John 2:13-22, Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Cor 1: 18-25

Cycle #1: Old Testament

Let me tell you a story.  It’s a story of joy and pain. A story of misplaced devotion, misspent energy, idolatry. But ultimately a story about choice. Actually, it is three stories; but one story.

A long time ago in a land far, far away there lived a king named David. King David ruled over a nation that wanted nothing more than to be like all the other nations. Despite all kinds of warnings from prophets, and wise men, and old guys sitting around drinking coffee, this became their goal: to be like everyone else.

And so they crowned for themselves a king, and gave him power to tax, and to conscript, and to marry foreign wives, and to build for their God – a god, it should be mentioned, very unlike all other gods – a temple.

But even though this God of theirs let the king get away with all kinds of slip ups, there was one thing he didn’t let him get away with: violence. And so God told him he couldn’t build his temple after all. A very unique God indeed!

Then along came King David’s illegitimate son Solomon, who followed after David. Solomon was the wisest person ever to live, and tall, and handsome. And quite promiscuis, and very proud, and equally stubborn. And Solomon built an amazing temple for God, complete with gold, accolades, and prestige in the ancient world. And in to this temple Solomon poured all his energy. Indeed, it made him famous. But under Solomon some very terrible practices were introduced, according to the scriptures. And he did it all by telling everyone he ruled by divine right and that the social order is the will of God! When he died the people rebelled, saying  Solomon “made our yoke heavy.” Even more important, because of his unjust, oppressive policies, God himself said the kingdom needs to be split in ½, as a sign that God doesn’t put up with injustice, oppression, xenophobic policies, war or violence in the name of God.

After Solomon, it was clear that you could be a Jew and both love and hate the temple, all at the same time. Love it because it was theologically the center of the universe. But hate it because of all that it stood for, all the terrible things the leaders and priests did in the name of God.  We see this love-hate relationship in all the prophets. Who had the amazing courage to critique the very political, economic, religious, and symbolic center of their universe.  Isaiah said about the temple that it was “the navel of the cosmos.” But he also said that God has had enough of their worship, his soul hates it! Isaiah saw that the people had misplaced their loyalties, and were focusing their zeal not on God and God’s way, but on the temple and its oppressive ways.

Some of our most well-known justice passages are actually also worship and temple critique passages: Amos 5 hammers the idea that just because people might be worshipping they are somehow now excused from the responsibilities of justice! “I hate, I despise” your worship, he says. Micah, too, rails against people worshipping God on Sunday’s and living like pagans the rest of the week, “With what shall I come before the Lord?” he asks, sacrifices? Bigger sacrifices? Absurdly enormous sacrifices? Even my own children? NO! Jeremiah is threatened by the king when he critiques the temple and all the politico-eco-religio-socio oppression it symbolizes. Watch out who you point your finger at! Zeal for the house of God nearly cost Jeremiah his life!

Now these prophets did’t just stop at critique, they don’t just say NO to the brokenness in the Temple system. They say Yes to a new vision, a new way of living together. They say Yes to the wisdom of God, which was very unlike everyone else.

          Isaiah: Rather, “make yourselves clean” by “seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow” (Is 1:11,14,17).

          Amos before thundering, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

          Micah“do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.

          Joel: God’s spirit will be poured out on all flesh.

          Jeremiah: seek the peace of the city where you live, even though it’s not the city you want to live in.

          These prophets, according to Walter Brueggemann, are saying to their people they need to “let go of the old world of king and temple that god had now taken,” and “receive from God’s hand a new world which it did not believe possible and which was not the one it would have preferred or chosen (Roadsigns, pg 154).”

Before the people was a choice:

          The wisdom of the world is institution, death, decay, fear, debt, taxes, oppression, bankruptcy, suffering, division.

          The wisdom of God is justice, love, hope, freedom, care, community, equality, forgiveness, and joy.

          There was zeal for the house of God; or zeal for the God of the house.

But the people didn’t listen to the prophets. They continued to misspend their energy. And so, 350 years after Solomon built the temple, God, through the Babylonians, destroyed it. God, you might say, was cleaning house.

Cycle #2: Jesus

Later, when the people returned to the land, the Bible says there was debate about whether or not they should rebuild the temple. Most assumed things would change this time. And so they rebuilt the temple.

400 years later , at the turning of time, little had changed. Turns out the leaders still wanted nothing more than to be just like everybody else. In this case: empire. The temple was still the center of political oppression, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation of all the empire was trying to do. The temple recorded debts, was primarily responsible for foreclosures, and collected taxes. The priests and leaders were well known to be among the wealthiest, and stingiest, of people. Above all that was the religious power the temple had. All Jewish men and their families were by law required to make pilgrimage to temple 3 times a year. Weeklong trips like that are expensive, plus loss of wages, plus costs of the sacrifice, plus paying the tax on your animal if it had any defects, plus the cost of buying back from the priests the meat you just bought and sacrificed! This was expensive. BUT, this was how your sins were forgiven. How could you not pay the taxes, make the trip, offer the sacrifice? Your entire religious worldview was tied intricately to this oppressive system. Or so they said.

There came along another prophet, with similar ideas as Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah . He came along with the idea that the temple is not the center of the cosmos, not the center of God’s activity, not the place for forgiveness of sins. He came preaching against zeal for the temple.

John reports that this man, Jesus, communicated these ideas very early in his ministry. So early, that it seems to function as a summary of everything that is to follow.
In the midst of the most important religious and legal festival Jesus storms in to the political, economic, social, and religious capital of Judaism and performs a singular act of civil disobedience. While all eyes are on him, he cleanses the temple, John using the same word here as he uses elsewhere for “exorcism.” Jesus exorcises the demons of exploitation, of oppression , exclusion, bigotry and dead religion. In freeing the animals, he seems to be saying to us all, “Leave, get out of here! There’s nothing here for you. This place is dying, and dead.” Jesus is condemning not Judaism as a religion, from which it would be impossible to separate him. And not Jews in general, whom he surrounded himself with. But rather temple-political leadership, whom he calls “whitewashed tombs, and hypocrits.” Jesus was cleaning house!

Jesus, like the prophets before him, didn’t  just stop at critique. He didn’t just say NO to the brokenness in the Temple system. He even more emphatically says Yes to a new vision, a new way of living together. He said Yes to the wisdom of God, the gospel of God, which was very unlike everyone else.

Rather that we are all to “love the Lord  your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” He came along with the idea that divine worship does not excuse us from divine justice. That our worship and relationship to God must spill over into the rest of our week, the rest of our relationships, and that at its core religion is about being like God, and having passion for the things of God. What does the Lord require? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Forgiveness, salvation, politics, & community are now centered in life in Christ, and not the temple. Not the temple, not the institution, not the church. But Christ. Like the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls before him, Jesus clearly sees his own community as the new temple. Jesus displaced the idea that forgiveness and salvation are tied to expensive temple sacrifice. Replacing it instead by freely offering forgiveness to us apart from the temple apparatus. Jesus displaces the image of a God we can only meet in the sanctuary. Replacing it instead with a God so intimately connected to our lives that we can call him “Abba, Father.” Jesus displaces the idea of community as hierarchal, class-based, and earned. He replaces it with the ideas of equaility, acceptance, table fellowship, and non-partiality. Paul said about the church, “You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” John Howard Yoder, in Politics of Jesus, says,“The good news is not centrally or merely the remission of guilt but the creation of a new community.” Walter Brueggeman, Jesus was saying to his people they need to “let go of the old world of king and temple that god had now taken,” and “receive from God’s hand a new world which it did not believe possible. (Roadsigns, pg 154).” A new community was born!

Before the people was a choice:

          The wisdom of the world is institution, death, decay, fear, debt, taxes, oppression, bankruptcy, suffering, division.

          The wisdom of God is justice, love, hope, freedom, care, community, equality, forgiveness, and joy.

          There was zeal for the house of God; or zeal for the God of the house.  And, if you remember, zeal for this house did cost Jesus his life.

But the people didn’t listen to this prophet either. They continued to misspend their energy. And so, several years after Jesus’ temple cleansing, the temple leaders, through the romans, destroyed Jesus body. And God raised him up three days later, vindicating Jesus new vision and new way of living together.

 

 

Cycle #3: Today’s Church

Later, there was again debate about whether or not God’s people should rebuild the temple. Most assumed things would change this time. And so they rebuilt the temple, or at least its equivalent.

2000 years later, at the turning of the millennium, little has changed. Turns out leaders still want nothing more than to be just like everybody else. Power, acceptance, prestige; these are the ways of too many churches today. On Tuesday night in our Bible study we talked about zeal for the house of God that replaces zeal for the God of the house. We said that’s why we think bigger is better. That’s why when we think of church growth we think of attracting people just like us. That’s why church growth strategies can indeed fill your seats using marketing strategies rather than “making disciples by teaching them everything [Jesus] taught.” We said that’s why we as a congregation are “so busy doing church we’re not really involved in ministry (HMC Bible study group, 3-10-2009).” That’s why so much is invested in our buildings, making them elaborate monstrous symbols of power rather than places out of which justice flows, and love of God is centered.

Today, like Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah an d Jesus, we have prophets among us who are saying that some parts of our reality as a Western church is dead, and needs to die. Prophets among us who are critiquing the church, but who like the church are offering a better alternative vision for life together based on the gospel.

These prophets, Brian McLaren, Leslie Newbigin, John Yoder, Conrad Kanagy, are saying No to:

          The fact that Mennonites today are “more ready to embrace a national citizenship (Roadsigns, pg 129).”

o   That’s why most American Christians don’t tithe today. Because they see our country as good enough. Because they see themselves as good enough.

o   That’s why it’s possible for well known mega-church pastors to unveil plans for global evangelism called “P.E.A.C.E” without ever actually talking about peace, or peacemaking.

o   That’s why we encourage our children to “be respectable, professional, honorable and wise,” which is the “same message that the world gives about success. Too rarely do we challenge them to consider the rewards of being sent into the world for the sake of the kingdom (Roadsigns, pg 131).”

          That’s why it’s so much easier to bog down in discussions about identity and vision as a congregation than to actually just “do what we already know is required of Christ’s disciples (Roadsigns, pg 130).”

          Kanagy strongly says no to the racial division among our churches that persists. We “wander away from God,” just like we “wander away from those on the margins. Because the poor and discriminated against simply are not strategically important to those who are in the middle accumulating wealth, status, and power (Roadsigns, pg 132).”

o   That’s why “many Mennonites are unaware of the realities of Racial/Ethnic members in their own churches (Roadsigns, pg 152.).” Our brothers and sisters in the Texas Mennonite Convention, mostly Hispanic, feel alienated and powerless in mostly white Western District Conference. This, sadly, is true across the board of MCUSA, “There is a table where white Mennonites are making decisions and resources are allocated, but Racial/Ethnic persons aren’t at that table.” Roadsigns, pg 120.

o   That’s why it’s so easy to resist immigration, rather than to see it as an opportunity to bring the gospel to the nations, who now happen to be on our doorstep.

If we aren’t careful, zeal for this building will cost us our life. Thankfully, God, it seems, is again cleaning house.

Now, Jesus knew that the institution he’d set foot in when he entered Jerusalem was a dying thing. He knew that God intended to bring a new thing into being. I believe that God intends to do the same thing with the Church. The Church doesn’t have to suffer complete destruction, but it does have to die to the old way of being, to let something new come to be. If it doesn’t, God will surely replace it just as God replaced the Temple.

We need to awaken to the hunger that we have, the one we’ve been taught to fear. We need to abandon the supposed safety of our institutional way of being and let a new wind blow through this place.

Hear me. God is going to clean house. Maybe not today. Maybe not for 30 years. It took 30 years for the destruction of the Temple to complete God’s work of ending an institution that made victims in order to perpetuate itself. No matter how long it takes, though, God is going to clean house. We can join the work, and stop spending energy on a dying institution. We can stop thinking that believing in Jesus is enough, and start actually believing Jesus.  We can embrace Jesus way of doing church, and life, family and politics, worship and mission, and peace. We can be a part of the wind that God wants to blow through this place. We can be the body of Christ.

Before the people was a choice:

          The wisdom of the world is institution, death, decay, fear, debt, taxes, oppression, bankruptcy, suffering, division.

          The wisdom of God is justice, love, hope, freedom, care, community, equality, forgiveness, and joy.

          There was zeal for the house of God; or zeal for the God of the house.

We have a choice, we can abandon ourselves to the God of this house, and build our house on the Rock of Ages. We can embrace the wisdom of God and of Jesus cross, which is foolishness to the world. We can decide to believe Jesus and to see our best in his mission. We can like Jesus clean our congregation, our denomination, our families and mission and embrace the wisdom of God.

Or, like Michael Hardin says, “we can set our tables back up, collect our coins that are scattered all over the floor, and go outside to round up our cattle and sheep.”

One Response to “Cleaning House”

  1. Judy Hoffhien Says:

    We need to be cleaning up our lives, our communities, church, and if possible, our nation and world. As someone once said, we cannot do everything, but each of us can do something. This is how transformation begins and continues.

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