Readings: John 2:13-22 & 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
‘In the temple courts he found people’, I wonder what John would write if Jesus went into our church buildings today ‘he went to the churches and found them closed, empty …’ how would Jesus complete the sentence, how do you complete the sentence? What would Jesus say of our buildings in these times as we continue to live in lockdown? Over the last year we have learnt to be the church in a very different way, we have learnt what we probably already knew that we can be the church without our buildings but that there is also something missing in our life together when we can’t all gather in the same place at the same time.
In Jesus’ time and throughout the history of the old testament the temple was important as it was the dwelling place of God, it was the place where the presence of God dwelt and where the presence of God was protected, not least by the rules which decreed who could go into various parts of the temple the parts closest to where God dwelt. It was the sense that the place where God dwelt, the Father’s house, was being defiled when it was used as a market that led Jesus to clear the temple courts of the traders.
Nearly a year into this pandemic I wonder what we feel about our buildings? Whilst we know we don’t have the same understanding of God dwelling in our buildings as the old testament we do know that our buildings are important to us and that there is a sense of sacred space in them. I think COVID has taught us that sacred space can be different, that we can find that same sense of peace that we find in church buildings in other places. But I also think COVID has shown us that meeting in the same place with people is really important, but maybe it is the being with people that is more important than the building itself.
There is much to challenge us and make us think in this passage and the different accounts of this incident in the different gospels bring focus on different elements of it. In John’s gospel it comes much earlier in the gospel narrative than in the other gospels, where it comes much closer to Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem. For John the focus is much more on Jesus’ authority and what authority he has to drive the traders out of the temple. I don’t know if you noticed that when the Jews challenge Jesus they don’t challenge what he has done, maybe they knew what was happening wasn’t right, but they do challenge his authority to do what he has done.
Jesus makes clear that his authority to do what he has done is in both who he is then but much more in what he will do in the future, in the way that in three days through his death and resurrection he can and will restore everything that could be destroyed, he will redeem the whole of creation. Of course the central point here in relation to the story is that in those three days, through his death on the cross and his resurrection, the dwelling place will no longer be in the temple, in the holy of hollies, but in him the resurrected Jesus who meets the disciples, and after Jesus’ ascension and pentecost in the power of the Holy Spirit which dwells with us here on earth. Through his death and resurrection the presence of God is no longer caught up in a temple but through the holy spirit dwelling in each of us, in Jesus it is the people of God who have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit individually and together who are the sacred spaces.
When we talk about our buildings being sacred spaces it isn’t the buildings themselves that are sacred but the power of God which has been at work in people in those buildings. When a building feels special or sacred or peaceful it isn’t the building itself that creates that atmosphere but the engagement with God that has taken place there, the prayers that have been offered, the worship that has been said and sung, the moves of the spirit that have bene experienced. It’s what has happened under the authority of Jesus in churches and abbey’s, in home and consulting rooms, in chaplaincies and pilgrimages sites that make them sacred spaces.
For me, when we experience buildings as sacred it is often because those experiences have happened over many many years and over many generations. But we can also experience the opposite in a building where lots has taken place that is not of God, those buildings can feel distinctly spiritually uncomfortable, unhealthy, not of the kingdom. In those places we too have to be careful and if we want to use them for the purposes of God to reclaim them as God’s, declare Jesus’ authority over them and to stop those things that are not of God taking place in them as Jesus did in the temple courts.
Whilst this passage is about the temple and therefore invites us to ask questions about our buildings the key point about the authority of Jesus applies to us as disciples. Who has authority in our lives, who has authority over our bodies, does Jesus have the authority in our lives that he should have? Does he have authority in all parts of our lives?
Each of us has many different aspects of life, our physical bodies, our prayer life, our working life, our family life, our sex life, our friendships, our shopping, our online life, and many others. Who has authority over them? Do we let Jesus into them all or do we choose which we give over to Jesus and which we want to control ourselves?
In this passage Jesus wanted the temple to be used as it was built for, for its clear purposes to be maintained and offered in praise to God. Jesus drove out those things which took place within it which were not of God and were not for the purpose it was created. It’s the same with our lives, God created us to live for God, that’s our purpose and God wants us to live in that way. The only way we can live in that way is to live with Jesus having authority over all aspects of our lives and to let Jesus take from us those aspects of our lives which are not of God. Jesus speaks of the temple of his body and the challenge for us is to see our bodies and lives as temples for God, which are 100% given over to God.
Last week Paul spoke about the importance of moving on in our discipleship of constantly growing and going deeper with God. It is only when we do this that we can engage with the process of our lives and bodies being more and more given over to God. It is a lifelong process but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage with it and aim for it, for it is when we do that that we become more and more the people God desires us to be and more and more free of the brokenness and sin within us.
In our reading from 1 Corinthians 9 Paul speaks about his commitment to preaching which he finds by being free in Jesus. For Paul this freedom is freedom from the law that he knew as a Jew, freedom from the way that bound him and stopped him from being who he was called to be. For us if we don’t offer our whole lives to God then we will find we are not free, that there are things within us that stop us being the people we are called to be, that prevent us from being free to share the Gospel.
In 1 Corinthians Paul’s freedom allows him to have a solidarity with different people and through that to share the gospel with them. Paul’s freedom allowed him to be in solidarity with the Jews, with the those under the law, with the weak, with the strong. When we give the authority in all aspects of our lives over the God we too are enabled to be in solidarity with those who are oppressed, with those who are subject to prejudice, abuse, poverty. If we are not in solidarity with this people then we do not have the opportunity to show them and tell them of God’s love or more importantly to receive God’s love from them.
In this season of lent we are called to reflect on our lives, to enter into times of self examination and repentance where we consider whether we are living as the people God has called us to be. In this coming week, as we continue to journey through to lent to Easter I invite you to reflect on your life with God, to reflect on which parts of your life Jesus has authority over and which bits he doesn’t. I invite you to offer those parts he doesn’t to God and to invite Jesus to have authority over them in the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus is invited he will take that authority, he will transform those parts of your life, he will make them beautiful. I can’t promise that will always be an easy process but I can promise the outcome will be good, that it will be more beautiful just like the temple courts were without the market. The more we look to Jesus, the more authority we give Jesus in our lives, the more strength we will discover to live as the people of God.
The more authority we give to Jesus, the more we live in line with his will, the more of the kingdom we will see amongst us. To do this we certainly don’t need to be in our Church buildings, to do this all we need is sacred space where God is dwelling and that we can find anywhere in the power of the Holy Spirit and with others who seek it alongside us, even on zoom or the telephone.
What I am sure of though, is that as more and more of each of us is refined by God, the more and more strength we find from allowing Jesus to have complete authority in our lives, the more God can do through us as the people of God.
Therefore, if we accept the invitation to consider where we need to give Jesus more authority it means that when we are able to gather together again in person we will be even more like the body of Christ God desires us to be and that in turn means we will be more ready to serve God together through which God will be able to do even more and greater things. Amen.