“Destroy This Temple!”
John 2: 13-22, March 7th. 2021.
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospel according to John, chapter two, verses thirteen thru twenty-two.”
13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
“Our lesson this morning touches our emotions as we listen to Jesus’ words at the Temple marketplace!”
“Destroy This Temple!”
Sometimes we need to just start over. In the case of our scripture Jesus spoke of destroying the temple and raising up a new one. Clearly, he was speaking of his own human death and then being raised up from the tomb in three days. It is only in hindsight that what he said and did at the temple that day made any sense to the early disciples and followers of Jesus. Indeed, somethings need to be torn down and or thrown away… before a new thing can be envisioned and done! When I got into an accident with Lois’s Sonata, they had to tow it away, then we waited while they accessed it was totaled, and only then, could we start the process of purchasing a new mode of transportation. Likewise, I have an old shed in the back yard of my home. I have done a lot of work to it over the last few years and it still needs more. Perhaps, it would have been better to have it towed away like they towed Lois’ car away, then start new! There are always choices.
Unquestionably, we now know conclusively, the temple that Jesus was referring to was, his own body, and he was foretelling how the Living Spirit of Christ within him – would be raised up in three days! It is worth repeating. As Jesus stormed through the Temple that day, chasing out the animals, turning over their tables and totally disrupting the exchange between the money changers and the would be, worshippers whom, had come to offer up a sacrifice in a form of worship. Jesus clearly was upset that they were using the temple as a marketplace. We could debate the idea that Jesus was setting an example that buying and selling at a place of worship was wrong, which would lead us to a problematic exchange for our modern Christian churches. Rather, looking at this historically, Jesus was upset that this process was filling the pockets of the merchants who financed the Chief Priests and Pharisees – at the expense – of those who desired to worship in the custom they had been taught. That was the issue that set Jesus’ rage into action! It is right to raise monies for the good of the church… to serve the needs of God’s people, as they are the children of God; whom the temple leaders and their staff were charged to serve!
As we look for a deeper meaning to our scripture there are several paths we ought to look closely at. One being Jesus’ foretelling of his death and resurrection, which the disciples had not yet come to understand. The second being the value of tearing, terminating, or finishing one thing and replacing it with another. Let us start with the latter and apply it closely to the temple analogy Jesus sets forth in this writing. Let us look to the older run-down churches within Christianity. By this let us not assume a building needs to be in disrepair, there are many very healthy churches doing the work of God in their communities yet, their building seems to be neglected. This phenomenon is not necessarily a bad thing. Take for example two different churches that I personally belonged to in my younger years back up in New England, the Connecticut and Massachusetts area of our country where there are a great many older church structures. A number of these buildings have large steeples that often have a large bell; we are not talking about a small ‘ding a ling’, bell, but a very large extremely heavy bell that when rung it can be heard for miles! Some would call this a bell tower mounted atop a church, a place of worship or more descriptive – the meeting place. So, let us dig deeper into this type of a church.
I am not a historian so bear with me as I drawn on my memory of how bell towers ‘mounted upon community meeting places’, such as a church, were used. In New England as towns were first developed the Church also served as the towns primary meeting place. They had no electronic devices, therefore the bell was used to gather people together for special planned events, such as Sunday worship, also for emergencies of all kinds, fire, flood, and danger of many sorts. My home church as a child had such a set up. On Sunday mornings, one could find the pastor (My grandfather in this case) was known to personally pull upon the cable which would ring the bell in the steeple above the main structure of the buildings. It could be heard a mile or more away!
While serving a church up in New York, the large church I served had a steeple and a huge bell, which I heard many times, but never climbed the small staircase to physically view it up close and personal. The head Deacon, Dick, he would strive to teach me how to pull the cable that would rock the bell back and forth getting a very loud “GONG” sound. He put a lot of effort into it, as it literally took a full body motion to make it ring. It was even used on 911 (Nine-Eleven) when we put together an emergency worship service, that fateful day, to draw people to worship at twelve noon. It drew in at least a hundred plus souls… as I led folks in worship under the shadow of the shock and horror of all that the attack on the ‘World Trade Center’ meant to Americans that morning, especially living in a suburb of New York, in a church on a hill which could actually-see the plume of the smoke from the front steps of the church.
In another church, back in Massachusetts where I lived for many years of my life, the steeple needed extensive repair, after many church meetings it was decided to raise the monies needed to repair it, extensive repairs. I do not know the exact numbers any longer, yet I am sure it was closer to three-quarters of a million than half a million dollars. They were fortunate, they were a well to do church and were able to do this and still have a thriving out-reach ministry in their community. That was a healthy church.
When my parents moved our family to a small suburban town in Connecticut, I recall the huge church which we ended up going to, it had no steeple, just its base stood upon the roof, after a fire years before. They made the decision to use their resources to continue their ministry and sacrificed the historic value of the old steeple tower after the fire. It was historically a very difficult decision as the church stood in the middle of town overseeing the community from high ground, being one of the older structures in the town. They too, were a very healthy church! As we consider the examples of these old northern churches let us gleen from them the ‘process’ by which they made major decisions! They put the ultimate choices for these big decisions to rebuild the steeple or not, in the hands of their congregations. Granted the planning and such were handled by the elected committees which put forth the choices, including the details. But in the end, the fellowship, the church members bore the weight of the ultimate vote to repair and rebuild, verse tear it down and move on!
Here we are in Florida. Yes, there are churches with steeples, however, most modern constructions in our time-period have no need for a steeple or a big bell to call folks together. We have telephones, the internet, church Websites, Facebook, and YouTube to stay connected! Churches do, however, need to make big decisions now and then. The same “process” needs to be used. Committees make recommendations and the congregation votes yes or no, or yes but, or no but decisions. Healthy churches make good decisions so that the faithful can have a place to gather for worship and serve the needs of the ministry they are called to serve. Unhealthy churches make choices which sadly can eventually leave someone with the task to tear it down – as it has ceased to function as a church! Hard, hard decision to make! Jesus was foretelling his own human destruction as he knew that the structure of the brick and mortar, temple back then, no longer served God nor the people of God! Yet, Jesus, the Son of God, God incarnate was willing to sacrifice ‘self’ for the good of humankind. And he did! The human agony of the man Jesus is well documented in the scriptures. This brings and focuses our lesson to us as persons – more personally. Serving God, at any level, takes sacrifice, either of our time, talent, or our treasures. Will we be able to make the right choices?
When all that is recorded in our scripture lesson today, was first written down, the disciples and those who followed in the Christian ‘Way’ had already experienced the agony of Jesus’ personal human life. Yet, through his resurrection, the numerous encounters with the Living Spirit of Christ which was experienced by so many who testified to such encounters, caused the disciples to lift-up memories of what occurred at the temple that day. We and countless other Christians, people seeking the lessons of what Jesus reportedly said and did, we cling to these writings squeezing out every ounce of goodness and wisdom we can. Now and then a nugget seems to fit in just the right place within our own quest for our personal faith journeys. Let us look at this more closely.
Frequently, more than one might desire to admit, we realize that something we selfishly put together or a decision we have made, needs to be undone, as it just does not seem to fit properly in the model of ‘simplicity’ and ‘faithfulness’ of our journeys through life, as we believe the Spirit of God is leading us upon. Undoing a decision or redoing a project in a different manner or simply abandoning a choice we have made can be painful – or it can be up-lifting. There is a time for changing something and there is a time to leave something as it is, and just as it is said in Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to tear down, and there is a time to build up; a time to throw away things, and a time to gather new things together; I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. Indeed: God has made everything suitable for its time.” /Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 Adapted/
As our own personal and collective emotions rise and fall, let us look to the examples of Jesus that we might find what it is that we can assemble and use within the ‘all too real human lives’ we live within; casting aside that which no longer is working and pick-up new tools to redesign our lives that we may continue to be of maximum service to God and the people of God. Amen.