This past August, while working the cash register at the Aurora Diner, I can’t tell you the number of times someone came up to me and said, “Uh oh, pastor, you are working the register and exchanging the money. Looks like you’ve become one of the money changers. Watch out!” When they said this, they were referring to our story for today. The story of when Jesus seemingly becomes a lunatic who starts turning over the tables of the money-changers and yelling at people in the temple.
I don’t know about you, but I can recall a time when this story not only confused me but scared me. How could Jesus be so mean and angry? I thought Jesus was supposed to be so nice. You know, sitting with the little children. And helping the sick. You know, with blue eyes, blond flowing hair. And nice teeth! Jesus always had nice teeth. But today’s image of Jesus – red in the face and throwing furniture -just didn’t fit into that picture. No, today Jesus is more like the disheveled drunk person at the bar who just starts fighting with everyone. I mean, seriously, chances are if you are at Wal-Mart this afternoon some guy comes in and starts kicking over tables and knocking over cash registers, you are going to call the cops long before you drop to your knees in worship at Jesus’ arrival. So what gives? So what is this Jesus guy so angry about anyways?
In ancient Judaism, they had what was called temple theology. In this, the temple was where God was. It was where God was understood to be most present. People would come to the temple to be with God because that is where God was located. It was like God’s house. As part of coming to worship God, people would have to offer an animal sacrifice. Since everyone needs an animal to sacrifice before going into the temple, naturally people turned this into a fruitful business. “Why not start selling sacrificial animals right outside the temple?”, they thought. It’s like at the movies. You can’t go to a movie without some popcorn or candy in your hand, so they sell it to you right outside the theater as you walk in. But then at the temple, along comes Jesus who begins to wreak havoc. With his whip, he sends the animals out; with his hands, he turns over the tables. But again, why? Why is Jesus doing this?
The reason comes all the way back at the beginning of the Gospel of John. Do you remember how it begins? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word became…flesh. And lived among us.” (John 1:1-14) Our text has everything to do with where God is located, where God is to be found. In temple theology, God is located in the temple. But in John’s Gospel, as we just heard, God has become flesh. And if God has become flesh and dwells among us…then God is no longer confined to the temple. And if God is no longer confined to the temple, then there isn’t any need for these sacrificial animals anymore. Jesus turns over the tables and kicks out the animals because that temple theology, where you have to go there to encounter God, is no longer relevant.
The gospel of John is making a statement with this story. In John’s Gospel, the temple of God, God’s dwelling place, is not brick and mortar…it’s flesh and blood. We hear this in our text. Jesus says, “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.
And Jesus’ body will be destroyed on Good Friday. And three days later, it will be raised up on Easter. Jesus’ body – flesh and blood – is the temple of God. It is where God is most present. But here is the best part. Later in the Gospel of John, listen to what Jesus says about where he resides. Jesus is praying to God, and Jesus says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.” God is not found in the temple of brick and mortar, but in Jesus – flesh and blood. And then after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Jesus says that everything God has given to him, he has given to you. So by the grace of the Holy Spirit, God is now found everywhere. But more specifically…in you. The temple of God is no longer brick and mortar but flesh and blood. The temple of God, where God is most present, is in you!
Now, this is really good news for you. And kind of bad news for me. Because here is the secret – you don’t have to be here. God is not solely located here in church. But God is everywhere beyond these four walls. And if God is everywhere, then all places have the potential to be sacred ground for encountering God. Like the streets of Minneapolis for example.
A couple of years ago, Lauren was working at Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis. Everyday, she took the bus home to St. Paul. One day, she walked out of the church building and noticed that between her and her bus stop was a very angry young man with a gun in his hand. She stopped in her tracks. He was yelling and waving the gun; people around him were trying to calm him down. Needing to get to her bus stop, but not sure what to do, Lauren was about to walk around the block instead when suddenly a man eating a bag of Lays potato chips came and caught up with her. He told her his name and that he wasn’t going to hurt her. In fact, he said, “I just live over there and I would show you my ID if I had it on me.” Noticing that she was scared, he asked, “Where are you headed?” “To my bus stop,” she replied, gesturing in the direction of the man with the gun. Seeing what was going on, this man offered to walk Lauren there and, in fact, literally put himself in between her and this armed man. This stranger even said to Lauren, “I’ve lived a good life,” recognizing the potential danger. Together, the two of them veered off course a bit, walking behind a building so as to avoid the man with the gun. During the walk, in fact, the man carrying a gun got into a car and drove right passed them and away. Though the threat had left, this man continued to walk Lauren all the way to her bus stop, and stayed and chatted with her. But then the moment her bus arrived, without a chance for Lauren to say thanks, he simply said goodbye and was gone. In the end, his intentions were clear. All he wanted to do was offer comfort and protection during a moment of fear for someone else. In that moment, the temple of God was not the brick and mortar building Lauren had just left, but it was the flesh and blood of this stranger.
Jesus turns over the tables in the temple because you don’t need the temple anymore. God is out and enfleshed in the world. So yes, you don’t have to be here to encounter God. But you can still come. In fact, I hope you will. Because maybe what we do here on Sunday mornings isn’t the thing. It isn’t the final performance, if you will. But maybe it is just the rehearsal. We come here each week, yes, certainly to worship the God of grace who loves us unconditionally and to pray for one another, but maybe we also come here each week as the place where we get to practice looking for and learning to do the work of God out in the world during the rest of our week. In this place, we get eyes to see and ears to hear so that we might recognize the temple of God when it shows up out there…. in flesh and blood.
When you buy food for the homeless man outside Target, the temple of God is no longer brick and mortar, but flesh and blood. When you finally decide to say “no” to that opportunity and, instead, spend more time with your family, the temple of God is no longer brick and mortar but flesh and blood. When you pray for your sick nephew, when you double check that the piece of machinery you just built is safe, when you feed your daycare children, when you search and search for quarters that will buy a mosquito net….then the temple of God is no longer brick and mortar, but flesh and blood. Thanks be to God. AMEN