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Clearing Our Cluttered Temples

3rd Sunday of Lent, March 7, 2021, John 2:13-22

The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas

Whenever I read the story about Jesus clearing the temple of business activity that had nothing to do with the worship and honor of God, I wonder how he would view the church that emerged from his righteous resentment.

Throughout the history of both Judaism and Christianity, there have been divisions within each faith tradition that separated one group from the other for either being unfaithful to the founding principles of their faith, or inflexible to needed reforms within their faith. 

During the time of Jesus, there were at least three major branches of Judaism – the oldest and most established being the Sadducees, who followed only the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), also known as the Torah, and who didn’t believe in the resurrection. There was also the younger and more liberal faction called the Pharisees; who felt the Sadducees were too inflexible; who, unlike the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection, and incorporated more readings as authoritative, known as the Talmud, into the Hebrew Bible. And then there were the Essenes, who felt the other two were both corrupt and had so corrupted society that they separated themselves into a desert monastic existence. Some believe that John the Baptist and Jesus emerged from the Essenes, since they both were highly resentful of the religious authorities of their day for having little to do with the worship and honor of God.

I wonder how Christ would view the church that emerged from his righteous resentment. Vermont, I am reminded, is the state with the least percentage of residents favoring organized religion – 21% according to the latest Pew Research Survey. In my travels throughout the state, I have seen former house of worship converted into performing arts centers, town halls, gifts shops, gas stations, or empty historical landmarks of a bygone era. And I wonder if their demise was because people had lost interest in the church, or the church had lost interest in people.

Losing interest involves failing to relate to individuals as whole beings, both physical and spiritual or, better still, as spiritually motivated physical beings. Losing interest involves seeing the church solely as a house of refuge calling you out of a corrupt and irredeemable world, rather than as a refueling station calling you into the world with the renewed and sustained energy of God’s Holy Spirit, enabling you, in the words of Prophet Isaiah, to “mount up with wings like eagles; to run and not grow weary; to walk and not faint.” (40:31)

Our world house is burning, but it is not an unsalvageable home out of which we must run to rescue ourselves, but rather the burning home into which we must run to find ourselves, save ourselves and others; and by so doing, save our world as well.

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world, and those who live in it,” said the psalmist (24:1), who also said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky

proclaims its maker’s handiwork.” (19:1)

In other words, there is no place where God is not invested. You, your church, your community, our nation and world are all sacred temples in which God seeks to abide amid attempts to turn us into marketplaces of extortion and dens of thieves.

As children of God and followers of Christ, I hope you are not satisfied with the confusing, distorted and competing voices of the church in the world today, but will strive incessantly to maneuver through the mortal clashing, clatter and clutter with the simple alluring call of Christ’s unconditional, all-embracing love that cries out in worldly marketplaces saying, “Do not labor for food that perishes, but for food that endure to eternal life…I am the bread of life. Those who come to me shall never hunger; those who believe in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:27,35) Amen.