Sermon for Year B, The Third Sunday in Lent
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
March 8, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
The Bible is the story of God,
Who makes all of creation, and blesses it,
And who then makes a deal, or a “covenant” with certain peoples of the earth:
You will be my people, and I shall be your God.
To this deal, God adds some rather delicious promises:
With Adam and Eve, Have dominion over the earth;
With Noah and his kin, Never again shall I flood the world;
With Abraham and Sarah, You will be the father of many nations;
With Moses, My people will be set free;
With David, You will be the king and show forth my glory.
Always, the bottom line of the deal is,
Abide by the terms of this covenant, and you will be a great light;
And kings and nations will come and worship,
And things will be put right.
But there’s a cost. The covenant isn’t exactly free. Some behaviors are expected.
People enter into the covenant being asked to do certain things,
Or to let go of certain things, or to re-learn old ways of being,
Or to renounce the ways of the past and learn new ways of being.
The covenant requires us to do some things, and so we get laws, for our own good –
Don’t eat of the fruit of that tree;
Bring me a sacrifice;
Walk in the ways that I have prescribed;
Don’t build me a temple just yet; or, Go ahead and build me a temple; and on and on.
So, then, living with the reality of God in our lives – living in a covenant –
Is a lot like living with the reality of any relationship at all.
We hope and expect to get certain things out of that relationship,
And in turn we know we will have to give and sacrifice and amend our lives.
But the relationship, and enjoying one another, makes it worth the effort.
Also, as in any relationship, there are moments when things can get really intense.
What happens when someone fails to uphold his or her end of the bargain?
What happens when someone goes off the deep end or gets flaky?
What happens when people are subject to human failings?
What happens when people are subject to outbursts of emotion?
What happens when someone becomes hard to deal with?
Well, if the relationship is worth it, you do the work, right?
Now, I suppose that I say all that, simply in order to say this:
In the Bible, God gets mad.
It happens a lot.
And if you need to worship and love a god who is so perfect
As to be beyond showing emotion,
Then your money, brothers and sisters, has been laid on the wrong pony.
Because the divine heart is worn on the divine sleeve.
God gets mad.
If you want to, you can rationalize Jesus cleansing the temple,
And in your mind at least, you can sanitize him and clean him up
And make him be beyond reproach.
If you wanted to, you could say
That Jesus was merely informing those in the temple
That the old sacrificial system was coming to an end –
That in him and because of him, their services would no longer be required.
No more vendors are necessary now, thank you.
But I suppose that if that’s all Jesus is doing,
There are probably more polite ways of lowering that boom
Than whipping them and knocking over their tables and driving them out.
He could sit them all down one by one and explain that they’ve had a good run,
But it’s time to pack it in.
He could send pink slips to each of their homes.
He could at least stop long enough to see that these booths
Offering money-changing services and animal-selling services
Have been a serviceable, reliable part of the system for a long time,
And now it’s time to find another line of work.
He could spell all that out with cold calculation.
Clearly, that’s not the story we have. Instead, God gets angry.
In Psalm 7 God “displays his wrath every day.”
In Exodus, God tells Moses to leave him alone because he’s so mad about Israel
That he wants to destroy them.
And Sodom and Gomorrah. And Nineveh.
And Lot’s wife. And the guy who reached up to touch the ark only in order to steady it.
Revelation depicts God’s wrath as taking the form of seven bowls of righteous anger:
Rivers and seas turn to blood before they dry up;
Mankind is scorched by the sun; the earth is utterly shaken.
I read where someone thought of this as “rationally retributive” –
That is, God’s “anger is his direct, calculated response to sin.”
In other words, that God doesn’t get mad, he gets even.
There’s yet another sunny apology for the truth that God really does get angry.
A truth that doesn’t need an apology or an explanation. The relationship is worth the work.
Disney. Hallmark. Mainline Christianity in American culture.
At our peril, we take an iron to Jesus’ wrinkled edges and we domesticate him.
We run him through the “Iowa Nice” filter and place him among lambs and children.
You know what I mean when I say Iowa Nice, right?
Folks here are nice. They’re kind. They wouldn’t say an uncharitable word.
Ron Wiggins wrote that “Iowans won’t consult the Whitman’s chocolates diagram
Because if you know what you’re getting,
That would mean that Forrest Gump’s mother was wrong,
That life is not like a box of chocolates.
In fact, the meanest thing Iowans ever do is switch the chocolates around
So that only they know where the caramels are.
Then they switch them back because they can’t handle the guilt.”
How can the Jesus whose anger cleanses the temple and drives out the commercial vendors
Possibly stand a chance against the antiseptic Jesus of our halcyon Sunday School days?
We don’t know how to be angry except in secret; it just isn’t acceptable.
So we shove it down until we get so full of it that it comes out sideways.
But not Jesus.
He is clear and direct with what he’s feeling about this situation.
Truth is, God alone is sovereign, righteous, all-holy, and just.
How and why this is, is a mystery. But it puts me on my knees.
The pattern in the Bible seems to be that when God is angry,
a) it isn’t forever, and
b) stuff gets done. In short order.
a) it isn’t forever, and
b) stuff gets done. In short order.
Our bodies and our minds are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
We have accrued ways of being over the years that allow us to forget that.
Wherever we have compromised those systems, cheated those systems,
Not offered the right kinds of sacrifices of our lives,
Not truly learned to write the laws of God on our hearts –
Wherever we have trespassed the law compassion and charity
And the law of the love of God, self, and others –
Wherever we have become sleepy, selfish, or cold-hearted,
Wherever the law has been forgotten, ... we need a temple cleansing.
We need the favor of divine power, and the blast of a kind of a whip,
To get it together and drive out whatever it is that keeps us from loving God completely.
We can’t do this alone; we need the one who has been with us and walked and lived among us.
The holy living impression of the one true God.
We need Christ as our guide.