The Rev. Robert P. Travis
3rd Sunday of Lent Sermon – 8:00 and 10:00am online (due to Pandemic) for Morning Prayer at Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI and Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI RCL Lent 3 Year B 3/7/2021
Scripture Text: Exodus 20:1-17,1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22, Psalm 19
“May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.”
MMMMmmm… I hope it helped for you to be able to sit in silence with that gospel passage we just heard, for a minute to meditate on the scene of Jesus clearing out the temple.
When I was a child, attending my dad’s church in Rochester NY, a number of parish kids, mostly girl scouts and boy scouts sold their goodies during coffee hour. My dad, the rector, had to come and tell me one day that I would not be allowed to do the fundraiser that I had been doing in coffee hour anymore because one of the parishioners had come and complained to my father about it, citing this passage and saying “since Jesus said ‘stop turning my father’s house into a marketplace,’ we shouldn’t allow children to fundraise during coffee hour at our church.” I still remember that, of course, but I think Jesus message was much deeper than simply asking people not to sell things at church, in fact I don’t think that’s what he was talking about at all.
For one, by Jesus’ time they had developed, in the temple in Jerusalem an elaborate system of sales, and of course the profit taking that goes along with those sales, around the sacrificial system of the temple. And Jesus was really being prophetic here, announcing a change that was going to come, both to the Jewish practice of religion and to our religion that would eventually follow Jesus separately. The system was going to end in just 40 years from the time of his clearing the temple. For the temple would be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, and from that point on the system of temple sacrifice ended in Judaism. And we know that the system of temple sacrifice ended for Christians with Jesus’ sacrifice of himself. This elaborate system of sacrifice revolved around trying to fulfill the Old Testament law in the most pure way. Regular people didn’t have access to some of the things that were required by the Jewish law such as a spotless lamb or even a pair of two perfect doves or pigeons, or they might not have wanted to risk bringing something like that all the way from home and find it became blemished along the way. So, sellers of livestock saw the opportunity to make money off the convenience of buying right where the animal was to be sacrificed. The people also used Roman money for their daily needs as Rome was the occupying force, but that Roman money contained the image the image of Caesar and other Pagan gods and therefore was seen as a graven image, an idol, not acceptable as an offering in the temple, so moneychangers were needed at the temple to transfer that Roman money into temple shekels which could then be offered in a pure way to God. The problem with this market system was not simply that the religious requirements were difficult to follow but because of the profit motive of the salespeople in the temple and their dishonest practices there was deception in regard to the sales that they were making, to the faithful people of God, so it had become a system of injustice in the very House of the God who says “Justice is mine, I will repay.”
So this system itself had grown to desecrate the temple of the Lord, and that deeply offended Jesus. Rather than being a market making a profit off the backs of a few chosen people, Jesus was calling the temple back to what the prophet Isaiah wrote, the Lord says, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” But by doing what he did, Jesus showed that he was a threat to the status quo. The Gospel of John that we read today places this act at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, so that it set the stage for his whole radical ministry. But the other gospels situate this at the end of his ministry, which also makes sense, because his action was the kind of threat to the powers-that-be that could get someone crucified.
When Jesus was challenged by the authorities to explain what he was doing, the Gospel says the Jews asked Jesus (now when the Jews are mentioned in this gospel and I should always remind you that in the gospel of John describes the people criticizing Jesus as “the Jews” we should best translate that as the leaders of the Jews, so we never again fall into our past sins of hatred of an entire people because of the way they’re described in this gospel). So, when the leaders of the Jews criticize Jesus for saying that he would raise up the temple in three days, the evangelist says Jesus was referring to his body.
Notice that radical shift. The temple was for the Jewish people, the place where the Lord was physically present. Jesus is claiming his divinity, in saying the Temple is no longer located in the building, but is his body. And because Jesus was fully man as well as fully God, because he was fully one of us, he showed us that our bodies are also the temple of the Lord. As the Apostle Paul puts it in his first letter to the Corinthians, your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
What is Jesus response to the people who were turning God’s house into a market? His response is to drive the animals out and say “get these things out of here! Stop making my father’s house a marketplace!”
Thankfully today the buildings that make up our churches, what we might call God’s house are not home to a lot of commercial interests.
But consider that today, in the 21st century, the temple of our body, has become a marketplace, a commodity for sale to corporations for their profit.
In the past few decades, those corporations have turned even from trying to get people to simply buy their brand to identifying with their product as a lifestyle. They constantly barrage us with images and products that are supposed to make our bodies feel good, but often lead directly to its destruction. Here’s what I found on a business site about Lifestyle brands, the author writes:
“New lifestyle brands like Apple and Nike allowed us to self-organize around ideals of our own choosing, regardless of our lot in life. We could find our tribes and rally around the aspirations that stirred us.
Lifestyle went mainstream and was layered over everything, from fashion to finance. As a culture, we moved from interacting with brands as vehicles of self-labeling to vehicles of self-expression.
This is where we are today.”
This happened just between my grandmother’s generation and my own. I remember my grandmother saying to me she didn’t want me to even wear jeans that had the Levi’s label on that small square on the back, because she didn’t want me to offer the Levi’s company free advertising. But nowadays people pay more to boldly wear the biggest labels of the most trendy lifestyle brands, because rather than thinking they’re advertising for a company the people wearing those clothes think that’s an expression of who they think they are. But that’s just outwardly on the body.
The more harmful lifestyle products are the ones that actually damage our bodies and make us more susceptible to illness. Obviously, we could see the Marlboro Man advertising campaign and similar tobacco campaigns in this way, but everyone knows now that smoking is harmful. There are those among us who are still struggling under that addiction, but I think many more of us struggle with what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. This is something that I’m a little reluctant to talk about.
I’m a hesitate to talk about it because I’m far from successful in this area myself, but I’m working on it. The main reason that I’ve been going to Weight Watchers for most of the past 20 years is because of my own unhealthy issues with food and especially addiction to sugar. We all know that more 40% of Americans struggle with obesity and it’s one of the most common factors that makes all sorts of diseases more deadly, including Covid-19.
Our food issues that contribute to our obesity are killing us, literally destroying the temple of the Lord; and yet companies spend billions of dollars to advertise sugary drinks to teens, sugar-filled cereals to hook children from a young age, and sugar-filled fast foods to all ages, which we all know have destructive impacts on our bodies. Food is perhaps the most pervasive area where our bodies have become a marketplace. And that marketing of unhealthy food afflicts the poor, and the marginalized more than the wealthy in our society, exacerbating our inequality, and the injustices we face.
Like Jesus we need to stand up and say get these things out of here, they’re destroying us.
Instead of permitting the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit, how can each of us, as Jesus did, turn over the money changers tables, cast out those unwanted things from our bodies?
It starts with recognizing that our bodies do not actually belong to those powerful corporations, even though they’ve spent billions of dollars to buy us. Actually, our bodies do not even belong to us, even though the most deceptive advertising seeks to profit off our lust for self-gratification.
As Christians our bodies belong to the Lord. In the same letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians we read “You are not your own. You were bought with a price! Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Jesus sacrificed himself outside the temple, establishing the end of temple sacrifice. In laying down his life for us, he purchased us from the dominion of darkness, redeeming our bodies from the powers that be, and transferring us into the Kingdom of light, giving our bodies new life. Your body became the temple of the Lord through Jesus’ sacrifice, and so when you honor your body with healthy living, you honor God who dwells in you.
You were bought with a price.
Before that final sacrifice, Jesus took a huge risk in clearing out the temple. And we may be taking a big risk when we take on the powers of our world to take back the honor due to our bodies. We will surely face opposition, even from those we love. I’ve experienced it.
In fact, I have dished out that opposition to people I love, who have challenged my addiction to sugar in the interest of helping me. It is not easy to take on the powers that seek to dominate our bodies. Our defensiveness about what we want to eat runs deep. When Jesus cleared the temple, I’m sure he knew he was considered a threat.
And I was struck by what Amanda Gorman said recently about being seen as a threat. Remember, Amanda Gorman is the young black woman who offered the inaugural poem at the inauguration in January. She told a story recently where she was confronted by a security guard as she was entering her apartment building, who said she “looked suspicious,” and demanded to know if she lived there. She showed her keys and buzzed herself into her building. And he left, offering no apology.
She wrote then that “this is the reality of black girls: one day you’re called an icon, the next day, a threat.”
“In the sense he was right. I AM A THREAT: a threat to injustice, two inequality, to ignorance.
Anyone who speaks the truth and walks with hope is an obvious and fatal danger to the powers that be.”
That should be the attitude of all Christians, everywhere, that like Jesus we are a threat to the powers that be. We walk with hope, we speak the truth. We are a threat to injustice, to inequality, to ignorance. We are a threat to deception, and a threat to anyone who tries to turn our bodies into a marketplace, and thereby desecrate the temple of the Holy Spirit that our bodies represent.
I urge you my brothers and sisters, whose bodies are temples of the Lord, stand up to the deception. Speak truth to those that seek to turn your bodies into a marketplace. Walk with hope, and make decisions that honor the temple that you are.