Sermon For March 8, 2015 ~ Third Sunday Of Lent

John 2:13-22 or Mark 11:12-19

“Cleansing The Temple Of Our Heart”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail:

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog:

Jesus Cleansing the Temple, Jeffrey Weston

Jesus Cleansing the Temple, Jeffrey Weston

Today’s scripture text is one of the most iconic in the gospels, especially in the journey Jesus makes toward his last week, death, and resurrection.  What is typically called “Jesus driving the moneychangers from the temple” is too often misinterpreted and misunderstood, and usually in a way that points a finger away from the speaker and at someone else.  For some, it is an indictment on using sacrifices, and is brought up in contemporary culture with not-so-veiled anti-Semitic overtones, as if somehow they are still killing doves and goats over at Temple-Tifereth Israel or Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple.  They aren’t, and haven’t been for over a millennia.  Sometimes it is brought up as means to diminish worship in a sanctuary or other traditional religious building, giving the impression that Jesus was an “out of the church box” kind of guy.  It wasn’t that at all.

Or you do what I do – mistakenly of course – and make the actions of Jesus on that day, tossing over the tables of the moneychangers, as a blanket condemnation of capitalism and all things materialistic.  Well, I do think Jesus had a lot to say about how we use our resources and was especially critical of religious folks who were compassionate when they talked but cruelly selfish in their actions, and I do think Jesus understood systemic injustice and the place of money in oppressing others: but this isn’t where he does that.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan go to great measures in their book Borg_Crossan_The_Last_Week_sm, that sacrifices, the temple, nor capitalism were what Jesus was railing against in this scripture.  Sacrifices offered to God and temple worship, in fact, were well established parts of the faith in which he was raised and in which Jesus participated.  Rather, it was for Jesus this somewhat violent moment in the Jerusalem Temple was an absolute criticism of violent domination by authorities in power and any religious collaboration with it.  Jesus calls us to stand agains those forms of religion, and for us that would include Christianity, that were and are used to support imperial violence and injustice.

Borg and Crosson make the case – and reading Mark’s version of this more than John’s – that there were, in fact, huge systems of oppression and suffering that the Jewish people were suffering under by the Roman imperial government that were not being dealt with by anyone, much less by those in charge of the faith who clearly had to overlook the vast majority of the teachings of the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets to be so myopic!  What the last week in Jesus life would uncover in such a dramatic way was the way in which religion – and we are part of this evaluation – forgets its roots and calling and doesn’t just ignore the injustices, but begins to conspire with them in order to make a few folks at the top comfortable and, ostensibly, safe.

It is therefore fitting that this scripture is read on the weekend our nation would be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the series of marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama by civil rights leaders and every day citizens determined to stand up to violent imperial (read that: “state”) violence and rampant injustice.  In that instance it was the prevention of citizens the right of full access to voting, a critical right in a representative democracy like our own.

SelmaClergyI have always been touched by the moment in the story where King realizes that a new influx of energy and awareness needs to be brought in, especially in light of how bloody the confrontations had already come.  He invited clergy of all faiths who had seen the televised bloodshed of the first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge and who were horrified by what they saw, enough so to risk coming to be a part of the next attempt, and the next.  And while the marchers did eventually make it, it was not until after the murder of James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, who had come to Selma to march in the second march.  I am touched by this not because I am unaware nor unaffected by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of African Americans who had been killed or injured working for civil rights, justice, and peace, but because the call to be in solidarity is what I as a white pastor need to hear in this ongoing narrative.  And it is convicting at best.

What Jesus was calling us to that day in the temple in Jerusalem certainly was not to start pointing fingers at other people and how their worship or their faith is lacking.  Jesus almost always starts first and foremost with a call to examine ourselves.  In the temple that day he saw a terrible disconnect between the rituals and words of faith and the conditions of those for whom the faith leaders purported to speak and act.  Jesus was angry that the injustices of the world seemed a far off fantasy to the worshipping life of the congregation, and called us always to examine our own hearts first and foremost when we worship to see if our ceremony reflects the reality of those we serve, if the incantations of the pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, minister actually refer to reality or to fantasy for those who are the least, the lot, the loneliest, the last by society’s standards.

This brings to mind Psalm 51, a classic text for Lenten devotions, which reads, in part,

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

The marches in Selma are but one example of where people of faith understood that what we do in the name of God in the inner parts of our sanctuary absolutely have to reflect, be in touch with, have some effect upon the world around us, especially for those who are oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten.  And if they are not intricately bound, then we risk being an abomination to God.

My beloved congregation, can we feel the wrath of Jesus which was poured out on the complacent and complicit of his day, who allowed worship to go on no matter what the hell was for the people beyond the sanctuary walls, and learn from him.  Can we always understand that what goes on here in this building is intricately tied to the lives of those who live at our doorstep and around the world?  If we learn this sooner rather than later, we will have the time and opportunity to stand with Jesus and transform the world.