+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 2:13-22
Theme: Divine Cleansing
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
How can God’s capacity for compassion ever be understood? He never tires. He never fails. His limits are never reached. His passion for our souls is unsearchable. And yet for the well-being of His elect justice must also be rendered. His grace is not a bottomless, undiscerning, un-administered program of entitlement. His law cannot be scorned or minimized without consequences. He is nobody’s fool.
Today we get a taste of God’s anger against sinful activity that preyed on religious devotion. Jesus cleansed the temple by driving out those who were engaging in commerce for financial gain. Some had made a lucrative business out of trading animals necessary for temple sacrifices and changing money required for temple offerings. He wanted to return the temple activities to their proper focus. Christ was immediately questioned by the authorities. What credentials did He have? It was His Father’s house –He was the Son of God- and a much greater cleansing was soon to happen at His crucifixion. The barrier to God’s holy presence would be broken down when the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Jesus, of course was not just concerned about proper and orderly temple practice. Many had lost the core understanding of why the temple was there. The church’s aim is to preach faith into people’s hearts. To do this sin must be condemned. Mortality must be recognized. Judgment must be feared. Different beliefs then lead to different actions. It is not the church’s job to legislate a Christian morality for the world. We pray for peace and stability in the world. That is a privilege and a duty of the Christian church. But we shouldn’t be so naïve as to think there will ever be harmony in this life. The Scriptures are explicitly clear on this. Again, Christianity influences not by coercion of actions but by making willing people out of previously unwilling ones.
But that doesn’t mean God’s law has no place in society. Today we heard the delineation of the Ten Commandments for God’s people. Not surprisingly the Ten Commandments overlap with the natural law. Basic protections for the well-being of people in general and the vulnerable in particular are shared (or at least should be) by Christians and unbelievers alike. If murder is allowed to go on unchecked within a society it quickly descends into anarchy. There can be little peace or stability. It is easily seen then, how the Fifth Commandment’s prohibition of murder finds common ground with the natural law. One would hope a consensus on such an issue would be consistently applied.
Unfortunately there are notable exceptions. Abortion is a particularly ruthless form of murder that stands outs. Those who have the power (adults) are willing to wield it selfishly over those who don’t (the unborn). The practice of abortion-on-demand exposes the glaring hypocrisy within societies that pride themselves on their humanitarian and egalitarian principles. The way the issue is spun by media power-brokers makes it more difficult for the average person to see though the veneer of ‘enlightened progress’. It would be more honest for Western Countries to say they sanction the murder of those who cannot defend themselves. Then the issue could be more easily faced for what it is.
Now you may become dismayed, annoyed, frustrated, even lose hope over the innumerable injustices in the world that seem to go unaddressed. Where is the fairness? …But God will render judgment. We may never witness it, but we believe it. Evil is not a human construct. Sin and the transgression of God’s will have lost much of their relevance in our very humanistic way of thinking. That makes the church’s mission all that more difficult and critical. Sinners need salvation but there seems to be precious few sinners around. Perhaps Lent is the season to find some?
Jesus soon brought the temple altercation to its critical juncture. The Jews wanted proof of His authority. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”1 Jesus body is the new temple that wields power over death itself. No logic can prepare the human mind for this. The apostle Paul reminds us, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”2 The pastor preaches such ‘foolishness’, and His greatest challenge is to not marginalize the love of God by bland repetition or irrelevant generalities. The gospel is not religious speak for a doctrine of tolerance, sensitivity and political correctness.
The crucifixion is not a metaphor. Yes, there are many metaphors for the atonement. But the execution of this man is not an allegory for martyrdom that is otherwise empty of any real power of reconciliation. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ were historical events that have power to effect present circumstances. The Scripture says, “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ.”3 The Holy Spirit uses divine truth not simply as historical information but to regenerate hearts and minds. The repentant sinner is truly forgiven in Christ and there are present and future outcomes.
The gospel changes things or it is not actually the gospel that has taken root in peoples’ lives. It is some counterfeit balm of conscience that deludes people into thinking they possess God’s favour while allowing them to follow their own wills. How many people whose names have long graced the pages of church membership directories will find themselves on the left side of the judgment throne! To doubt that this is true is to doubt the words of Christ Himself who sought to cleanse the temple not only of the commercialization of the faith but the worshippers of callousness of heart.
Dear friends, Jesus Christ is not a point of entry for the construction of a religious theory or a baseline comparison to negotiate a better way forward for the modern church. Jesus Christ is the door to heaven itself. He is the First, and Last and Living One; the be all and end all. If we do not find the full favour and counsel of God in Him then we will find nothing; no lesser Utopia, no springboard to Nirvana, no flawed but tolerable existence in the hereafter, no better place after we die…only darkness, death, hell. If our faith isn’t being led to the fullness of God’s glory exclusively through Christ then it is not the Holy Spirit that is leading us.
It is necessary that the Holy Scriptures constantly reorient our perspective. It becomes warped, clouded, and myopic through continual contact with the world that is both overt and subtle as the circumstances dictate. Through this exposure our beliefs and values are challenged and undermined. The danger is especially urgent when we no longer recognize that our outlook has changed and are unable to assess the consequences that follow.
But to lose perspective is a particularly human weakness. A group of senior citizens were talking about their ailments: "My arms are so weak I can hardly hold this cup of coffee,” said one. "Yes, I know. My cataracts are so bad I can't even see my coffee" said another. A third added, "I can't turn my head because of the arthritis in my neck." And a fourth chimed in, "My blood pressure pills make my dizzy." They all agreed that's the price paid for getting old." Then the last member of the group said, "Well, it's not all bad. We should be thankful we can still drive!"
Yes, it is that bad, but Christ has it in hand. You are baptized. He has cleansed you from sin’s threat. You are shielded from death’s power because He lives. You are sustained by His holy and precious body and blood. You make a witness in the world because you bear Christ’s name. God’s capacity for compassion can never be understood but it is none the less our foundation for eternity. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday in Lent
11 March 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 2:19
2 1 Corinthians 1:18
3 2 Corinthians 5:19