Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lent 3 sermon (March 15)

EXODUS 20:1-17; PSALM 19; 1 CORINTHIANS 18-25; JOHN 2:13-22


When my husband, Rob, went to Iraq in the first time, in 2007, I felt very overwhelmed in the weeks leading up to the deployment. I felt upset all the time and I felt frustrated by how depressed and upset I was. I could not change the situation, but it also seemed that I could not even change how I felt about it either. Nor I could I accept that I would stay in this bottom-dwelling darkness for the entire six and a half months.

I felt that my every waking moment was either spent in grief or in being frustrated at grieving. I literally felt consumed by all of this. Then one day, driving through around New York City, (don’t ask) I had an epiphany. My grief had become an idol for me. I wasn’t spending time even thinking about Rob or my schoolwork or even the actualities of deployment, but the majority of my energy, the place where my heart was hung was on the actual horribleness of how I felt.

I realize many of you may be thinking, “Well, of course, Pastor Julia is so Lutheran that in the middle of a horrible time, she WOULD think about the catechism.” But that’s not my point. In the midst of truly difficult and painful time, I had no perspective and I felt like I didn’t even have a toehold to gain any perspective.

The realization that grief was taking my focus from everything, including why I was actually grieving- that I missed my husband, sharply refocused my emotions and my spirit. When I began to feel the rising tide of grief washing over me and there wasn’t space to give in to it, I would sing to myself, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”

During the deployment, I still had terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days, but they were fewer and far between. And they lost their power to pull me completely under, to distract me from living, which is what Rob wanted me to do and, even more importantly, what God wants me to do.

When we hear the story of the cleansing of the temple, we think of Jesus, aflame with righteous anger, overturning tables, yelling and cracking a whip like Indiana Jones. The moneychangers scatter and the worshippers stare in fear, horror and amazement. It is important to remember that the moneychangers weren’t technically doing anything wrong, but the business that had developed around the ideas of perfect sacrifice and exacting worship standards had completely diminished the true purpose of the temple.

And having lost sight of the true purpose of the temple, is it any wonder that people weren’t able to tell the true Messiah when he walked among them? Even in today’s gospel reading, the disciples finally understand the meaning of Jesus’ words about his body after his resurrection.

In the fury of the temple cleansing, we miss the little verse that describes what the disciples were thinking while the events were happening. His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Zeal for your house will consume me.

Part of the plain reading of this text is in understanding we are called to be discerning about how God’s house is used, meaning this building and space. That what happens here should ultimately give glory to the One who made the whole world and to His power.

But zealousness for God’s house also involves the person of Jesus and what Jesus did and continues to do on our behalf. Just as Jesus spoke of the temple of his body, the housing of God’s spirit, that was broken for the world, so the Bible speaks of our own bodies, our selves as temples for God’s Spirit- a dwelling place that God shapes and uses for the coming of the kingdom. Zeal for our bodies as temples for God is supposed to consume us as well.

The commandments help us to understand this idea. That God wants to use us, and indeed will do so, but our response has a certain shape for our relationship with God and our relationship with other people. When we look at the list, we can be easily overwhelmed by the truth that we will not be able to fulfill this.

We get angry. We kill with words and actions. We do not build up our spouses or other relationships. We get annoyed with our neighbor. We want what our neighbor has. We work all the time with no Sabbath. We have idols of our own making. Even as we begin to think of any of these things, we can feel the pull of quicksand at our feet of clay and at our lukewarm hearts.

This is how the cross saves us, by overcoming our despair with zeal. Not just by lifting us from the tide of believing that we can do good in and of ourselves, but also by the cross’s overwhelming power that says death is not the end. Not the death of the soul that comes from realizing we cannot fulfill the law. Not the death of the body that comes to us all. Our proclamation of Christ crucified says it’s not over until God says it’s over.

This is God making foolish the wisdom of the world. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ says for all those who received the gift of faith, come here, rest here, believe in this when all else fails.

And in the cycle of faith, we rest in God’s promises until we are energized and stirred once again, until the zeal for God’s house and zeal for who God has called us to be gives us the strength to move. Though we may be in Lent, we are still Easter people, resurrection people. The Spirit is ever cleansing our hearts, God’s own temple, overturning the idols of our minds and spirits, increasing our faith and renewing our zeal. We are called again and again to the path of discipleship, whether we’re able to run, walk, crawl or creep the race that has been set before us.

Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”, which may be true for discipleship. But I believe he, his mother, his disciples and all the saints who have gone before us would agree, life itself is hard and can be painful.

And that is why God died on Calvary, for our cleansing, the cleansing of the temple of ourselves and of the world. That the why for the resurrection. That is the reason we have the cross. That is why God gives us faith. In this life, our hope can be built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Amen.

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