TITLE: Is Your God Too Small? SCRIPTURE: John 2:13-22
Gods come in different sizes. Lent is a good time to consider the size of the God we are here to serve.
Do you remember Michael Milken? A decade and a half ago, his name was often in the news. It was Milken who almost single-handedly created the junk bond market that spawned the takeover craze which in turn destroyed some corporations and saddled others with tremendous debt.
For a long while, Milken did quite well for himself. He was a billionaire before he turned forty. But eventually he found himself at the center of the biggest fraud investigation in Wall Street history. He pleaded guilty to six felony counts. His sentence included more than half a billion dollars in fines as well as a lengthy prison sentence.
Milken's downfall was not due to any lack of effort on his part. He was clever and energetic, willing to risk and risk again. The problem lay elsewhere. His god was too small.
For, you see, Milken's god was Wealth, and he was very religious, utterly devoted to his deity. It was this devotion that drove him to steal. Unfortunately, safeguards were so ineffective that his actions had a devastating effective on the national economy and on the lives and fortunes of thousands of people.
Michael Milken had big dreams, and exerted tremendous efforts to realize them, but the god he served was too small, and so he also became small, very small indeed. As he stood in federal court at the conclusion of his trial, he expressed no regret over the damage he had done to so many lives. He spoke as though the only pain he caused was felt by his friends and family.
We are wrong if we see our time as one with a shortage of belief. There is no shortage today. There is considerable belief, today as always, in gods that are not gods, in gods that are too small. These small gods are potent, however; they reduce the stature of whomever worships them.
The Ten Commandments, those laws given by God through Moses, constitute a series of warnings against the most popular small gods. For example, the sabbath commandment warns us against the small god of Work, whose worshipers resort to feverish activity in order to feel they have a right to exist.
The commandment against murder warns us against making our enemy into a small god, for strangely enough, that is what happens when hate comes to rule our life, and our opponent becomes our obsession.
On the other hand, the commandment against coveting warns us against making our neighbor into a small god, for that happens when we regard something our neighbor has as indispensable for our existence.
The Ten Commandments are not simply law in the usual sense, concerned with what is right and wrong. These commandments are about loyalty, our loyalty to the one true God rather than the small gods.
None of the small gods can give us life. All they can do is imprison us. What the commandments warn us against--hatred and lust and falsehood and all the rest--are the traps set for us by these small gods.
It is from these traps that the one true God works to set us free! He rescued his people from slavery in Egypt in the time of Moses. He raised up Jesus from the grip of death on the first Easter morning. And this same God delivers you and me from the narrow existence, the hell on earth that happens when we fall into the trap of some strange god. Yes, the Lord comes today to set us free!
We see this liberation take place when Jesus causes an uproar in the temple at Jerusalem. In he goes one day brandishing a handmade whip, and he starts making trouble! Noisy, stampeding animals; angry, shouting merchants; tables overturned and coins rolling away in every direction. That area of the temple is usually a bustling place, but his outrageous actions reduce it to mayhem. For long afterward they keep talking about it at meetings of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce.
What do you think it is that prompts him? It's not that he opposes trade in the temple. Those dealers perform a necessary service. They provide worshipers from afar with appropriate sacrificial animals and the right kinds of coins to use for donations. They help the temple to function smoothly.
What Jesus rejects is the excessive profit that they make, and the way their trade obscures the temple's purpose as a house of prayer for every sort of person. Once the means to a legitimate end, this trade has become its own justification, so that now even the temple appears as a place to serve small gods, gods who reduce the stature of whomever worships them. No wonder Jesus is angry!
Jesus stands today at the entrance of our hearts. He knows that by ourselves we lack the power to live in the right way. We cannot keep from falling short of the commandments. Yet he is ready to cleanse our hearts and lives of gods that are too small.
The process is not an easy one. Those moments come when we are reduced to chaos and confusion, when animals stampede and merchants shout, when tables are overturned and what seems valuable is lost.
Yet in this way Jesus makes it possible for our hearts to become a true temple. He delivers us from the tyranny of small gods so that we may grow in every way into his likeness. Through the reading of Scripture, through the Eucharistic Feast, through our life together as Christian people Jesus comes to us this morning, eager to re-consecrate the temple of our lives so that we may offer true worship during the days to come.
To the Father, whose law is perfect and revives the soul; to the Son, who cleanses us from every stain; and to the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts and our lives with gratitude, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all mighty, majesty, and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (BH #206, 216; CH #5; CP #306; LBW #559; PH #466; TH #493; TNCH #42; UMH #57; VU #326; WR #96)
At the Name of Jesus (BH #198; CO #538; CP #375; JS #371; LBW #179; LW #178, PH #148; TH #435; UMH #168; VU #335; WR #321)
Lord of the Dance (CO #527; GC #708; JS #554; PH #302; TH #352; UMH #261; VU #352; WR #118) also known as I Danced in the Morning
My Hope is Built (BH #406; CH #537; LBW #293, 294; LW #368; PH #349; TNCH #403; UMH #368; WR #405)