March 7, 2021
How do you feel when you sense that something is not quite right?
Do you question the status quo, or do you become complacent?
For Martin Luther, there would be no complacency. What he witnessed and what he heard the Spirit speaking to him through scripture resulted with him posting the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. It would quickly bring about conversation among the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and they would ask Luther to recant his words, in which he responded, “Here I Stand, so help me God, I can do no other.”
His writing stirred the elite within the Roman Church from their status quo and he quickly became someone that the German laity and many others would begin to look towards for guidance. The change that Luther sought within the Roman Catholic Church was not welcomed and therefore we would witness a reformation of the Church as everyone knew it in the sixteenth century. As he called for a refocus on scripture, faith, and the grace of God, the Roman Catholic Church was more focused on the structure. For Luther, the question could be, who is serving whom. C. Andrew Doyle in a commentary for this week, notes, “The mission of God in Christ Jesus will always be limited by the time and energy spent on the structure. When the structures serve itself more than the world in God’s name then the structure needs its tables turned.”
It was as if Martin Luther went to Rome and turned the tables over.
Turning toward scripture, it was not unusual to find bustling activity around the temple. This is where people gathered. Especially during times of festivals, like the Passover, the number of people greatly multiplied as they returned to give sacrifices and thanks. Jesus was not pleased with the activity he witnessed at the Temple. Sure, there were signs of great life as many things were happening all at once, however, it was not the life that Jesus had come to encourage. In one of Jesus’ opening acts in John’s gospel, he is already turning things upside down, literally. In his promise of rebuilding the Temple in three days, or his body as we know he is speaking of, we see new life being fulfilled. In some of these opening words of John’s gospel, we are insiders to a story that has yet to play out. As Jesus refers to his body, we too can trust in God dwelling within us, and that life in our bodies is restored as well.
John chooses to present the story of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple at the beginning of his ministry. This is different from the other three gospel writers as this same action occurs after Jesus has made his appearance in Jerusalem right before his death and ultimately his resurrection. You can imagine there have been arguments over the timeline and who is right and who is wrong. I am not going to answer that for you, because there is not a definitive answer. However, by John placing it where he does, it sets up the rest of his gospel, which is always pointing to the glory of Jesus. It also gives a moment of time for the disciples to look back on after Jesus’ death and resurrection, fully knowing then what Jesus meant when he would raise the temple after three days. It had finally occurred to them that Jesus meant his body.
The scene that plays out before us in this lesson from John can be a bit unnerving. This is not necessarily the loving and grace filled Christ that comes to our mind. Jesus in this moment reveals an anger at what is happening in the Temple. The purpose and the focus of the Temple has become a scene of a marketplace with profits lining the pockets of those that have set up stalls to benefit as much as possible from those that are making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the Passover. This is a Holy Space and when Jesus encounters it running amok with merchants and money changers, it is not surprising that he raises the heat a notch and calls out what he is seeing. Part of the concern here is that the Temple authorities seem to have no problem with what is taking place, perhaps receiving their own cut. Their disbelief in Jesus raising the Temple back up in three days after its destruction reveals where their focus rests.
The Temple has been under construction for 46 years, who could simply raise it up after three days? During those 46 years, look how far they have strayed from the true teaching of God. Their focus in those 46 years have been on the building and they have been pulled away from true worship. They have been distracted from material things that are much less important than God. It appears they are more focused on worshipping the building than they are on the God of their father Abraham. Yes, the purpose of the building is to worship the Lord, but have they allowed it to be turned into an idol that God has warned against in the Ten Commandments. They have allowed it to become diluted by the distractions of the marketplace it has turned into.
This past year has given us ample time to become distracted. As we have stepped outside of the walls of Trinity and had to adjust within this pandemic to do community and church differently, it has been just as easy to step back and say I am going to sit this one out. Yet, we are only as strong as those that are on the periphery looking in, waiting to get back to normal. When we focus too much on the physical aspects on what worship looks like, we become distracted, and our focus on God can become easily diluted. And the thing is, this does not happen just in times of a pandemic. It happens when we look back at the “glory days,” when Sunday School classrooms were full, and we had more butts in the pews. However, the reality is that the church is always in constant change and need of reformation.
When Jesus stepped into the Temple, he would set into motion a movement that has never stopped. It is a movement that is always evolving and changing. We can see that throughout history and it is that much closer for us because we can look towards Martin Luther and the Reformation. If the church is not open to constant reform guided by God’s word, then it might as well bow down to let something else take its place.
Amid, our current situation, where do we go from here? I can guarantee you that church a year from now is not going to look like church did a year ago. We have now entered a new time and space.
Jesus has stepped into the temple to discard the distractions that pull us away from being in right relationship with the Triune God. He has raised himself up as the one to follow. It is the temple of Christ’s body that guides us. We too should look at our own bodies as being of God, as we are created in the image of God. This Lent I have encouraged you to return to the Lord as we heard in Isaiah on Ash Wednesday. Let us leave all the tangibles behind and truly focus on the Lord, our God. We do this in worship, in prayer, in our daily lives. Are you keeping this in mind throughout the day as you make decisions and thinking about how it reflects your life as a follower of Christ? Are you allowing yourself to be drawn into a right relationship with God? Jesus has stepped into the Temple to stir things up, as did Martin Luther did 1500 years later. We are now in a time to continue to see the church reformed and be a part of that transformation.
There is a major difference between Martin Luther and Jesus Christ. One fully knew what he was doing and the other not so much. Sure, Luther had a desire to reform the church as he came to know it, yet I am not sure if he could have guessed where his action on that October evening in 1517 would lead him and his followers into the next century and beyond. Jesus, on the other hand, knew the movement he was starting on the first Passover in Jerusalem spent with his disciples. In driving out the cattle, doves, and money changers from the Temple, he drew people back to the true center of what worship should be. In his promise of the temple of his body being rebuilt in three days, our focus is redirected from the physical to the spiritual. It is here in Jesus Christ, as his disciples will come to fully understand at the resurrection, where the Word of God fully resides. A Word that restores us to new life.