this a breakdown in the church – is this the invitation to “Me and Jesus” – a relationship all by ourselves
To this, I would categorically say “no” – for it is Jesus himself that said “I will build My church; and the gates of Hell will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18b)
What Jesus was really about – was bringing us into a new community of faith
The key word to understand in this is – community
This is the reason that we are encouraging Pot-luck dinners, and learning together with our lecture series, or the trips to the Bulldogs or Blue Jays or Anne of Green Gables – or the Easter Eve with a 200 person choir at Hamilton Place
This time of year with the Lenten shadow of preparation cast over us, one key teachings of Jesus – is community - another way to understand a collective relationship of growing in the presence of Lord
As the great song that Louie Armstrong sang – “I see friends shaking hands, saying ‘how do you do’, they’re really saying ‘I love you’”
Many people today may have a sense that they have had enough of religion – but are craving a relationship with God – and church at its best, cultivates the notion of a new community of faith – in which we experience a new dynamic of experiencing God beyond…beyond our daily lives
“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” (verse 19, NRSV)
“But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” (verse 21, NRSV)
John’s interpretation suggests, then, that Jesus’ raised body became a site of God’s presence -- a place where God is encountered in the world.
Not confined to a single point on a map,
Jesus serves as the “place” where God is accessible.
Jesus, who now dwells among his people (and beyond), makes God accessible and extends God’s presence into all aspects of our lives.
Everything therefore has potential to be “sacred,” meaning every dimension of daily living may become a place for encountering God.
What does it look like to follow Jesus for us, in our own time and place?
Lent is a good time to think about difficult or unpopular decisions we make,
As we order our lives as we walk the way of the cross.
Foolishness or something to stumble over…to those perishing
…BUT to us – to us, brothers and sisters in Christ….it is the power of God … Amen