Sermon for Third Sunday in Lent B
About 7 years ago I attended my first church convention. I was an alternate delegate for my little Church, Nativity, at the 99th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Atlanta. It was everything a burgeoning Church nerd could love: legislative minutia, heated arguments, song, worship, and my favorite: rows upon rows of vendors, ministries, ecclesial dry goods, and merchandise, lots of merchandise. That year the diocese was feverishly hawking the coffee-table book which chronicled the history of every parish in the diocese. They were selling this book everywhere. I remember the youth delegation pushing t-shirts on everyone too. There was a lot to learn, see, and buy at the church convention. The t-shirts and books were even being sold in the narthex of the church were we had our closing convention Eucharist. When former Bishop Frank Allen took the pulpit for his sermon he opened with an announcement, he said, that we may have heard a ruckus in the church. He announced that a long-haired homeless man had come into the narthex where the things were being sold, he had scattered the merchandise, turned over the tables, and was shouting some blather about keeping his Father’s house holy. Well, don’t worry, Bishop Allen said, we’ve gotten rid of him.
What would Jesus Do? Remember that fad? For those of you younger than, I guess 20, there was a fad several years ago when a lot of folks would wear a rubber bracelet that had the initials WWJD on them: What Would Jesus Do? You don’t see many of those bracelets around these days. The idea I suppose was to have a constant reminder for oneself to think as Jesus did, and always do the right thing. I thought of it at the time as the Jiminy Cricket version of discipleship. I suppose wearing the bracelet was also something of an evangelistic tool, “hey I think like Jesus, so should you.” I remember my father making a comment about the What Would Jesus Do bracelets once, now you have to know my father, he is a good mid-Western sort of man, who I really can’t recall criticizing anyone or anything ever, so I listened when he said simply, “Well, I guess I just wear one of those bracelets on my heart.” That was enough for me.
I think when most people ask what would Jesus do they don’t have today’s Gospel reading in mind. Today what Jesus would do is tear the place apart. Today Jesus would turn over the tables and scatter the money, disrupt the entire sacrificial enterprise. Scholars have written on this subject in recent years and it seems that Jesus may have been upset over moving the business end of the legitimate sacrificial system from the Mount of Olives to the interior of the Temple. Jesus knows that the sacrificial system is good and fine, but the business of it, the changing of money and selling of animals is simply not proper for the interior of the Temple. And his disciples interpret his actions with the ancient words: “Zeal for your House, Lord, will consume me.”
Jesus is clearing out the Temple, he is railing against a sort of spiritual materialism. Hear that: spiritual materialism. It sounds like a paradox because we tend to think of spiritual as ethereal and non-practical. Of course, spirituality is simply the most real. Spirituality is the really real. And materialism, well materialism isn’t all bad, after all, God is the ultimate materialist, he made all material! The problem arises when we try to hold on to too many things for our spirituality.
You see, our hearts and minds are like a room. As we grow and even before we can speak a word, some furniture is put into our rooms. Some of the furniture is good, furniture that is beautiful because of the virtues they represent: hard work, care for others, justice, family. But over time, as we put more and more furniture into our rooms, the rooms of our hearts become crowded and even cluttered. What happens is that it becomes so crowded, even with good things, that we can’t move.
Like he did in the Temple, we need to invite Jesus to drive out everything to clean house. When Jesus cleared the Temple, he cleared it of things that were good, in and of themselves: the sacrificial system was good then, money is good and not evil. But they were encroaching on the thing that mattered, the one thing: worship, direct contact with God. So we must let Jesus clear out the room of our hearts so that we might be able to have room to actually worship God.
But Jesus will not leave the room empty. There will be one piece of furniture left in the room. It is Jesus. Now there have been lots and lots of ways of using figurative language to talk about Jesus: the Way, the Gate, the Son, the Good Shepherd, the Alpha and the Omega. I don’t think I have ever heard Jesus compared to a piece of furniture, so I guess we are breaking new ground here. But this one piece of furniture in our rooms is unique. I imagine Jesus might be a lot like that special piece of furniture in C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Wardrobe there is special because it is not simply an object of beauty but is the door into another world.
Jesus then is our door, which we go through to a transformed world. Unlike Narnia however, this transformed world is still our world, but through Jesus, it is different. And all those things that Jesus cleared out we find again, but our relationship to them: our money, friends, family, work; they are utterly changed when we interact with them in light of our passing through Jesus. So our relationship with money is changed in the light of Jesus. Our relationship with our family and spouses changes in light of our relationship with Jesus. This is the point: that the fundamental, the foundational relationship is with Jesus, period. Let your life be guided by that relationship first, and the others will fall into place. And by fall into place, sometimes the fall might be into a trash pile; some of the clutter in the rooms of our hearts is just trash and needs to go. Jesus changes things. It’s what he does. That’s What Jesus Would Do, that’s what Jesus does, he transforms things. When Jesus comes around, nothing is left as it was.
So let Jesus into the room of your heart, let him drive things out, turn things over, and leave the once piece that matters, through which all our lives become changed.
It is nearly Spring after all, what better time for a good cleaning?