Christ Jesus is the new Temple, where we meet God, and at the cross reveals the uncontrollable, unstoppable nature of the true God’s love: a scandal, foolish, but when we find this healing, it becomes life and wisdom.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday in Lent, year B
Texts: John 2:13-22; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Religious leaders, people like me, often try to put God in a box.
For thousands of years, human beings have called out people from their midst to speak to and of God in the community, to help the rest explore and face the mysteries of God.
But such religious leaders often create ways to control this. We build boxes – temples, churches – and say they’re the only places to meet God. Once God is well-boxed, we make theology about what God says and does, controlling God for the people.
We typically try to control the people, too. To decide who gets in and who doesn’t, who’s beloved of God and who isn’t, who’s worthy of notice and who can be ignored.
We religious leaders, and, let’s be honest, many religious people in general, can be fiercely protective of our God-boxes, of our right to have the final say about God, to control access. It’s a huge temptation, and we don’t like being challenged about it.
The Temple in Jerusalem was just such a box, like all made by peoples throughout history. Its leaders controlled the God-message, and access to God, and taught that in this place alone the true God was found.
Enter Jesus of Nazareth. Being the Son of God, a conflict with this box’s leaders was probably inevitable.
So Jesus challenges the way they’ve cared for this God-box.
They’ve made a market out of a holy place, he says. Necessary things for sacrifice in the Temple are bought and sold within. Lambs sold for sacrifice, money changed from Gentile currency to Hebrew, and folks are making a profit. And the Son of God will have none of it. This isn’t what the house of God is for, he says.
This challenge to their authority, the driving out of animals, spilling of coins, and unmistakable rebuke is – no surprise – not well received. We religious people don’t like that.
But Jesus was only getting started. If it was scandalous to criticize how the Temple was run, the real scandal was coming.
Jesus declares that the time of God-boxes has passed, and the Temple is now found in his body.
Hardly anyone, disciples included, understood him at the time. But it was profound. If Israel met God at the Temple, the true Holy Place, with the Holy of Holies, now Jesus claims that he is the new Holy Place.
Jesus is the intersection between God and humanity, the house of God. God is now with us, in human flesh, able to be loved, touched, embraced. God’s Love is embodied in Jesus.
This moves God out of protective custody, breaks human control over what God says or does. This means Jesus is the face of the Triune God for us, how we know God.
This threatens religious institutions. If our business is to control God and access to God, Jesus just shut us down.
But he’s not done with scandal.
Jesus declares that this Temple, his body, will be destroyed, and on the third day be raised up.
If Jesus is now the Temple, the Holy Place, where all God’s people meet God, surely the first order of business would be to protect himself. Keep safe, so God can continue to be with us in this personal, intimate way.
But that’s not the plan. The plan for God-with-us, Jesus, is to love us back to God in person. Even if that love threatens our need to control and box up God, until finally someone with enough authority kills God-with-us.
This is the deep foolishness, the scandal Paul is talking about. God’s unstoppable, eternal love for the creation and all creatures, embodied in Jesus, will not stop loving. Power, glory, strength, winning, all these proper “divine” things, none of that is how God will act in human flesh.
Paul’s right, whatever your religion or ethnicity, this is a problem.
It’s a stumbling block if you want to control God. In Christ’s death on the cross we realize we don’t control God. No boxes, no altars, no dogmas can contain such a God who isn’t threatened even by our violence and rejection.
It’s a stumbling block if you want to control other people’s access to God. If God’s love is able to face death on a cross and rise to new life, if God’s love – a love John says embraces the whole cosmos – is so pure and constant it’s not tempted to use power and might against us, no one can control such love.
Scandal, stumbling block, foolishness, that’s what this looks like, Paul says. Unless you’ve found healing in this love.
But for those who are being healed, Paul says, it’s all different. Once we release the need to control God, or decide for God what’s going on, we find ourselves open to the astonishing Good News that if in Christ Jesus all people have access to God, so do we. That if in Christ Jesus all people are loved, so are we. That if in Christ Jesus life and healing are for the whole cosmos, they’re for us, too.
When we find such healing in God’s love in Christ, such grace from the cross and resurrection, we see everything differently. We look at weakness, and see its power to heal all things. We look at rejection and suffering, and see the beauty of such true love for all. We look at foolishness, and see a wisdom that makes all things clear. We look at death, and see life that cannot be controlled or limited.
This is our deep mystery and joy: once we stop trying to control God, trying to tell God what to do and whom to love, trying to decide which people God can reach, we find our own inclusion and healing and love and life.
There is one more scandal left.
Once the Holy Spirit started flowing into the believers at Pentecost, those who followed this Holy Place of God, this risen Temple, suddenly realized they, too, were Holy Places. Intersections between God and humanity. Temples of the Spirit of the Living God. They were sent, on God’s behalf, into the whole world. So are we.
But remember: because we follow Christ, we know from him that to be God’s Temple in the world is to risk everything for the sake of those whom God loves. To walk Christ’s path, to sacrifice with our love, our lives, our hearts, our hands. Even to die, if it comes to that.
So we gather together in this box, this place of worship, this place that we don’t control that is filled with the life of a God we also don’t control, for no other reason than that here we’ve found this life, here we’ve been healed by this love, here we’ve been fed to our depths with this grace, here we have met this God.
And from here, we are sent with this Good News, so that all might also find this healing and life, might find that God is with them, too.
In the name of Jesus. Amen