3rd Sunday in Lent
11 March 2012
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let's face it. You live in Chicago; you know what this is about. Or do you?
Yes, it is disrespectful for having the sales take place in the Temple courts, yet the very things they are selling are for worship. It might be compared to people having to purchase the bread and wine or water for the sacraments in the next service they attend. It is not the best choice, but perhaps not the terrible thing that sets ablaze Jesus' righteous wrath.
Nor is the money exchange. The Roman coins bore images of Caesar and his false gods, in whom the pagan empire trusted. This was offensive to the Jewish religious consciences, as God had forbidden such images. So they maintained their own shekel. No problem with currency exchange -- when it is fair. But here, the Temple money-changers added such extreme fees for the exchange, that they harmed their neighbors.
So what is so wrong? It's the Temple mob. The poor widower from Galilee who walks so far to the Temple would have a difficult time leading a single lamb on a hundred-mile trek. And he would risk the lamb being injured on the way, this making it disqualified for sacrifice. The impoverished couple who brings their pair of turtledoves, only to discover the Temple official declares some made-up defect. So, the Temple hierarchy developed a market to purchase sacrificial animals. And while they were at it, who knows how many people were told their lamb or doves have some fictitious or exaggerated blemish.
“But wait! We have just the solution! Right here, on the Temple premises, you can purchase a replacement!”
For centuries, the Lord God had railed against dishonesty in the marketplace, and those who sell there, preying upon the poor. Dishonesty, cheating, and price-rigging are not simply a modern problem; these men used phony weights and measures, and picked on simple people who did not know any better.
The Lord Jesus then comes into His Father's house, the ultimate house of prayer on earth, the location of God's glory, where He was handing out forgiveness through the sacrifices that anticipated the Lamb whom God would provide. But He finds His children harassed and cheated by these money changers.
And here you enter the picture. "Well, thank the Lord we don't sell our Sacraments, or purchase fundraising items in the sanctuary, or rent out our hymnals! Glad we are not like those mean, nasty, Temple money changers!" Are you so sure?
Those money changers did not really care for the people. They were there to simply gather in money and serve themselves. How often, when you think about this congregation, do you think in terms of the offerings and fund raising dollars coming in, and serving St. John's, rather than what you can be doing as a parish, in mercy to others. Too often your focus comes back to be self-centeredness, rather than reaching others with the love of Christ. Too often, the thought is that you have too many budget problems to think about increasing your giving to District and Synodical missions, and instead focus on yourselves.
Or worse yet, are there times when you do have your mind on others, buying a crafty way? Times when you are contemplating how you can cheat them, exaggerate or stretch the truth, and take advantage of them? Whether your victims are poor, or not, you transgress God's Law with your dishonesty and sneaky manipulations.
But in comes Jesus, and He overturns your tables. He deflects your inward gaze and crushes your self-studying with His Law. You have been stuck in your sin, and desperately need His release, as He brings you to behold the crowds of neighbors He would have you serve.
And released you He has! Christ Jesus, after turning those tables and driving out the money changers, went on to be both the Priest and the Sacrifice. No need to purchase the doves or lambs at inflated prices. Jesus IS the prefect Sacrifice who is given freely.
He is also the One who is Truth incarnate. So when you are full of sinful dishonesty and cheating others, Jesus steps in and carries away that sin, as always, and fills you with His Word of Truth.
At first, you rightly hear Jesus say His Father's house is a house of prayer, and hear God's Law. You have not kept it holy as such, playing with your phone, or peek a boo with the baby a couple rows in front of you, or sipping your Starbucks. And it hurts. You have not given the Lord respect.
But then, you also hear this as Gospel. Jesus makes this house a house of prayer, for you! He draws you here, that you may be forgiven by His Gospel, and given life and salvation through His Holy Sacrament. He establishes and maintains this house of prayer that you may be constantly brought to His holy gifts, and be blessed as Christ Jesus restores and renews you. He rescues you from all cheating or lack of mercy. And He completely changes your life and gives you true and sure and certain hope, on account of His perfect sacrifice -- for you! Amen.