Turning Over Tables And Towards Jesus

So … I forgot to record my sermon last weekend.

However, in the grand scheme of all that went on at church last weekend (huge visitation and funeral for one of the pillars of our church), if all I dropped the ball on was recording my sermon, I’m okay with that.

There wasn’t a sermon last week because we didn’t have power following the nor’easter and had to cancel church.  To be clear, I’m not talking about THIS week’s nor’easter, I’m talking about LAST week’s.

I’m so ready for spring.

Here’s my sermon!  I was scheduled to preach through the letters throughout this Lenten season, but decided to preach on Jesus turning over the tables in the temple LAST weekend, which turned into this past weekend, since I really wanted to get this story in.  So now I have yet to preach out of the letters, my preaching schedule is slightly askew and I’m flying by the seat of my robe.

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 11, 2018

John 2:13-22

Turning Over Tables And Towards Jesus

Let’s put ourselves in the temple at Passover this morning: Can you imagine how loud it must have been when all of those coins hit the floor?

Making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove all of them out of the temple … [and] also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.{John 2:15, NRSV}

Suffice is to say, people knew Jesus was in the temple that day.

When my mom and I went to Hungary in 2016, we went to church one Sunday morning. We were in the small town of Hévíz, Hungary, which is known for being home to the world’s second-largest thermal lake. There were two churches in the town, a Catholic Church and an Evangelical one. We decided to attend the Catholic Church, thinking we had a better shot of following a Catholic liturgy in Hungarian than we did an Evangelical worship in Hungarian. We walked in and found a seat off to the side, towards the back. We were hoping to blend in so no one would notice that we were: A. Protestant and B. American.

Everything started off really well; the liturgy was very similar to one’s I have experienced in the United States, so I was following along. The Gospel reading was the story of Mary and Martha, so I even kind of knew what was going on with that. My peripheral vision was on high alert, so I knew when to kneel and when to stand.

And then we got to the offering.

I do not know if this is how it normally works in the Catholic Church, or if this was just specific to this parish, but the priest introduced the offering, sent the baskets out into the congregation and then moved on to the Eucharist while everyone was passing the baskets around putting their offerings in.

And at the precise moment that the priest was consecrating the host – the Catholic Church believes in transubstantiation, so they believe the wafer and the wine literally become the body and blood of Christ – the person to my right handed me the offering basket, which, at that point, was full of forint, which is the Hungarian currency, which I had recently learned, makes large use of coins.

In other words, the basket was mostly full of coins.

Oh – and did I mention that the floor of this church was tile?

Maybe you can see where this story is going.

So I put my forint in the basket, hand it to my mom, who was sitting to the left of me. And for the record, I could have sworn I saw she had a hand on the basket before I let it go.

But apparently I was wrong.

The basket hit the floor and coins went EVERYWHERE.

Which was not exactly quiet on that tile floor.

So as the priest was consecrating the host – probably the holiest moment of the entire service – my mom and I found ourselves on our hands and knees frantically gathering the money that was bouncing off the tile and rolling away.

So much for blending in.

Suffice is to say, people knew we were in the church that day.

Of course, we were going for subtle; I am not entirely sure that Jesus was.

I have always loved the dramatic flair of this story; the image of the coins bouncing around the floor of the temple while the tables flew in the air, Jesus taking a whip and using that to shoo everyone out, people and animals alike. I can only imagine that the moneychangers were – like my mom and I in church that Sunday – on their hands and knees frantically trying gather up the coins that were scattering everywhere while the animals went in every different direction and the people who were selling them ran around trying to get control.

But even more than that, I have kind of always loved this story, because there is a real human side of Jesus that we see in this moment. For a man who we know from the gospel to be generally fairly calm and even-tempered – who healed the sick, fed the hungry, reached out to the poor and the marginalized and taught his disciples and his followers how to pray – he, like many of us do from time to time, got angry and lost his temper.

Let’s back up: It was almost time for Passover and people from all over – probably close to 100,000 people – were traveling to Jerusalem for the festival. When Jesus arrived, he realized they had set up a marketplace in the temple. There were people selling cattle, sheep and doves and there were also moneychangers.

The question, of course, is why were they doing this, particularly inside the temple. Well, first of all, people who had a long way to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover needed a place to buy an animal to sacrifice, because it was not always easy or possible for them to travel to Jerusalem with one. By having the animals for sale in the temple, people could purchase them when they arrived in Jerusalem. The moneychangers were there to convert foreign currency, so that everyone – no matter where they were traveling from – could purchase one of these animals.

It is hard to pinpoint, exactly, why Jesus was upset, but we can surmise it was probably a combination of the fact that they were likely charging exorbitant rates, both to change the currency and for the animals (there was a high demand for these animals and only one place to get them, so they could get away with jacking up the prices, knowing people would have no choice but to pay them) and also because they were doing this inside the temple, where people were supposed to be worshipping.

“Take these things out of here,” Jesus screamed. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

At first Jesus is talking very literally about what is happening in the temple, but then he shifts and starts speaking in metaphor. He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews questioned him about this, saying, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But Jesus, of course, was talking about his body. He would die and in three days, he would be raised.

There is a lot going on in this story. But I think, at its core, Jesus is saying that, ultimately, we need to turn towards our lives him. I think Jesus is saying that we need to intentionally turn our eyes, our minds and our hearts towards Jesus, towards the message of the Gospel. Jesus is not necessarily saying the call to discipleship is an easy one; but rather one that requires us to make sacrifices, to change something about our lives and to sometimes live against the grain of what the world around us is telling us to do.

This is not easy; we live in a very imperfect, very human world; a world filled with earthly desires and temptations. We have basic wants and necessities. We get settled into our routines. I do not blame the people selling the animals for sacrifice or the moneychangers in the temple; they were trying to make a living and they saw an opportunity.

And yet, Jesus is right; we do need to let go of the things that take us away from Jesus and instead build up things that draw us closer to him.

This story is an important one; it appears in all four Gospels. And yet the timing of it in the Gospel of John is really intriguing to me. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, this story appears towards the end of the Gospel, after Jesus has already made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His time on earth is wrapping up; there is a sense of urgency in his words and in his actions. He does not have a lot of time left on earth; of course he is going to be foreshadowing what is to come.

And yet in the Gospel of John, this story appears much earlier on. Jesus is baptized, he calls his disciples, they go to the wedding in Cana where Jesus turns water into wine and then enters the temple and all of this happens. The way the story is told in this gospel, Jesus did not wait until he was about to be crucified to boldly tell people to turn towards him; from the very beginning of his ministry it was about pointing people towards Jesus, it was about destroying the things that pull us away from Jesus.

I think there is a really good lesson for us in this, for two reasons: First of all, we do have to fight, sometimes, against the things that pull us away from Jesus. We have to intentionally push back when we are being pulled away. We live in a world where it is not always easy to live out our faith. This particular story is about money and the exchanging of goods within the temple, but it is not just money and material goods that pull us away from Jesus. Often times it is just life itself.

And second of all, I think the placement of the story in this particular gospel reminds us that we do not have to wait until there is a sense of urgency to point our lives to Jesus. From the very beginning, this is what we should be doing. We should be making this our focus today, in our lifetime. It is not about waiting until the timing is right; the time is now.

As hard as this is to admit sometimes, I think we all have our own way of selling animals for sacrifice and changing money in the temple. These are the pieces of our lives where we do not make our faith a priority. We let ourselves be pulled away from the Gospel, from what God is calling us to do. We sometimes focus on the material things and not the Godly things. And this is not something we can fix once and be set for life; this is an ongoing process.

But do you know what the really cool part of this story is? There is hope. There is always hope! Jesus did not say, destroy the temple; Jesus said destroy the temple and in three days I will raise it back up. Even though life sometimes pulls us away from our faith, we can turn around and go back to it. We can push back against the things in our lives threatening our faith, confidently knowing that Jesus is helping to build us a stronger faith.

There was nothing subtle about my mom and me in that Catholic Church in Hungary that July Sunday.

But sometimes there is nothing subtle about being a follower of Jesus, either.

So may we turn our eyes and our minds and our hearts towards Jesus. May we resist the things in our lives that draw us away from our faith and focus on the Gospel. May we turn over tables in our lives and towards Jesus. And may we be built up.

For the kingdom is upon.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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