Temple Cleansing, a Sermon by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., March 4, 2018

This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., Transitional Pastor, at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, January March 4th, Transfiguration Sunday. The readings and Psalm were: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22.

Temple Cleansing

I imagine that you and I are similar in experiencing that there are moments in life when we pause and inquire of ourselves, “What is worth carrying forward in life and what is necessary to leave behind.”

This part of my journey is playing out now on 2 levels.

Level one occurs on Tuesday mornings…some Tuesday mornings.  Doris and I are engaged in downsizing…starting upstairs and sorting through everything: keep, throw away, ask our children, take to Listen, put ad in It’s Classified.  This is a challenge as you who have sorted well know.

Level two occurs daily and this work is on the inside…in my mind, my emotions, my soul, my spirit.  For example, do I still believe what I have recited my whole life?  Do I continue to consent to what I have been taught?  In matters of faith and the living of it, what is truly important?

A silly and true example of what is not important:  centuries ago it was required of the faithful who were planning on receiving communion in morning worship that the bread would be the first food taken that day.

Ah, posed the learned theologian, Ah, what if the worshiper on the way to the service had a bloody nose and swallowed blood?  Has that person broken the fast and sinned since the bread of communion was not the first food consumed that day?  Such consternation was solved in this manner:  if the blood did not enter the throat via the mouth; if the blood did not pass through the lips…only via the nose, no sin occurred.  Thus a major theological debate was settled.

Utterly senseless; stupid distraction; so focused on individual piety; adds less than nothing to what it means to follow Jesus!  So, what is important?

1.  Discerning and struggling and seeking what following Jesus means at this time in life; in this arena of life in which we live; in this place where we dwell. This place is this congregation with you and on out across this town, this state, this nation and this world.

2.  More and more I am relaxing into the mysteries, wonders, joys, emotions, cloudiness, foolishness and joy of faith in our God of Creation; Jesus who redeems our lives; the Spirit who breathes life and wonder into our beings. I mentioned this on Transfiguration Sunday.

For 2 months I’ve offered many words and challenges concerning following our Lord.  The Gospel of Mark has been our inspiration with the recurring refrain, “Follow me.”

Today, again, mysteries, foolishness, wonder, emotions, joy.

On April 8, the Sunday following Easter, Cecelia and Liam will be baptized.  I look forward to that morning because I am participating in a mysterious ritual that connects us with millions of the baptized; with the baptism of Jesus; with baptisms prior to those of our Lord.  This sacrament makes little rational sense to me and this moment makes great sense to me.  Ordinary water poured; words, prayers and promises made; welcome extended.

Thankfully we are past the time of believing that an unbaptized baby who died of crib death woke up in hell.  Somehow the message of God’s love and grace had been jettisoned.  Fear took their place.  Now love, compassion and grace abounds.

Today and every Sunday and at numerous other services we take the bread and drink the wine and juice and believe something extra ordinary is happening.  That is true!  Lutheran theology talks of Jesus being “in, with and under” the bread and wine…a good hearted attempt to describe the indescribable.  It is my joy to lift the bread and the cup and tell you what we can accept only by belief…Jesus is God in the flesh and now that Jesus is gone…he is not gone…he is with us.

And so it goes for me…minimizing my brain and opening my heart and spirit.  Loving the Advent candles of different heights that signal that a special child will be born…again and again year after year.

Loving this sanctuary on Christmas Eve and feeling the mystery of singing, “Word of the Father now in flesh appearing.”

Participating in the Easter Vigil…leaving this dark and spare sanctuary for the gathering area beyond the doors where the vigil continues…and then…the stone is rolled away; the music leads us into a new life sanctuary that is bright and light and fragrances of tulips and lilies transport us to that sacred dawn. Tears flow.

And today: witnessing the raw physicality of our Lord when he literally becomes the bull in the temple yard.  What is he doing!? We need to know a couple of nuances of Scripture to discover what it is that our Lord Is about in John.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke this event unfolds prior Jesus’ last Passover celebration in Jerusalem.  John reports the cleansing prior to Jesus’ first Passover with the disciples.

Matthew, Mark and Luke report that the money changers were cheating the pilgrims…especially the poor who could barely afford a bird for sacrifice.  John says nothing about cheating and thievery.

John’s report…all is kosher:  it made no sense for the pilgrims who lived far away to herd or carry the sacrificial creatures.  They could purchase them on temple grounds and use their own local currency for conversion to temple coin…just like you and I arrive in Europe and purchase Euros for dollars.

What has Jesus done?  He has brought worship to a halt.  There can be no worship without the creatures and no currency exchange if the exchange is closed.

The temple was the meeting place between the God of Israel and God’s people.  Through right worship and sacrifices human life and divine blessings intersected.

What Jesus said after the dust settled must have been bizarre to not only the crowd but also for his 12:  destroying the temple of his body.   We know, don’t we?  We know John 1…”the word became flesh and lived among us”  which is to poetically announce the -incredible notion that God became one of us.

Jesus’ words dare to state that he in his body is where God is meeting the earth.  The seemingly far away Lord worshipped in the temple is no longer far away.  God is present here and now.

John gives witness to the grand mystery that a human body—unique to be sure and a lot like your body and mine is the holy place of God.  Jesus was not wearing a human body like a set of clothes.  He was a human body, as inseparable from his as we are from ours.  And, God was inseparable from him.    WOW!!  No wonder the religious leaders began to think and plot to get rid of Jesus.  No more need for cattle, sheep, goats, and birds.  No money changers need apply.

Our Lenten journey continues with our following and being with the embodied Jesus:

-washing the feet of his disciples

-eating and drinking with his friends

-praying in a garden

-pushed sleepless before Pilate

-beaten, executed, dying

-gently placed in a tomb

All of us have our versions of where our Lord has been this Lent and we live in great comfort knowing that our embodied Lord knows what it is to be you…what it is to be me.

And, as always, the tomb is not the last word this Lent or any Lent or any life.  God was committed enough to human flesh and blood to become our flesh and blood in Jesus and further committed to human flesh and blood to bring life back into the tomb and to the body of Jesus who stayed around to eat fish, be touched by Thomas and to tell Peter to feed the sheep.

Cattle and sheep and goats and birds…oh, no!  No money changers needed.  Only the graceful imagination of a God who became flesh and lived among us.

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