Here is the message from this morning. The scriptures used were John 2:13-22 and Exodus 20:1-17. The title in the bulletin was “Right Behaviors.” This Sunday is Amistad Sunday in our church, the United Church of Christ.
The ancient Greeks had the idea that moderation was the key to survival. I guess if you really think about it that is not a bad plan. If you just ingested a little of this and a little of that, you probably wouldn’t have ill effects of anything. You probably wouldn’t get into much trouble either if you didn’t do a lot of bad things, just a few now and then. Like take for instance cheating in school. Someone once told me that teachers don’t notice if you cheat to a C with a few D’s. Apparently it is more likely when you go from an F to an A that you get caught. I suppose it is the same with finances. If you go from having nothing to all of a sudden for no reason have wads of cash, someone is going to wonder what you are doing. Perhaps it is a “keep your head down and profile low then no one will wonder what you are up to” sort of rule. Stay under the radar and all will be good, no matter what you are really doing. And certainly don’t post any pictures or information on social media. That is just being a, well we won’t go name calling here.
The 10 Commandments in Exodus don’t say anything about moderation. There is no try not to kill anyone or only steal a few things or make sure your false witness isn’t during a holy week, or even keep the Sabbath holy when it is convenient. Almost all of the 10 commandments say, You shall not! There are two that are written in a positive sense, the one that says: Remember the Sabbath and the one that says Honor your mother and your father. And those don’t say, (Von Veet) when you want to. They are written to let us know that God expected them to be followed, not in moderation, but strictly. These were the laws that God gave to Moses for the people of Israel.
If you look at those laws, those commandments, they don’t seem to be so tough or difficult to adhere to. If we, and everyone in the community around us, would follow those rules, follow them quite strictly, we would probably live a relatively drama free life. Think about it, not only would we live in peace with each other, but we wouldn’t even envy what our neighbors have. These laws weren’t the only laws of the Israelites. For whatever reason or however it worked out, there were laws upon laws upon laws, and more rituals to go with those laws. Perhaps that is why we in some of our Christian churches have such a lack of rituals.
Jesus was well aware of the 10 Commandments. He was well aware of the Jewish codes and the laws that the people were to follow and the rituals that were performed in the temple. And above all of it, Jesus could see into the very hearts of the leaders and how they were abusing the laws and the people who were being forced to heed those rules and regulations. Mostly he realized the corruption of what had begun as a covenant between God and the Israelites, who were God’s chosen people. Jesus knew how human greed and corruption had tainted what had been given to humankind for their own good.
The gospel story we have before us today is found in all four of the gospels. John is the only one that doesn’t place it in the final week of Jesus time on earth. John puts it closer to the beginning of Jesus ministry. Whichever was the exact year in chronological placement of the event, it seems that it happened at the time of Passover. Jesus went into the temple and on this day, he had enough of looking at the corruption involved with the buying and selling of animals for sacrifices.
On this day, it was just too much, and he had to do something. It says he took some cords and made a whip of them and drove all of the cattle and sheep out of the temple. We all know that a temple in those days was not like our church building. Although we have a set of doors that can close off the outer area, we don’t have anything like their courtyard set up. There were special inner sanctuaries where only the priests could enter and some that the men could enter where the offerings were sacrificed, and then there were areas that were on the outside where women could come, and somewhere in that mix there was a place for the buying and the selling of birds and animals for the sacrifices.
Jesus drove out the animals, and then he proceeded to tip over the tables that the sellers were using to do their business. There are a couple of things going on during this whole event. First is Jesus trying to clean up the temple that he thinks of as his Father’s house. This is something that was evident since he was a young boy. The time he was missing on the trip home from Jerusalem when Joseph and Mary went back and found him, he was in the temple, and he said, “Did you not know I must be in my father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). He could not stand to see the disrespect and sacrilege being shown in the temple.
Next the term temple in the last part of this passage is more than just the physical structure of the house of worship. Jesus also tells us here that the human body is a temple. That picture we have seen so many times, of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. That is not a picture of Jesus knocking on the door of our house, but on the door of our heart, our soul. When Jesus tells the Pharisees that he will destroy the temple and in three days raise it up again, he is talking about his physical body.
Just as Jesus doesn’t want the people of his day to desecrate the Holy temple the site for worship, so he doesn’t want us to desecrate our bodies. Stealing, lying, killing, idol worship, coveting all those things are sins that work against our very selves. But as we mentioned on Wednesday night, we are not picking one sin over another. Sin is sin. In fact if you dig deep enough and read far enough, Jesus tells us that thinking it is a sin. Basically behaving in a way that is bad for ourselves and prevents us from having a relationship with Jesus is exactly what the 10 Commandments were set up to prevent. God wants us to follow those laws for our own benefit. Jesus knocks at the door to our very soul, not to come and do a spot check to see if we are good enough, but so that by opening up to him and letting him into our lives, we can have a relationship with him and accept his grace.
Jesus’ actions in the temple when he tipped over the tables probably wouldn’t have fit into the Greek version of moderation. In fact, it probably was a little scary for those who were in the area with him at the time. If you are anything like me, I sort of cringe when someone raises their voice in a confrontation, though I guess anyone with children probably knows what that is like on occasion.
But the truth is, Jesus didn’t come to earth to get a better seat in heaven. He came to give us the chance to join him there. Jesus came so that we could have the same life that he has, the same inheritance, the same opportunity to spend eternity in the sunshine of God’s love.
Jesus knocks at the door to our heart, to our soul. All he asks is that we accept him, accept his gospel and follow his ways. When we do that, we will want to follow those Commandments and more. We will want to share all that we know about him with others both in terms of words and actions to help them as he helped those in need. And on some occasions we might just be asked to be a little forceful in our actions for peace and justice. This Sunday is deemed Amistad Sunday by our denomination. The name comes from the ship that was taken over by the Africans who were being brought to this land to be sold as slaves. When they reached port after they had overthrown the owners, ancestors of our church stepped in and acted as lawyers and ministers to plead the case of these free people in a court of law, and they won. They worked for justice and were successful. Let us go this week being the force working for peace and justice wherever it is that we are asked to go. Amen!