Even though I have been here at Good Shepherd going on 2 years now it is always fun to hear stories about the church’s history. I notice that the stories that are shared with me are ones that hold a lot of meaning for people. Like who baptized their children or when their kids were Mary and Joseph in the Christmas Pageant. And some of the stories have been pretty funny. The most memorable story shared with me my first week here, was from one Palm Sunday many years ago when someone brought in a real donkey to process down the aisle of the church here.
Yet it was not his procession that made it memorable it was his use of the church as a bathroom that made it a time many parishioners could not forget even if they wanted to. But how fun! What a memorable story and even though I was not here I will never forget it.
But can you imagine this space being filled with animals? Donkeys and chickens and cows? Like a barn? No way! This is a place of worship. And that is how Jesus felt. The Temple was a place of worship (prayer, sacrifices, alms, reading of the holy word), and it was filled with people selling animals and money changers exchanging one type currency for another like a Bank. It probably did not feel like a place where one could be in a prayerful state with God.
Today, we probably would not have a church filled with livestock being sold but it would be like using this place to sell electronics (phones and wireless headsets), or racks of designer clothes, or tables filled with sushi and smoothies, or even tickets to sporting events or concerts. Could you imagine that? The church filled with stuff for us to wear, things to do, and eat which would not have anything to do with why were here or the purpose of this place.
And if Jesus were to come here and see all of that, he would probably say the same things to us as he did to the people in the Temple. That God’s house is a place of worship and it is not meant to be a marketplace.
But with this image of this place being filled with commerce just like that temple in Jerusalem...do you think Jesus is really concerned about the place being transformed into a market? Do you really think that it is the transformation of the worship space that has Jesus so upset? That he’s really concerned about a building?
Or do you think that maybe Jesus’ concern is not for the building itself but for the people in it? That maybe he’s more concerned with how making the Temple a place of commerce instead of a place of worship distracts them from putting value in a personal relationship with God?
You know this account of Jesus in the temple from John’s Gospel is at the beginning of his ministry which is much different from the other gospels whose account of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple is at the end of his ministry. Which means that Jesus is worried about their spiritual well-being so they are prepared for what is to come. And he witnesses that they have literally put God on the back burner transforming a place of worship and prayer that fosters a relationship with God into a place that is all about them.
We know what this looks like right? It might not be setting up shop in church or in a temple. But we all know what it means to be distracted in our spiritual life. To fill our lives with so much stuff that God gets placed around the periphery of our busy lives. So we know what it means to put God on the backburner to not trust God and take things upon ourselves (in an attempt to control a situation), by not praying or participating in worship, or just being so focused on our own stuff that we forget about him.
It happens. It’s a real problem we struggle with...the days go by so fast and it’s time to go to bed and it’s like oh my goodness I didn’t pray today or even think about God.
As it is Lent, a time of preparing to make the journey to the cross with Jesus we are called to self reflect and to become mindful of the things in our lives that are making it difficult for us to have a fruitful and faithful personal relationship with God.
What is it in your life that is making it difficult for you to be in relationship with God? Your job, your finances, your marriage, your health, your lack of direction, or loss of hope? These things sometimes make it difficult to trust and have faith. They make it hard to want a close relationship with our creator. It can be hard to talk to God through prayer, to understand who God is through reading scripture, or through making choices that bring you closer to God. Choices that honor him and are an example of his goodness in our lives--these are difficult to make when the outside world pulls us in other directions.
But Jesus sees this struggle in today’s Gospel. He sees how people are so caught up in their own lives (which is not a bad thing) it’s just that the result for them is that they have forgotten about God even when they are in his holy house. This can happen to us too.
The head nurse at a hospital had been on strike with her colleagues a couple years back when she finally had to cross the picket line out of concern for patient care. Because of the strike there was a limited amount of staff and so she was beyond exhausted by the time she made it back to her office one afternoon.
And She received a call that someone needed to check on room 25, and inside the room was an elderly man who had not been checked on for most of the day because of the lack of staff. So she went in to see if he needed anything. And he asked her if she would mind clipping his toenails and washing his feet.
By this time the nurse is just done-physically and emotionally fried, but she says yes and begrudgingly kneels down and begins to care for the man’s feet. Time passes by and then she feels a tap on her shoulder. She looks up to find the man has tears in his eyes and he whispers thank you.
It was then that women knew she was looking into the eyes of Jesus. That this man in need was Jesus to her. Seeking her out in the midst of a time that did not bring out the best in her. Calling her back to him. Jesus made that nurse aware that she was not alone and that God wants a relationship with her even when the world is closing in and when we don’t always feel like our best selves.
Jesus’ seeks us all out to be in relationship with him even when life gets distracting. He calls us to see him in others so that we know that we are never in this world alone.
We can’t forget that the most important relationship in our life is with God. And that is what Jesus is worried about today! He doesn't care about stuff, he cares about us and the ways in which we trust and rely on God--the ways that we are faithful because when we have faith in our Lord and Savior who loves us more than we could ever imagine then we do have the strength to take on the challenges of this world and we have the capability to be in a better relationship with one another. Just like that nurse.
A “right” relationship with God is that what we do honors and glorifies God. Caring for a man’s feet. Forgiving your sibling for their hostility. Making an effort to listen. Realizing that you’re impatient and changing. All these things glorify God as we turn ourselves toward God to make these things happen and when we turn toward God we also are better people to those around us.
You could say that’s why God gave the 10 commandments. They are meant not as a micromanaging tool or a means to put the fear of God in us but rather a way to guide us through instilling discipleship and formation so that we can have a good relationship with our creator. If you turn to the first lesson for today in Exodus the first of three commandments are about about the ways we can be in a healthy relationship with God by putting him first, keeping his name holy, and giving him a day of worship and rest. It is through honoring these commandments that our focus is then on God and if our focus is on God then we will be more apt to be kinder and loving to those around us.
God is calling us to be faithful to follow him in all we do so that we don’t become distracted or discouraged by things in this life that cloud us from seeing God’s glory. And as we seek to be more trusting and faithful in our creator we need to remember is that a right relationship with God is not one sided--God too is faithful.
And because God is faithful to us he has not given up on us. He has not forgotten us. He believes in us. He loves us so much that he sent his son to die and beat death so that we would never be separated from his love for us. God is faithful because the words of Jesus would not just be an impossible claim of resurrection, but the words in today’s Gospel of him rising from the dead are proof that Jesus is the Christ. God is faithful because through his son’s death and resurrection he has built the greatest relationship with us where we are gifted with a new life in Christ.
Jesus’ lesson to us today is not about commerce or donkeys or chickens or money but it is about putting God first in our lives. Seeking out a relationship with our creator through prayer and worship and how we treat one another. This Lent Jesus challenges us to live our lives as an embodiment of his love and kindness. May we try to live into this challenge. Amen.