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|"Zeal for Your House"
get a lot of stuff in the mail--and I do mean a LOT of STUFF.
Beyond what I WANT to receive. Pastors and churches are
vulnerable to being sold everything under the sun, because we are
supposed to be all things to all people.
Indeed, in seminary I remember being told that pastors may be the last true generalists.
But for evidence of how churches are seeking to become all things to all people, early in the nineties, two newly constructed United Methodist Churches had built sanctuaries that could also serve as basketball courts.
In fact, Christ's Community United Methodist Church in Joplin called that room a Sanctinasium. My hometown church, built over 45 years ago, has a fellowship hall almost large enough to be a basketball court. And almost every active church with a sizeable membership either has a "family life center" or dreams of having one. The Buffalo United Methodist Church is consecrating one this afternoon.
When I was in high school in the fifties, almost every church in town and the surrounding countryside formed a summer volleyball league.
And one tiny Presbyterian church out in the country beat the stuffing out of the much larger Methodist church in town every time they played us.
Now, I think that volleyball league was good for the morale of the ecumenical community. I think there should be more of them in more communities. But in the midst of all these good times, in the midst of the basketball courts in the churches, I think we nevertheless must always be asking the question, "How far can we go without going too far?"
Perhaps some of you have heard of, or seen, or seen on television, or seen advertisements for, the "Power Team."
They're a group of super-athletic young men, each of whom has more muscles in his chest than I have in my whole body, who witness for Christ by performing feats of strength, like breaking bricks with their heads, or something like that.
Now, maybe I'm being unfair, but how far do we GO with this sort of thing? IS the church ALL things to all people? MUST it be?
Well, the church is NOT the society at large. And people CHOOSE to be a part of it or NOT to be a part of it. Ours is not a theocracy. At least not yet. But that has not always been the case. In Israel two thousand years ago that was NOT the case. Israel WAS a theocentric nation, and the temple, their church, was the center of things. And it WAS all things to all people.
And in the thirteenth and fourteenth verses of the second chapter of the gospel according to John, "The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables."
Now, we might find it difficult to imagine a CHURCH like this. But we have to remember, first of all, that the temple was ENORMOUS. In fact, for those times its size was probably on the scale of a regional shopping mall.
And second, the Jews practiced sacrificial offerings. Even Jesus parents, when he was brought to the temple as an infant, according to the twenty-fourth verse of the second chapter of the gospel according to Luke, "offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
So, to simplify matters, these animals were sold in the temple. But since you can't buy and sell without some medium of exchange, meaning money, there were also moneychangers.
And I'm sure it all seemed quite natural and logical to all the Jews at the time. Just as natural and logical as a basketball goal at the far end of the sanctuary.
Well, Jesus thought differently.
"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."
A madman is loose in the temple. Attacking these practices that everybody had taken for granted for so long. And I'm sure that some were thinking, or even saying, "What's HIS problem? We've ALWAYS done it this way!" And they had! Or at least for a very long time. Long enough that they no longer gave it any thought. It had just become a habit. Moneychangers and sheep and cattle were just an unquestioned part of the temple scene.
So since Jesus acted first and explained himself later, this was probably a very shocking experience to everyone who witnessed it.
And Jesus "told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"
It's easy for us to smile condescendingly at those Jews for their sheep, cattle, doves, and moneychangers, because we don't have them. But maybe there's a deeper message in what Jesus said. Maybe he was saying, to the church for all time, "Stop making my Father's house something that it IS not and SHOULD not be!"
And THAT puts us on the spot. Because what SHOULD God's house BE? Are we treating it, using it, the way that we should? Are we BUILDING churches the way we should? Are we WORSHIPING in churches the way we should?
Are we even attending worship services for the right reasons? If Jesus were to walk through the door this morning, what would he SAY to us about these issues?
And if he were to tell us that we were off base, would we say, "But we've always DONE it this way!" Would we think that we just had a crazy person loose in the church, upsetting our comfortable lives?
Well, the disciples probably thought that Jesus WAS crazy. Until they "remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." And so far as I know, this is the only recorded event in scripture where Jesus blew his cool.
The disciples were remembering the ninth verse of the sixty-ninth psalm. Listen to ALL of that verse: "It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."
So this is more than a hyperactive preacher running loose; it is the Son of God taking the insults of God upon himself. It wasn't just the clutter of animals and tables filled with coins that bothered him.
That's just the superficial stuff. What upset him was the meaning that this conveyed in a house of worship. The Jews had become so obsessed with the trivia of their religion that they had lost focus on WHAT their religion, their God was all about.
And what does this say to us about basketball goals in the sanctuary?
I have to admit that I am really old-fashioned when it comes to the language I use in referring to a place of worship.
I insist, for myself, to understand that I AM in a place of worship, that this IS a sanctuary, that those who worship here ARE a CONGREGATION, that I preach from a PULPIT on a CHANCEL.
And I refuse to think, as some do, that this is an AUDITORIUM, that you are an AUDIENCE, and that I am preaching from a STAGE.
Now, there's nothing wrong with those words. And this SPACE could just as easily serve as an auditorium as a sanctuary. But my understanding of a service of WORSHIP is much different than my understanding of a theatre performance.
Now I suspect that the Jews were REALLY upset with Jesus for what he did. But apparently there were some calmer heads who "then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"
More likely, there were many who said, "Who gave you the right to go rampaging through here?" But in any case, they want to know what AUTHORITY he thinks he has for doing this.
And it's interesting that they don't question his use of the phrase, "my Father's house." If I were one of those Jews, I would probably wonder about that.
"Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
Now, does THAT answer the question? "What SIGN can you show us?" Or did Jesus hear a different question? Or is he changing the subject?
Well, first let's get on the wave-length of the questioners. What are they HEARING in the answer? Isn't Jesus TRIVIALIZING the temple as a physical structure? "If you think this rampage is something, destroy the temple and in three days I'll rebuild it."
But they should also be hearing an implication of who Jesus is, of the power that Jesus has. And if the thrust of their question is "What gives you the right to DO this?" Jesus' answer is that his POWER gives him the right. And he's telling them that what he has just done is MINOR compared to what he CAN do.
Well, that's not going to be much of an answer for them. That's not what they want to hear or EXPECT to hear.
In fact, it probably doesn't make any sense to them, because all they can think about at the moment are all those animals and birds and moneychangers who have been driven out of the temple. All they can probably focus on is the mess that's left.
And to REBUILD the temple?
"The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body."
And when John adds that verse, it's almost anti-climactic. And we want to shrug and say, "Yeah, yeah, I know that." But if we shrug it off, we may miss something. And that SOMETHING is the difference between the way that humans act and think and the way that GOD acts and thinks.
The Jews are thinking of the temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus is talking about the temple of his body. And the Jews are thinking about an earthly creation, but Jesus is talking about God's spiritual work.
Forty-six years versus three days. When humans construct something--it takes time, sometimes a very LONG time. We have lots of limitations. But when GOD does something, in God's time, it may take NO time.
How long does it take to BUILD a church--a church of concrete and steel and bricks and glass and stone and whatever else? Well, it takes as long as construction workers' physical bodies need to put it together.
But how long does it take to BUILD a church of people? As long as it takes for a few people to declare that they ARE church. And that could be instantly.
Indeed, in a spiritual sense, God can create ANYTHING instantly. But we puny humans require some time for anything to happen. "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.”
To the Jews, all it was was a temple, a building. To Jesus, it was his Father's house. And Jesus knew that buildings come and go, and ultimately don't amount to much.
But the MEANING those buildings carry DO amount to something, and if they are places of worship, they tell us something about our spiritual lives. And unlike earthly buildings, our spiritual lives can go on, can be raised up, just as the temple that was Jesus body was raised up in three days.
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