Consumed.

John 2:13-22

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 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. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 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.

It seems like I can be consumed by a lot of things at times.  I have a lot of interests.  If you go to my basement, you’ll see lots of hiking and camping gear, lots of fly fishing gear, rock climbing gear, and, of course, running shoes and clothes.  Just walk into my office, look at the shelves and walls, you’ll see a lot of interests.  Doing different things, having interests, are not bad in and of themselves, but, if they consume you, then, not so healthy.  We can even become enslaved to them.

Our old testament lesson comes from Exodus that we didn’t read this morning.  The Israelites had been held in slavery in Egypt.  They were oppressed and under a system that kept them from even imagining their potential.  A friend of mine, Walter Brueggemann, has some things to say on this.  Dr. Brueggeman is one of the world’s foremost old testament theologians.  He is retired now from Columbia Seminary in Atlanta, and lived here in Cincinnati for a while until he moved to Michigan a couple of years ago.  I also had the privilege of being in a small group with him for a year or so where we explored issues around Jubilee and legacy.

Dr. Brueggeman believes that the Exodus story has been played out throughout history.  The Israelites were reduced to producers.  The Egyptians were consumers.  They needed the Israelites to produce in order to maintain their lifestyle.  The Israelites were enslaved.  And, if we aren’t careful, we become producers and consumers and can become enslaved to either system, or even both at the same time!  We are so much more and God is the equalizer who called forth a new system that calls us towards true freedom.  Not freedom defined by doing whatever we want and ignoring the needs of others, but actually of being who we were created to be…persons in deep love with ourselves, others, and through the love that God has for us.

In that new system, God gave Israel some guidelines.  These are looked at as commandments, but they are deeper than that.  The Israelites had been living under an oppressive system, the law that Moses gave was meant to be deep abiding principles to live by that gave life and meaning to every relationship.  

The overriding principle is a deep passion for God.  To be consumed by God’s relationship with us and pursuit of us.  That love, that relationship that releases from slavery as producers or material consumers, to people filled with purpose, meaning, and the freedom to love ourselves, others, and God.  

Friends, we live in a similar system today.  The gap between the rich and those living day to day is getting wider, and the pandemic has actually highlighted that gap.  We are easily fooled by political and even religious manipulations that keep us from becoming the persons God has created us to be.  It has created bias within us and around us that we all need to sort through…I know I have my bias!  We are called to live into a new reality that is marked by God’s love for us and our love for God and others…and to have imagination for a better way of living!

Brian McLaren says this:  

Jesus used imagination to punch a tiny hole in their walls of confirmation bias, and through that tiny hole, some new light could stream in and let them know of a bigger world beyond their walls.

Jesus came to us fully embodying the Law and with an expansive, divine and human imagination.  He was the law in human flesh, the example.  We have this account from his life in the book of John this morning.

The book of John, like the other Gospel accounts, is presenting the life of Jesus, while declaring that he is the Son of God.  After entering Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple.  The Temple according to Jewish understanding in which Jesus was a part, was the center of religious life in Jerusalem.  It was a house of worship to the one God and at its center, was the very presence of God dwelling on earth.   There was a system of sacrifice where worshippers could come and purchase doves to make atonement for their sins at the temple.  Since they came from all over, they needed money changers to convert their currency so that they could buy what they needed to leave at the altar.  There was nothing wrong with this practice, it was a necessary function in the Temple to make sacrifices.  Yet, it had become a huge operation and was interrupting the practice of prayer.  It was a “busyness” that was distracting to those who were there to worship.    

Jesus was frustrated to see the Temple be a distraction, so he makes a point by driving them out all who were selling and buying.  The Greek work used in this text is a form of the verb “ekballo” for “drove out”, or literally to throw out.

[show pp] ἐξέβαλεν , (indicative, active, aorist, 3rd person verb)  meaning in this context to drive out, expel, literally to throw out more or less forcibly. 

Now, Jesus doesn’t hurt anyone physically in this text, he does no harm other than moving some furniture.  Nor was Jesus interested in starting a protest movement as he acted alone.  Jesus casts out those who were selling and those who were buying.  Folks had turned the temple into a place of consumption, rather than a place set aside for worship and community.  This didn’t set well with Jesus. 

After throwing the folks out, Jesus sticks around and something happens:  others came and shared space with Jesus.  The lame and the blind, those who were not whole and felt marginalized, those who had nothing to give came to Jesus and were healed and restored into community. 

The religious leaders were angry when they saw what was happening. Jesus was “consuming” what they thought belonged to them and was threatening the status quo, the way things had been done.  

He even said that the temple would be torn down…that this system of consumption can’t sustain itself.  Tear it down and it would be rebuilt by him in 3 days.  The religious leaders mocked him.  But, in effect, Jesus was saying that this system of exploitation is ending, I am showing you a better way.  Your system leads to death, my life leads to resurrection.  The old way has to go, a new way based on God’s love for all is here.

Oftentimes, I meet folks who describe themselves as “church refugees”.  They long to know that church is more than just showing up on Sundays or simply about being busy, they long for a house of prayer where they can simply be and live, love, and serve others.  They feel like they live in a foreign country, longing to inhabit their promised home.  They long to see the reality that the writer of Ephesians 2:19, 21-22 describes:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22 TNIV)

You may be sitting here today feeling anxious, frustrated, or a “refugee”.  I believe that God is calling each of us to inhabit this church, to be a part of Christ’s body and consumed by a zeal to gather together and worship God in community with others.  To come to him for healing of whatever you are struggling with on this day.  God is probably not calling us to turn over any tables around here, yet he is calling us to not settle for the status quo.  God does not want us to be distracted from seeing God in everyone and being God’s body in this world.  We are called together to be God’s dwelling in which God’s very Spirit, God’s Presence lives.  We fill our lives, our temple that God has established, with so much that oftentimes we forget who, or rather, who’s we are.  God is calling us to be “consumed” by our identity as the body of Christ.  God calls us to not simply go to a house of prayer, but for each of us, joined together under Christ, to be God’s house of prayer.  I tell folks all of the time to “own” the space God has called them into, to have agency.  In other words, to remember that we are not powerless, we have the very power of God within us and around us and that power is evident when we spend time on our knees in prayer and when we take our focus of ourselves and put it on God and on serving others who then animates who we are, our gifts, for the good of ourselves and others.

God has blessed this church in many ways, and uses us in spite of our imperfections.  God calls us to be a foretaste of what his Kingdom will someday be. 

Friends, being consumed by the things of this world leads to a dead end…being consumed by God’s love leads to overcoming, even death…as we are consumed by this God who loves us so, may we be a beacon of hope to our neighborhoods and beyond by how we live and love each other, God, and the community around us.

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