This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on March 7, 2021. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
This week, Chloë read for us the John account of Jesus going into the temple. He had some fundamental issues with the ways people were acting, and was skeptical about how they were seeing God, and what that looked like. So before we dive in, I want to ask you all what God looks like to you? There are no wrong answers.
What does God look like to you?
From singing in the choir to a nature walk, I want to encourage you to keep this huge scope of God’s appearance in mind as we dive into our passage today from John.
In today’s story, Jesus heads to Jerusalmen and enters a temple. Upon arriving, he notices people were using the temple space for reasons that were corrupt and immoral. He kicks them out essentially, tells them to get those things out, and to “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”.
It may seem, at first read, that Jesus was being disrespectful, and in some ways, he kind of was. Jesus was showing that he didn’t respect those that were in charge of the operations at the temple, yet in doing so, he was showing respect for what he calls “the true religion”. In being direct about what was and what wasn’t proper usage for the temple, or religious spaces in general, Jesus was speaking to God’s authority above the religious elite and governmental officials.
Jesus was an activist, and this is one of the more famous examples in scripture where we see him doing his activism, standing up in symbolic ways for the systems that were not “of this world”, aka the marginalized, oppressed, and distressed.
Jesus’ ministry and life in general was all about showing the ways in which religious systems had become corrupt, oppressive, and evil. He exposed those things publically. And this made people upset, so much that it of course led to his arrest, trial, and then crucifixion. We read this story in particular during the season of Lent, because it exposes one of the motivating factors for why he was so threatening to those corrupt systems.
Essentially what Jesus was doing was enacting a peaceful protest, which was of course noticed quickly by the governmental officials, who didn’t take too kindly to it. They would have tried to stop him, so as not to give him any more attention, since Jesus was threatening the very systems that they profited off. Those who were there demanded that Jesus show his authority for kicking them out, for telling them that they were being corrupt and inappropriate.
In John’s account, when questioned by the Jews, who essentially tell Jesus to “prove it”, he responded, saying: “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”
The three days reference is looking ahead, not at the life of the physical temple, but Jesus’ body as a symbolic temple. There are two things happening here. The first, is that Jesus is prophesying his death and resurrection again, like he did in our passage to the disciples last week. John even said that at the end of the passage. And the second thing Jesus does here, and the thing we’ll take note of today, is that Jesus makes it clear that God does not reside only in the temple. God’s Spirit resides in each one of us.
Jesus doesn’t actually care about the destruction of the physical temple, because sacred places aren’t reserved only for religious institutions or buildings. And to take it even further, this temple he was in specifically, they had actually idolized it so much, that it even hindered their ability to connect with God, becoming a symbol and force of injustice.
Jesus talking about the temple being destroyed, it sounded radical. It still does if we modernize it and contextualize it to think about churches being destroyed. But that’s not what he was suggesting. What he was saying is that God does not standby in a building, available only to those who have the status or ability to enter it. And further yet, that we don’t need the physical building at all in order to experience God.
Now, for those of us who do experience God in a building, let me be clear. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we do need to make sure that we’re treating it with care. Rather, the issue comes when we treat our ‘in the building’ worship experiences like it’s the best or the only way to connect with God. It’s when we become like those unjust religious leaders in our story and treat the church building like it’s God Godself, when we idolize a space over God..
And for those who don’t worship in a physical building, do not underestimate your relationship with God, or consider it to be less than. Just because you notice God at your family brunch on Sundays or outside in nature, or in the face of a close friend, doesn’t mean that what you’re experiencing isn’t God. Because it very much is God.
God is far too big and complex and all-encompassing to be beholden to only one location. God is bigger than a building, and treating God as such means treating our neighbors, churched or unchurched, Christian/Buddhist/Atheist, liturgical or contemporary, treating all our neighbors as children of God who see and express God in beautiful and important ways.
How can you work to see God or be the face of God this week for someone?
As we leave this place today, may we know that as we leave, God is with us. May we emulate Christ in the ways we share God’s love and justice with all God’s children. And may we grow to appreciate the diversity in God’s beloved expression in the world. Let us pray:
God of goodness and light, we thank you for showing up in our lives in beautiful ways. Help us to grow in the ways we see you and share you. In your name we pray, Amen.