HOUSE CLEANING - A SERMON ON EXODUS 20:1-17 AND JOHN 2:13-22 - REV. JOSEPH C. ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered
the Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
The Third Sunday in Lent
March 7, 2021
Exodus 20:1-17 & John 2:13-22 “House Cleaning”
For thousands of years, human beings have called out people from their midst to speak to and of God in the community, to help the rest explore and face the mysteries of God.
But such religious leaders often create ways to control this. We build boxes – temples, churches – and say they’re the only places to meet God. Once God is well-boxed, we make theology about what God says and does, controlling God for the people.
We religious leaders, and, let’s be honest, many religious people in general, can be fiercely protective of our God-boxes, of our right to have the final say about God, to control access. It’s a huge temptation, and we don’t like being challenged about it.
The Temple in Jerusalem was just such a box, like all made by peoples throughout history. Its leaders controlled the God-message, and access to God, and taught that in this place alone the true God was found.
So Jesus challenges the way they’ve cared for this God-box.
They’ve made a market out of a holy place, he says. Necessary things for sacrifice in the Temple are bought and sold within. Lambs sold for sacrifice, money changed from Gentile currency to Hebrew, and religious folks are making a profit. And the Son of God will have none of it. This isn’t what the house of God is for, he says.
This challenge to their authority, the driving out of animals, spilling of coins, and unmistakable rebuke is – no surprise – not well received. We religious people don’t like that.
Jesus is saying in essence, It’s time to do a little “House cleaning.”
Dealing with the clutter isn’t anything new.
Isn’t that what Lent is all about?
A season to engage in a Spring cleaning. A yearly taking stock of what gets in the way.
Anything that gets in the way of God.
All of the gods that vie for our attention, clutter our minds and get in the way.
You shall have no others gods before me. So begins the Ten Commandments. No problem right. We’re monotheists. We believe in one God. We don’t worship a golden calf. Our sophisticated worldview keeps us from silly superstitions. No idols on our dashboards.
But are we being duped? Theologian Paul Tillich defines god as whatever we make our ultimate concern. Even if you don’t believe in a god, you have one. Or maybe, many.
Sometimes gods come garbed in modern costumes and are defined as the “isms” that permeate our lives: racism, sexism, classism, ageism, nationalism, heterosexism, consumerism, militarism. There are many, many gods to which we bow.
So, there seems to be plenty of clutter and chaos in the Temple and Jesus is full of righteous anger.
In essence Jesus says. The Lenten call to get our house in order. Not only our residences. But our communities, our churches, our temples.
Hardly anyone, disciples included, understood him at the time. But it was profound. If Israel met God at the Temple, the true Holy Place, with the Holy of Holies, now Jesus claims that he is the new Holy Place.
Jesus who is the intersection between God and humanity. God is now with us, in housed in human flesh, able to be loved, touched, embraced and embodied in Jesus.
He is the locus of God’s presence.
But beloved in Christ, understand that body – that temple – is also us, we are the body of Christ.
This is our baptismal promise, too: you are God’s temple, the Holy Spirit lives in you. We walk our journey of faith dripping wet from the waters of our baptism, reminded that we are not our own. You are not your own. God lives in you, and will transform your heart, and your actions and life as you live bearing God’s Spirit in the world.
Yes, because we follow Christ, we know that to be God’s Temple in the world is to risk everything for the sake of those whom God loves. To walk Christ’s path, to sacrifice with our love, our lives, our hearts, our hands. Amen.
~ Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
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