Monday, March 8, 2021

Cleansing the Temple

Our love and desire for a deeper relationship with God and with each other becomes the driving force, "the flame that leaps from heart to heart," that makes us want to clear our lives and grow spiritually, and think about heavenly things, and keep our mind on the best and the most beautiful. 

He was speaking of the temple of his body .   John 2:21 (RSV)  

 The temple figures prominently in the scriptures as part of our faith, and it's an important part of our fellowship and relationship as the people of God. It is that way for people of faith, regardless of what their faith is, and what their religious views, and philosophy and everything is.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on March 7, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

In our nation's Capitol, over the last few months we've heard it... Especially referred to the Capitol Building as the "Temple of Democracy," and then we have all these different religions around the world that was highlighted. Even yesterday with Pope's visit to Iraq, and how sometimes people in war try to destroy each other's religious worship places, temples, in order to increase the pain of their enemy and the demoralization of their society, because of the importance in that deep love and reverence that we have our places of worship.

 That's the same for people all around the world. That has been since time immemorial. As we even feel about the places where we worship because of the experiences that we have personally had in these buildings, and sometimes even more because of the experiences others before us have had, as we think of people, and what they've said and where they sat, and what they did and the ministries that radiated from our congregation, as we dispersed from this place to other places, and the blessings that we share and that we feed on.

Many of those are in the scriptures, highlighted in the scriptures, the stories of the people and the things that they experienced in the Spirit, in the temples.

So the temple at Jerusalem is one of those places, a prominent place. Jesus went to the temple there and he cleansed the temple. And in the scripture there are two places where he cleanses the temple. One, at the very beginning of his ministry before he even completed the selection of the apostles. Before he even really got underway with many of his teachings, the other at the end, right before he gave his life for us at Calvary.

In some people's views, these are two different events. Some people think that they're the same one just located differently in the scriptures because of John putting things more in a theological order. And some that it could have happened many several times, because many of the things that Jesus did, he probably did more than once... he did it other times. Those are some things that we can think about him and study about a little bit sometimes. But from our perspective, this year in Lent, as we are looking at the events and the readings of the Lectionary through the lens of spiritual exploration, then for me, the meaning or the essential part of what this is about is cleansing.

What Stays and What Goes

Get these things out of here. Don’t turn my Father’s House into a market!   Vs 16 (TLB)

 My temple is cleansing, cleansing our temples and discovering the things in our personal lives that need to stay, or need to go. And that's how we clean... or I do anyways, when I'm cleaning out files from my office or something like that. First I go through and I get that low hanging fruit. You might see, I just, the things that I can identify immediately when I see them as needing to be thrown away, then I throw them away. A lot of times that's as far as I get, but then if I take a little more time I might make another pass and throw away things that also need to be discarded, but aren't so easy to part with. And that's how we clean. We sort through, and that's how we need to do in our personal lives.

And that's what we see Jesus is doing here with driving out the things that didn't belong in this house of prayer, in this house of worship. And I think a lot of churches have different ideas about what should be in and what should be out. I've been in all kinds of different churches. And some churches, they are pretty much open to anything and to have meals in the sanctuary area, and have, depending on how they're set up, have different kinds of activities and everything.  Another church won't even allow you to have meals on the grounds of the church, and then everything in between. Some, you're going to have activities in another building on the property or others on the property, as long as it's not inside of a building.

So all of these different things that people come up with to try, and really as a response to this kind of event, in the Bible, and wanting to kind of get it right and not to have anything going on that doesn't need to be going on. So we can all think about our different policies for that, and the same thing's going to be going on in our personal lives. There are things that some of us will want to clean out that others won't necessarily want to clean that thing out of their life, but something else. And so that's where it gets really personal as we examine our own lives and our own relationship with God and with each other, and make those kinds of personal decisions about what stays and what goes.

All Consuming

My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire. [Psalm 69:9] Vs 17 (GNT)

But Jesus quoted a verse from David in Psalm 69. And it's written this way in the Good News, "My devotion to your house of God burns in me like a fire." I believe in the translation page, it had something about it being a consuming fire. So all of that, the devotion, the all consuming, the zeal, as it says in the King James here, that this zeal of the Lord has made me do this.

It's our love, it's our desire. The deep desire we have that drives us, and the love that we have for our congregation, for our fellowship together, for the church as a whole, that drives us, all of this works together to make this biggest priority in our lives is our spiritual exploration, our spiritual life, and our love for our family and friends who have gone on before us, others that are around the world in different places that we love and like to be in fellowship with in spiritual ways that go even more deeply than all the other types of friendships that we may share, that our love for God and for his creation just completely overwhelms us.

[Our love and desire for a deeper relationship with God and with each other] becomes the driving force, "the flame that leaps from heart to heart," that makes us want to clear our lives and grow spiritually, and think about heavenly things, and keep our mind on the best and the most beautiful. 

So one image in the Bible for that, that I think is really neat, is the building of the temple. Originally, because the idea came to David as he was sitting in a palace that he had built for himself and looked out the window, and he was seeing this tent out there. That was the tabernacle that, as we recall, began in the time of the Exodus and at the time of Moses, and they built this tabernacle and they would carry it around and they brought all their best gifts to it. And they made their sacrifices there.

Now it was in the center of the congregation, became the focal point of the Jewish people as they were traveling through there. And then they came to Jerusalem, and there, they continued this tabernacle. And David thought that since he was living in a big palace, he should build a house for the Lord so that he wouldn't have to just live out in a tent and the yard. And so he decided to do this, and God said to him, "David, I'm going to get this straight. What you're talking about here, because you're thinking that you can build a box, and then I'll live in that box." And he said, "but the heavens are my throne. And the Earth is my footstool. So how are you going to build a house big enough for me to live in?"

It emphasizes the point that just because there was a tabernacle there, that didn't mean that God was confined to that space any more than just because we have a house over a meeting place here, that God is confined to this place. Special things happen here, but God is also out there when we leave these doors. That's one of the things that... but then God decided that David would not be the one to build the house, but that his son Solomon would in the next generation. And so Solomon gathered all the finest materials from around the world, all the great craftsmen, and they built this impressive building. 

Then it came time for the dedication and the Shekinah glory of God filled the house so full and so intensely that everybody who was inside had to go outside as the glory of God, filled the place and spread out about them.

That gives us a really nice image for not only our church, but for our personal lives as that, the goal and the desire that God's glory and joy would just completely fill us. This Spirit would overwhelm us and fill us, and radiate out from us into the lives of the people around us.

The Sign

Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up! Vs 19 (TLB)

After he cleansed the temple, the people who were in charge of the place were a little bit irate, because they thought, what claims that went on, so cleanse it and they hadn't made the call. They challenged him and said, "by what authority do you do these things? Who gave you the room, right? What sign can you give us to show that you have the right and the authority to do these things." Jesus told them this sign that nobody understood at the moment, even the disciples who were with him, he destroyed this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.

So this is a building that Solomon had built. It had taken a long time to build with the finest craftsmen and everything like that. Thinking about Notre Dame, and how they're trying to reconstruct that. Now, the Temple had been destroyed [by the Babylonians] and rebuilt over the years, and that takes time and money. And to think that even replacing all that in three days was just beyond anything they could wrap their minds around. To see that as a sign of his authority, they just sit and accept that. But the sign, in retrospect was there. And that's how it is with many of our scriptures.

When you look back on things, then you see how that unfolded. Because a lot of times prophecies and everything in the scripture might have a message for their immediate listeners, but it may have a deeper message for those who will be reading about that or hearing about it later on down the road, hundreds of years later, like us here in this sanctuary. When we hear that, we hear it differently, don't we, than they heard it? Because in our minds, we hear him talking about his death and the resurrection. In their minds, they were looking at something different, but that's what he was talking about: the true temple. Jesus was talking about his body as the temple.

True Temple

But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple.  John 2:21 (GNT)

It's probably easier for us to grasp that idea of his body as the temple with our whole belief system, that we have in all of our ways that we were raised, and all our Bible readings and Bible studies and everything that we've lived with in our church relationship and all the things about God dwelling in Jesus, that in him was "the fullness of the Godhead bodily." I think that also by extension, that we're invited, especially through the writings of Paul, to see that as not only just his personal body, but our bodies also. Remember how Paul said, "What? Know ye not your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?" So you think about this Shekinah glory of God, filling the temple at Jerusalem and its dedication, and think about the Holy spirit, descending on Jesus in bodily form.

It was his baptism and him being for us, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily, and then think about us. He says an individual may think about myself. You think about yourself as a part of this temple, where the Holy spirit dwells and think about us as a congregation, as believers gather together. Two or three there, Christ is among us.

Think about the other imagery that Paul gave about us being like a building. Each of us being like a stone in the building, as it grows up in the house of the Lord, all of this imagery points to a cleansing of a temple that is very personal, and also a corporate for us to consider going back to that person apart.

What stays, and what grows, what needs to be improved? What in my life, and what in our congregational life needs to continue and what needs to be let go of? We're really at a good time to do that because of the restarting of being together, and worshiping, and all that kind of fits once again, as it has another time, everything is on the table. Everything's there for us to look about, pray about, and make decisions about, so where do we go from here?

This is a good time for us as a congregation to cleanse the temple and make some fresh starts. It's always a good time as individuals for us to do that. So it even becomes a good time for us to lead the community in that kind of approach to our current life.

New Understandings

 They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.  Vs 22 (MSG)

This all brings us to new understandings. Here's how it says in the Message, verse 22. "They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in the scripture, and what Jesus had said." I like how it says that about putting two and two together because that's really kind of what we do. We take the scripture and we take our experiences -- we take what we've heard and what we've seen, what's happened in our lives, and all of this. It just kind of comes together. It reshapes how we think. We were talking before about paradigm shifts. As new information comes, then we change our view. As the new information came to these disciples, they changed their view, their understanding after the crucifixion and the resurrection, then all of this came back to them.

We see that brought up in two or three other stories in the scripture too, in the gospel that they didn't understand in the moment. Later afterwards, some more things happened, and it all came together, and they understood. That's how we do. We put two and two together. We put these things together, and we make our decisions and we go forward. Then we move a little bit further, and we learn some more things and we discover new things, and we understand things differently. That's how we grow. That's how we explore the spiritual life.

So I invite us this morning to think about those points of this passage and how we would apply them to our personal lives and our life together as the church. What stays, what goes? What is all consuming in your life? What's the thing that drives you the most? What's your passion? What signs do you see, beyond the signs that are given, of Christ's love and presence for you? What is that true temple and what do you understand prayer and spirituality, and eternal life to be for you today? 

In the name of Jesus, amen.



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