Third Sunday in Lent, Year B – “Spring Cleaning”

Title:Third Sunday in Lent, Year B – “Spring Cleaning”

By the Rev. Canon David Sellery

“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 marketplace!” 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. – John 2:13-22

“This week we encounter Jesus in the temple, and he means business. He has come to proclaim the New Covenant, even though he knows it will ultimately cost him his life. But Jesus is different; he is not a go-along-get-along guy. For openers, he won’t preach the good news surrounded by the corruption that permeates the house of the Lord. So he overturns counters, dumps the cash drawers, and drives the merchants and their livestock from the temple.

“It seems straightforward enough, until we realize that, once again, Jesus is operating on more than one level. The temple he says will be destroyed and rebuilt is a direct reference to his own approaching sacrificial death and resurrection. And indirectly he is also telling us to get our spiritual house in order. That’s why there is a Lent—a time to take inventory, a time to repent, a time to get our priorities straight.

“As the disciples suddenly remember, Christ’s cleansing the temple was prophesized in Psalms: “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In fulfilling this prophecy, Jesus is not consumed with love of the temple’s architecture, its construction or even its sanctuary.

“When Joshua pledged, “As for me and my house…,” he wasn’t dedicating bricks and mortar. The Greek word for house, oikus, means household. And it is for the household of God, his errant misguided people, that Jesus laments. He calls on his people to recoil from sin, to purge themselves—to repent. This translation also reinforces Christ identifying himself as a temple that will be destroyed and rise again in three days.

“As a kid, hearing this gospel for the first time, naturally I identified with the good guy, the righteous Jesus. And I looked down on the bad guys, the money changers who were fouling the temple. Over time I came to realize a deeper meaning. The people Jesus drove from the temple are the very same people he came to save. They are sinners. They are us. The people who mocked him are the same people he would lay down his life for. They are sinners—no different from us, especially when we mock him with indifferent lip service and call it prayer, especially when we live proud, self-centered lives and call ourselves Christians.

“Jesus was not deceived by the faux piety of the money changers. He saw through them as he sees through us. And yet, even in his wrath, he loved them as he loves us. He died for us all: in our sins, in our pride, in our greed, in our neglect. Jesus does not love us for whom we ought to be. He loves us as we are in our falls and in our resurrections.

“He does not drive us out. He gathers us in to live in his love. Jesus uses this gospel to tell us we have a lot of cleaning-up to do. Paul tells us: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Lent is set aside for each of us to give our temples a really thorough cleanup. Sure, we’re spiritually sprucing up all year round. But Lent is not here for light dusting. It’s time for heavy-duty scrubbing—purging the temple that God gave us, rededicating ourselves to God’s service.

Start with a rigorous spiritual inventory: What are your priorities? How do you spend your time? Do you truly accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Is he at the center of your life or on the periphery? How and when do you pray? Are you in continuous conversation with Jesus or have you silently drifted away? What fences need mending? What habits need breaking? What strengths need building? What relationships need fixing? Who needs your help today?

This isn’t a complete list. But it is a good start to putting your temple in order—to tackling your own spiritual spring cleaning. So, roll up your sleeves and pitch in. It will make your life healthier, happier and holier. Ask Jesus to lend you a hand: throwing out the guilt, polishing up the joy, making room for love. Spring cleaning with Jesus—that’s what Lent is for.

The Rev. Canon David Sellery is canon for congregational mission in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

Today’s readings invite renewed commitment to our covenant relationship with God. In Exodus, the Ten Commandments become the standard of life for God’s people. Paul assures his Corinthian community that their commitment to Christ is the powerful core of Christian faith. In today’s gospel, Jesus’ passionate love for God ignites his anger against those who treat God’s house with disrespect.

The sermon in 2018 covered the Gospel cleansing of the temple and used Oscar Romero as a contemporary example illustration. In Jesus time, the priestly class "were making a killing by bilking the people who came to the temple to buy the perfect sacrificial animals to offer in worship, which could only be bought with temple currency, which was exchanged at an exorbitant rate.

"In our times, Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador, saw that the Catholic Church, the state, and the military all worked together to benefit the ruling families of that country while most of the people lived in abject poverty.

"In 1980, Bishop Oscar Romero was murdered as he celebrated Mass in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, because he dared to speak out against the government’s injustice to the poor and its policies of torture. Romero and the other martyrs hoped that God would eventually establish justice, and so they chose to stay and endure in El Salvador and to speak up for the poor and to stand against injustice, even in the face of death.

"Like Jesus cleansing the temple, Romero cleansed the temple, so to speak, and thanks to the work that God did through him, the Catholic Church ended up standing in solidarity with the poor of El Salvador, rather than remaining aligned with the rich families and the government and the military all intent on perpetually holding the poor in economic poverty."

In the Old Testament reading today, The Ten Commandments set forth the duties of the Israelites to God and to those within the community. The commandments are covenant demands founded on their special relationship to God that specify ways that right relationships are endangered or violated. The commandments concerning human interrelationships have parallels in other ancient cultures, but those concerning the people’s relationship to God are unique to the Old Testament.

#1-#4 concerns our relationship to God -I am the LORD thy God; No other gods before me -No graven images or likenesses; Not take the LORD’s name in vain; Remember the sabbath day;. #5-#10 concerns our relationships with others – Honor thy father and thy mother; Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shall not steal, Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s house – Thous shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

Paul sets forth the general principle that the wisdom of God appears to be folly to those wise in worldly terms, while to those in the process of salvation, it reveals the power of God. Human-centered wisdom, which is itself closely related to our efforts, will be overturned by God.

In the Gospel Jesus personifies the title given him in 1 Corinthians: stumbling block.  This week is the familiar story of Jesus’ anger at the temple priests making money off of those coming to sell animals for sacrifices to exchange for the temple currency. This story usually is associated with Holy Week with Jesus overturning the tables. In John it is in Lent 3, three weeks before Holy Week. In Matthew and Mark the words are "overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of of those selling doves." We don’t the means he used. John’s version is more specific and possibly more serious – he is making a whip of cords, a more violent response.

Take down the walls! Jesus desires to end these boundaries in relationship with God, especially since these boundaries were man-made. No longer will the poor, who do not have the money for the temple currency or to afford the clean animals for the sacrifice, be turned away, and no longer will those in the temple appear to have special access to God. The temple of God will no longer be in stone, but in Christ, and in our very selves, the body of Christ. From Corinthians 12:27, "All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” There are no boundaries. How do we erase the ones we have?

I like what Dean Randy Hollerith wrote in 2018 about this scripture today -" Here is my question for this morning. If Jesus were to walk into our lives today, what might he want to overturn and toss out? If he were to enter the Temple of our hearts, what thoughts and behaviors and beliefs would he want to drive out? Maybe we still find it impossible to let go of our anger at someone in our lives. Maybe, we find it impossible to let go of some negative understanding of ourselves. Maybe we cling to jealousy, bigotry, or pride and Jesus, if we let him in, would want to pull these things out of us so that we can let them go. Whatever those things are, they are precisely the things that stand between us and God. They are what separate us from God and from our better selves. During these forty days of Lent, pray for God to help you purge the Temple of you heart so that when you arrive at the empty tomb on Easter morning you are ready to welcome him who would give you the gift of life eternal. Blessings, Randy."