[This one did get edited at my watering hole with the help of my colleague Rev. John Adams]
“But he was speaking of the temple of his body.”
I speak you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Amen!
It’s a known fact that we grow from uncomfortable situations not from comfortable ones. However, in a height of irony that no hipster can contend with, we as humans avoid discomfort. We want to grow in our faith, as human beings, grow in skill and in our professions, but we are often unwilling to go through the discomfort of changing our routine, of changing our status quo, of disrupting the homeostasis of our ingrained patterns.
So, I want to challenge you to do something right now that you might find wholly uncomfortable. Do not worry introverts, I’m not going to make you share anything about your inner child or anything else like that. I will, however, promise you all that if you do this uncomfortable thing, I’ll share with you a juicy secret that I have been carrying for at least 16 years. So let’s do it, shall we. Choir please stand up and come on down and fill in these front pews, deacons, lay servers y’all too. Now everyone else, please stand and come on down fill all the pews in the front. Sit in the front and as close together as possible.
[vamp as people move]
Okay, so you obliged me and now it is time for me to spill the beans on my secret. This past Thursday I went to the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Summit. The closing speaker was Frank Warren, who started the PostSecret project. About ten years ago he started inviting people to anonymously write secrets on the back of postcards and mail them to his house. He’s collected over a million secrets at this point. Through this experience he has learned that there are two kinds of secrets: those that we hold, and those that hold us. I don’t want to be held by this secret any longer and I believe I can trust you enough not to judge me for it. So, here it is:
Every time this Gospel passage comes up in the lectionary, every time we hear of Jesus clearing the temple of the money changers, I want to sneak into the church on a Saturday night and remove all the pews. Just for that one Sunday I want to put down throw pillows and bean bags and set the altar up on a side wall.
I do not in any way think the Temple Priests in Jesus’ day were bad people. I do not even think they were setting up the money changers for their own gain. No, I honestly think they set it all up to be helpful. See most of the rural folks did not have cash money. They had their livestock and produce, but that was all. In their small villages and towns they bartered and traded. They lived off what they grew; so they didn’t need cash money. Yet, by the law of moses they had to pay the temple tax. They needed some way to convert the livestock and produce into cash money. Furthermore, they couldn’t just use the local market in Jerusalem. If they did, they’d wind up with Roman Coins, the coin of the realm, the coin that had to be used for commerce in general. However, the Roman Coins not only had a picture of Caesar on them, a graven image that would violate one of the Ten Commandments we heard as well this morning, the coins also had an inscription proclaiming Caesar as divine, as a God. That inscription would break the very first commandment; so, it couldn’t be used to pay the temple tax.
I am sure the priests and officials set up the market and the moneychangers to be helpful. However, the problem wasn’t there desire to be helpful; rather that they were pursuing maintenance instead of mission. Instead of being willing to go through the discomfort of drawing others into communion with God and community with each other, they sought to maintain the institution. They had those typical anglican feelings of if we can just keep doing things the way we always have, or worse if we can go back to doing them the way did in the so called “Good Old Days” we’ll be okay. I can’t fault the temple priests and leaders in Jesus’ day for wanting to keep things going. It isn’t evil, merely human, to avoid change and discomfort.
I believe hearing this reading this year during lent should be a cautionary tale for us. As we discern how we are to be the church, we must resist the temptation to practice maintenance instead of mission. We must not seek to keep things for the sake of keeping them; rather we must be about the mission of the church. The prayer book defines the mission of the church as, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
Now it’s lent; so, I’d like to make a confession. I have not approached our building problem faithfully. I have approached it with anger and frustration. When I came back from Sabbatical last fall, this is not what I wanted to be working on. We had worked so hard for years to get to a point sustainability, we were so close to...it drove me about mad to have to deal with this fruitless disruption. I apologize and ask your forgiveness for my lack of faith. From now on I will not look at the building through a lens of frustration. On the other hand, I will look upon the degredated state of the building as a gift. Because of the discomfort, because we simply can not sit here and let the walls crumble around us, we can ask important questions like, to restore people to communion with God and community with each other, do we need to own a building? Is owning a building necessary to the mission, or is our vision of the possible limited by the so called “way we have always done it”? Is the church the building or the body of Christ?
That last question takes us back to the Gospel passage. After Jesus cleared the temple, the Priests asked him for a sign, and Jesus responds, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The scriptures go on to tell us that Jesus was not talking about the building. No he was talking about his body. The path to our future does not lie in figuring out how to simply fix the building. The church is the body of Christ, and our future lies in discerning how we perform the mission of the church. The mission of the church is restoring all to unity with God and each other. My brothers and sisters, I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and I believe we are Resurrection. I believe we can choose mission over maintenance. I believe we can choose growth over comfort. I believe we are to be the body of Christ instead of the CoR preservation society.
My prayer, and my hope is that we will not come to God’s altar today merely for solace, merely for comfort. Rather, I invite us to come to God’s table willing to be holy discomforted; that we are fed with the body and blood of christ so that we will have the strength to see disruption as a gift and opportunity. I pray God gives us the vision to shed our history and grow toward our future. Amen!