A Sermon on John 2:13-22

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.

How many of you really enjoy bragging about yourself?  I mean, when was the last time you went on and on about your many, numerous awards or degrees? How many times have you just said, “Wow, that’s very nice — but here’s how great I am!”? Yeah, me neither. For those of us who grew up in the Midwest, we’re accustomed to a certain level of courtesy. Call it the Minnesota Nice factor.[1]

In our Gospel text today, however, we come across a picture of Jesus that does not easily fit into that world of niceties.  Instead, John paints a picture of Jesus going mad. He storms into the Temple and conjures up a whip out of cords. He drives out all the people, sheep, doves… every living creature is driven from the Temple court. He overturns tables and pours money out all over the floor. Jesus is acting insane!  I’ve heard it called “righteous indignation” before, but in the moment, when Jesus was flipping tables and driving a whip of cords in the ground to scare the animals out of the courts, I would imagine it looked an awful lot like anger. But it’s the conversation that follows between Jesus and the Jews that really sticks out to me.

After Jesus overturns the tables and kicks all the livestock out of the Temple, the Jews ask him “What sign can you show us for doing this?” In other words, “What gives you the right to come and disrupt this temple?” And Jesus answers in a way that, I’m sure, was quite perplexing to these men. He says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This is where people start to get offended.  This is like shouting “Bomb!” in the line at airport security. The temple in Jerusalem was thought to be one of the holiest places in the world. It was thought that God actually lived within the walls of the temple. So when a hotshot who is fresh off his first miracle in the wedding at Cana comes and talks about destroying the temple – destroying the very dwelling place of God – there’s going to be at least a little bit of resistance.

The Jews here aren’t the half-wits they are sometimes portrayed to be. These are some very serious actions that Jesus is proposing here. They’d be asking a question like If Jesus really does destroy the temple, then where will we find God? How will we make God known? These people are scared of losing the very thing they’re giving their lives to. But lucky for us, the writer of John gives us the inside scoop that Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.

As usual, Jesus is talking about something far deeper than the building they are standing in. The new temple is not made from bricks and mortar, but from body and blood. Jesus tries to get them (and us) to break out of our conception that the church, synagogue, or temple is the only place we can experience God. Jesus is talking about a God on the loose. God is no longer constrained to just dwelling in this one particular space, but now God is everywhere. This is echoed in other gospels at the crucifixion as the curtain of the temple is torn in two. But John puts it all the way at the beginning. John knows the end of the story and wants to clue us in early. But we still fall prey to the same thoughts that the Jews of this time did, don’t we?

A lot of times, we still hold fast to the idea that God is contained inside the church building. If I were to ask you where is God for you? Or where do you feel God’s presence the most? I’m sure pretty early in the conversation we would talk about church, as in these four walls of this building, in these pews with us people in white robes up front talking to you about God. That’s the natural answer. We feel closest to God when we gather as a community in times of worship and fellowship. The good news of today’s Gospel text is that God is so much bigger than that.

One of the most memorable moments in the 2000 Summer Olympics was when Eric Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, swam in the 100-meter free style qualifying round. The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim the previous January. He’d only practiced in a 20-meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than 50 meters. By special invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits smaller, developing countries to participate even though their athletes don’t meet customary standards. He had been entered in the 100-meter men’s free-style. When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone. As he raced, he was, to quote the Associated Press article about the race, “charmingly inept.” He rarely put his head under the water’s surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With ten meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop.

Even though his time was over a full minute slower than his nearest competitor , the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood to their feet and cheered the swimmer on. After what seemed like forever, he reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, Moussambani said over the loud speaker, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.”

This is what the new temple looks like in our world. If we are the body of Christ in this world, and the dwelling place of God is Christ’s body, then that means that every time we encounter another person as a member of the body of Christ, we are encountering God. We are encountering the temple that Jesus re-built in three days. This new temple has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, but with body and blood.

This is what the body of Christ looks like in our world today. The body of Christ – where John tells us God is living – is made apparent when we choose to build up, rather than tear down.  When we choose to heal and mend, rather than let anger or cynicism get the best of us. So now we go out into the world that God calls us to, trusting that our work is not in vain, and living in the promise that the new temple has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, but only with body and blood. Amen.

Cheers,
Eric

[1] Thanks to my friend, Culynn, for this idea for a way to get into the text. Very creative.

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