Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for cleansing the temple of our bodies by washing us clean with Your precious blood. Thank You for embracing this task so seriously that You gave Your life for us in the process. May we learn from both Your gift and Your example to always show zeal for everything connected with worshipping You. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR SUFFERING SERVANT
TEXT: John 2: 12-22
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
After 34 years in the parish, I’ve seen a lot and heard even more stories about ministers, churches, and people. Today I want to get across the points of our lesson by relating a few stories about things that have occurred in various churches. Specifically, I want to key in on this line from our lesson: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
There was a small church in a semi-rural Midwest town. The Pastor got a call from a family that was moving away. It seems they had some items they wanted to donate to the church and wished to drop them off. Since this was a semi-rural setting and the Pastor was going to be away for the afternoon, he told them he’d leave the back door unlocked. When he returned, lo and behold a small mountain of junk was piled into the back room of the church! That Pastor had been to their house. He knew they had some quality items. But this was pure junk. The people were gone with the moving van, never to be seen again. It cost the church the price of a dumpster and many man hours to get rid of it all. It seems those former parishioners wanted to save the cost of a dumpster by pawning it all off on the church! Laziness and cheapness, not zeal for the Lord’s house seemingly consumed them.
Some pastors and parishioners have a faulty understanding of this lesson on the temple cleansing. When I grew up it was forbidden to have any sale or bazaar in the church because the rationale went: “We don’t want to turn God’s house over to the money changers!” Those liberal Presbyterians down the street had their yearly sale, but not us prim-and-proper Lutherans! The problem is: Christ was reacting here to the greed and graft of the temple hierarchy. They were cheating and overcharging pious pilgrims making their once-in-a-lifetime trek to the temple. Everyone was expected to pay the temple tax and also offer an animal sacrifice during this time. Since they needed to pay the tax with Hebrew shekels and possessed only Roman denarius’ money-counting tables were present. Unfortunately, the people in charge, overcharged for this service—greed. Likewise, the pilgrims could not very well bring a sheep or a goat 500 miles to Jerusalem, so animal sellers were also provided—for a hefty surcharge! Greed and corruption predominated. Annas and Caiaphas got rich. This is what Christ is objecting to here, not a helpful service, per se. I recall the synod president giving this advice to a young pastor about 25 years ago: “If Grandma Jones knits a pair of mittens and sells them at the church sale and donates the money, it’s because she loves her Lord and that’s how she is showing it!” Again, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”—If the motives are Gospel-centered.
As a seminarian, I visited and guest preached in various congregations. You could always tell the tone of the church and how seriously they took their faith in this: Was the church neat, clean, and tidy, or not? Externals are a tell-tale sign as to whether or not: Zeal for your house will consume me…..
Remember Anna and Simeon in the temple? We’re told they: “Served the Lord day and night.” Aside from praying a lot at the temple, what does that mean? It means they probably adopted an area that needed some attention and kept it “just so.” Zeal for God’s house consumed them.
The disciples remembered that phrase from Ps. 69 when they reflected back on Christ’s 1st cleansing of the temple outlined in our text. It correctly fit the picture they had just seen of Christ in Godly anger making a whip, lashing the corrupt money-changers, turning over their tables and setting the animals loose. Do we as Christians have that same zeal for the Lord’s house? Are we also willing to expend serious energy to keep God’s temple pure and free not only from spiritual dirt but physical dirt, too?
St. Paul says that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” The same applies to Christ’s body. It really was God’s earthly temple! And so when the upset crowd challenged Christ’s cleansing of their temple, He foretold His body’s destruction and subsequent resurrection three days later. They, of course, didn’t get it. We see that in their answer: “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to rebuild it in three days?” But He did, didn’t He? And in the process He extended His power to cleanse and rebuild our lives, to each of us through faith. Yes, “Zeal for the Lord’s house consumed Him!”
Conservative Lutherans often give off the attitude that faith is cerebral, a mental process of rationalizing life, but that the heart, passion, doesn’t have much to do with it. I suppose this is a reaction to some of the evangelicals who are all passion and no thought. But, our lesson paints a far different picture. Christ is thought and passion combined. He didn’t just think or imagine us saved, He went out and did the heavy lifting to make it happen. He sweat those great drops of blood, He carried the heavy cross, He suffered pain beyond measure–all to save our souls. Zeal for the temples of our bodies consumed Him—literally.
Actions speak louder than words. They did here for Christ and they do for us, as well. So, does zeal for the Lord’s temple in its various forms consume you, or not? Do you put yourself out for Him—first and foremost—or do you passively hang back and just do enough to make it look good? Are you a welcome mat or a door mat when it comes to God’s work? It’s a serious question to ponder all the time, but especially during Lent. Amen