April 11, 2017

Sermon for Tuesday of Holy Week 2017

Sermon for Year A, Tuesday in Holy Week
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
April 11, 2017
Grace Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas
Mark 11:15-19

As the Gospel of Mark attests, any person who would disrupt
 The normal flow of trading and commerce –
 The exchanging of goods and services and money –
 That person becomes an unfortunate and ripe target for execution by the state.
Whoever would do that in the forecourts and courts of the Temple,
   Where foreign money is exchanged, and animals for sacrifice are bought and sold –
     A hive of hustle and industry –
 Whoever would interrupt that scene would become an object of easy derision.
And Jesus, unmistakably, is someone who absolutely fits that profile.

And, all the more: anyone who has spent the last three years
 Tweaking the noses of the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes –
   All up and down the countryside, and in towns and synagogues, at every chance –
 Insulting the maintainers of conventional religion –
   Anyone who has made it his business to upbraid and critique these in-groups
       For their hypocrisy –
     All the more is he a target –
       Because he has become a burr in the saddle, a source of confusion to the system,
       Who creates disillusionment, who sows a rebellious spirit,
         And who needs to be removed.
And Jesus, invoking the name of God as he does it, is absolutely that man.

I have long believed that up until Jesus turns the tables in the Temple,
 He is merely a problem – an irritant, and a rabble-rouser.
But after he turns the tables and tips the scales,
 And says that this house of prayer has become a den of thieves,
   (Combining Isaiah and Jeremiah in one breath, ...)
 Then all pretense and need of a reason to get rid of him is removed.
It’s no longer an obstacle. They’re on to the next step. They now have what they need.
He is no longer a problem to be solved; he has become the Scapegoat.

In short, I believe that what has Jesus nailed to a cross in only a few days’ time for us
 Is this same act – cleansing the Temple.
Because in doing that, he doesn’t just cause momentary inconvenience,
 And we probably should not imagine that any of what he “cleanses” remains “clean”
   For more than a few minutes –
     Indeed, no longer than it takes to turn the tables back over
       And for everyone to move back in and start trading again.
That “cleanness” is a temporary state.

The real issue – the permanent issue – is,
 He shows the chief priests and the elders and the scribes who they really are,
   What they’ve become. The traders, too, and the money-changers.
He implicates the system and those who participate in it.

He makes the Temple into a blank space, and then he holds up a metaphorical mirror.
He sweeps the Temple clean just long enough,
 And indicts them with his words,
   And they understand:
     They’re standing there, in the aftermath, thinking to themselves,
     This is true. He’s right. We really have allowed this place to be dishonored.
     We took “a house of prayer for all the nations” – the Lord’s house –
         And we turned it into a common business.
     We have attempted to monetize the holy.
     Jesus is right.
     Good Lord, he’s right. And we don’t like how that makes us feel. So let’s get him.
Honestly – isn’t that how it works?

That shouldn’t surprise anyone, though, should it?
It is the human condition to resist the truth when the truth is inconvenient to us,
 When it shows us some real side of our selves that we do not care to see,
    When it names something about our selves we don’t like, or that isn’t working.
Resisting the truth means pushing back, sometimes all the way, disproportionately, violently,
 Until we rest again comfortably in the ease and the warmth of our self-delusion.
Our myths abour our selves make us happy, and contented.
It’s a false and momentary contentment, but it’s still so much easier than amending our ways.

So today, in the Temple, he shows them a mirror,
 (He holds up a mirror to us),
   And by the end of this week
 They will have totally resisted and rejected it – shattered it, they think,
 And scattered it into a million bits of sharp crystal dust, lost on the wind.
People can only stand so much truth for so long.
Scapegoats get what’s coming, not what they deserve.

But now, square that, with this: that God in Jesus loves us desperately,
 And longs to be in the deepest relationship with us – to be friends, as John’s Gospel says;
   And, insofar as it be possible, for us to be – well, to say it plainly, to be happy.

Yet we are confused; we stumble around in the dark; we conveniently forget inconvenient facts.
We mistake expediency for true happiness in Christ;
 Or we mistake pleasure or esteem or power or privilege for true happiness in Christ.
We look everywhere but to this one, highly inconvenient source – the cross – for happiness.

All this is as true on Tuesday of Holy Week 2017 as it was on that first Holy Week.
Except one thing – this one thing that changes everything:
 No power on earth is strong enough to break that mirror.
The crucified Christ is still holding it up in the midst of his church, out in the world,
 Trying to get us to see the truth about ourselves.

Jesus is still out there, holding up that mirror to anyone who will stop long enough
 And really look into the glass to see the true state of things.

This isn’t just about the Temple, some building;
 It’s not just about doves and tables.
It’s about all the things we do that cheapen the name of God.
It’s about how we bend the image of God to suit our need and our convenience.
It’s about hollow religion that neatly fits the form and ticks all the boxes,
 But in the end is only the form, and not real worship.
It’s an indictment and a warning sign to all who would listen.

The prophet Joel understood all this: the worship of convenient idols and what it brought on.
He imagined the justice of God as a great sweep of invading locusts:

The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord utters his voice at the head of his army; how vast is his host!
 Numberless are those who obey his command.
Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed – who can endure it?

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart,
 With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
 Slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind...

My sisters and my brothers, this Holy Week – tonight –
 Let us rend our hearts and not our garments.
Let us heed the warning and pause before the mirror of Christ to take our true measure.
Let us amend our lives while the last few hours of Lent tick by –
 Amend our lives: The lives we live separately and the one life we live together, as the Church –
   Amend it all.
God’s name be praised, not cheapened.
And yes, it is completely inconvenient – the hardest thing we will ever do:
 To forgive, to change, to offer restitution, to know we’ll do better next time –
   Wherever our Lenten discernment has taken us.
And no, it does not resolve today, or tomorrow, or even on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
Or even after that.

It will be hard.
The road is long and it leads to Calvary.

To follow Christ is to abandon all preconceptions –
 To walk away from the self-delusion that I am really the one in control.
To follow Christ is to be emptied of all false and hollow religion
 For the worship of the one true God –
   As we say, “Not only with our lips, but in our lives.”
Truly, the hardest thing we’ll ever do.

Even so, remember – God loves us desperately in Christ,
 And we will not be left comfortless.


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