Lent 3B – March 4, 2018

In the name of +Jesus.

When I was growing up, way across our pasture, there was a farmer’s market/flea market/auto auction on steroids. It was called Zern’s. Or as the PA Dutch said, “Tserns.” Friday nights at Zern’s were sheer chaos. People going in every direction. Vendors hawking their goods. The auctioneer talking a mile a minute. If you didn’t remember exactly why you came, well…you might leave with everything BUT what you came to buy.

If you’ve been to Zern’s – or really, any flea market that’s popular – you know how chaotic things can be in the marketplace. It’s every person for him or herself. Get that scene in your head for today’s Gospel.

The area surrounding the temple was filled with merchants and money changers. The temple at Jerusalem drew worshippers from many different lands and Royal Banks. Roman coins could not be used at the Temple. Instead of changing their currency into Shekkels for the temple, travelers would carry a large bill or coin of currency from their land, and then hope for a good “exchange rate” at the temple. This was as common in ancient days as it is to turn dollars into euros today.

The faithful had to deal with a money changer before entering the temple, and so, the money changers made it quite convenient. In addition, all sacrificed animals had to be without blemish. It was easier to buy an animal for sacrifice right outside the temple than it was to walk many miles with it. When we think about this scene, it’s important to think about the necessity of the service the money changers and vendors provided. That is not what made Jesus so extremely angry.

It was about location. Instead of the money changers hanging out in our parking lots, they decided to set up shop in the narthex. So that they were the first thing you encountered in the journey to the holy sanctuary space. The buying and selling moved from the outskirts to within. And suddenly, you are in Time Square, with 10 different characters like Mickey Mouse and Elmo trying to ask for your money.

So what? Why is this important? In ancient days, the area within the Temple, but not quite in the sanctuary – that space was reserved for the Gentiles. King Herod enclosed the Temple with a wall on the outside, and the Court of Gentiles was in between the outer wall and the Temple itself. Jews of the day in good standing could enter the Temple, but Gentiles…they had to stay in this outer court. This was the only area they were welcome to pray. God was doing something new, and in the chaos of that Court of Gentiles, with the bleating of sheep and the cattle bellowing, with the doves cooing and the humans yelling, no one was going to notice.

So Jesus had a holy meltdown of sorts. The kind of meltdown your parents had when they would use your first, middle AND last name to make a point. He whipped the vendors into shape by driving out all the animals sold for sacrifice. The ones who sold the doves, he yelled, “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace.” And he flipped the tables of the money changers. On a Friday night at Zern’s, the air would turn from chaos to dead silence. The level of discomfort would go from 5 to a perfect 10. Jesus got their attention. Jesus gets our attention when everything is at stake.

The Temple, the place where God abided for the Israelites, was being compromised. Used for human things, not divine. The place where God abided no longer made room for the Gentiles. Essentially kicked them out, made life chaos for them. The Temple was going through the motions of worship, but it seemed to lose its sense of purpose. Taken over by buyers and sellers, the Temple was no more than a transaction of filling the pews and meeting financial needs. God is not a commodity.

And God doesn’t dwell there. The Israelites believed that God made a tabernacle with them, a tent, and lived and dwelled in that place of the Temple. God was doing something new, changing location, becoming more accessible, and Jesus was not going to let them miss it. It should stun us into reverent silence today, too.

The season of Lent invites us to ask a humbling question. How have we behaved like merchants in that temple? Even the most faithful of us have our moments when Jesus comes and turns our tables over. Reveals the noisy nature of our hearts and minds, our inability to focus on God’s call on our hearts and lives.

This week, I was struck by the noise on the news this week. In particular, I was drawn to noticing the number of retailers who were addressing the issue of life in response to decisions they were making on what they would sell. Dick’s Sporting Goods no longer carrying magazines that can load massive amounts of ammunition. Their sister store, Field and Stream, no longer selling assault weapons.

But it was the story of Delta Airlines that really reminded me of the noise of the marketplace in today’s Gospel. Delta was no longer going to offer a discount on their flights to National Rifle Association members. Then, Georgia lawmakers killed a tax break that would have saved Atlanta-based Delta millions of dollars. Many believe it is in direct response to Delta’s decision in the marketplace. Delta did not change their location on the issue. Life is not a commodity.

We can argue back and forth in the marketplace. We can disagree with our neighbor, we can make our own rules. Jesus will still call us out, turn our tables over, call us back into the
fold…no matter how focused on ourselves we become. Because there is something at stake. Life. Yours. Mine. Our neighbors. Our enemies. Are we too caught up in the noise of our own Temples that we build to hear it?

God is doing something new in the Gospel today. Moving from the location of a building we must journey to find, to the place of Temple as body. The body of Christ. Broken and given for you and for me. God becomes attainable for all, in one moment. In nails pierced into the body. In bread and wine, remembering the body. God embodies us, so that we may never be without the Temple again. Crucified and resurrected for all. And we become the Temple, the body of Christ in the world.

There is a quiet moment of truth we are invited into today. A moment that requires that we put down the shopping list we were just making. Put aside the anxiety that awaits us as we leave this place. Let go of that feeling of Smonday – when it’s Sunday and you realize tomorrow is Monday, the weekend over.

Let go of the painful disagreement with the one who just can’t see our side of the issue. There is a need to forget our grudges and anger towards another person. A calling to come closer, to listen for the whispers of God that surround us, even in this moment. To quiet the money changers in our lives, the bills yet to be paid, the fear of running out. To focus on the Temple that God now dwells. People, as individuals and collectively, as one.

Jesus stands with a whip in his hands, driving out the very things that take our focus away from God. We are as innocent as the Gentile trying to pray and we can be the money changers and the merchants. No matter what, Jesus finds us where we are, and changes the course of our lives. Towards God. Towards life. Towards all that matters.

Even in that Friday night at Zern’s calamity, Jesus finds us. The promises made and fulfilled in Scripture find us, in our broken places and spaces. In our money changing and our hoarding of resources. God moves into our neighborhood, into our hearts and minds, and becomes a temple in us. And we are resurrected into one body. Together. Wherever there is noise in our lives, let Jesus silence it. For the sake of life. For God is speaking to us right now.

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville