(Before starting the sermon ask everyone to stand and move to a different seat. No one can sit in the same seat. I will pick up my notes and move to the lectern instead of the pulpit, EVERYONE HAS TO MOVE!)
Last week Jesus looked at Peter and told him “Get behind me Satan.” I preached on personal discipleship and the willingness to get all in for Christ. I told you that we needed to be willing to follow our savior all the way to death if need be. Little did I know that around that time there was a fellow clergyperson, in Indiana, losing his life by being shot in the middle of his church service. Jesus said some harsh things to us personally last week but this week isn’t any better. Instead of asking the question “what does it mean to follow Jesus?” this week we get the question “What does it mean to be the Church of Jesus?”
There is this stereotypical idea that Jesus was always smiling and happy. We have this image that Jesus floated on air because he was always filled with joy like a child walking through Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The truth is he got angry at times. He was known to call out the Pharisees and the other religious leaders of the day and call them hypocrites. I don’t think he was smiling too much when he said the words to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Then you have this week’s text, when Jesus walks into the temple, makes a whip out of cords and drives people out. He is angry in this text. He shows up to church and is appalled at what is happening in his Father’s house.
This is where it can get scary. This is when it can get very threatening. Jesus came into church and disrupted what they were use to doing. He kicked people out who thought they were doing something good for God, yet Jesus found it horrible. Let me explain a little.
There were a couple of steps you had to go through in order to give or to sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. Let’s say you wanted to give an offering or you wanted to pay your temple tax. The only money that was accepted in the temple was temple currency. All you had in your pockets was Roman money because that is the currency used to by food and other items at the local market. This means that you need a money changer, a person who would take your Roman currency and give you temple currency. To make things easier and more accessible the temple decided to put a money changer in the church. This way people don’t have to go here and there to find a place to exchange their money.
The same is true for sacrifices. There were certain animals that had to be used in order to offer up sacrifices for a person’s sins. The animals had to be without blemish in order to be good enough to sacrifice. Unblemished animals are hard to find and if you raised animals yourself you can know how difficult it can be. So how do they fix their problem? How can they help people come and give the offerings they need to give? The best solution and the most convenient was to bring in some people who could sell unblemished animals right into the church. This solves a lot of problems. People came from all over, sometimes they would travel for weeks, to come to the temple to make their sacrifices. Money changers and easily accessible animals made life easy for the pilgrims. This stuff just made sense.
There is a ton of stuff we do in church and it makes sense to us but what scares me is what would Jesus do if he walked in here? If Jesus walked through the doors today would he be happy with what we do in this place or would he want to make a whip and drive some of our stuff out. What do we do in the name of church that is actually making God angry? What do we do that we see as necessary or just a function of being Trinity United Methodist Church that makes Jesus cringe? That question haunts me…but what is even scarier is you all know the answer.
The people in the temple that day do not ask a question we would expect them to ask. No one stops Jesus and asks him, “Why are you doing this? What are we doing wrong to deserve this?” No, all they ask him is, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” They want to know what authority Jesus has to make these changes in the temple. They all knew, on some level, that the money changers and the cattle in the church was wrong. Jesus just finally called them on it. When I ask the question “what would Jesus find offensive about what we do here at Trinity?” something passed through your brains. You just thought to yourself, “Jesus probably doesn’t like it when we…” That should tell us something.
Now don’t feel that I am keeping myself safe up here. The text today doesn’t allow me to stand up here and shake my finger at you all and keep myself out. No, I’m placed first in the front of the line. Fredrick Buechner, in his book Whistling in the Dark, said, “There is not better proof for the existence of God then the way year after year he survives the way his professional friends treat him.” Ouch, that cuts to the core. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I sometimes do things and call it ministry, say things from this pulpit and call it gospel, which probably makes God upset at times. I need to realize that from time to time because when I do it keeps me honest and in check. I am called to preach the gospel. That gospel is something that makes us uncomfortable, that calls us out and demands us to change our ways. I’m afraid that sometimes I remove the teeth of that gospel to save you from pain, I make it too comfortable, and Jesus shakes his head.
While John Wesley was at Oxford, in 1729, he began to meet with some fellow students. They met to dive into a deeper level of spiritual discipline and practice. Soon this group was known as the Holy Club. They held themselves accountable to some very diligent disciplines. They fasted until 3:00 pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, received Holy Communion once each week, studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and the Classics each evening in a member’s room, visited prisoners and the sick, and systematically brought all their lives under strict review. Other people started to make fun of their little movement and all the methods the followed. Soon they started to call them Methodists, because they followed all these rules.
Now, 280 years later, the United Methodist church exists and is still made fun of for all its polity. Polity is all the rules and regulations that govern a group of government. Man, do we United Methodists have rules and regulations. We have this thick book call the Discipline which tells us what we are allowed to do, what we aren’t able to do, how we are to be organized, and how we can make changes to the system. That book keeps getting thicker and thicker as they years go on because we get deeper and deeper into our polity. It is said that where two or more are gathered at a United Methodist church, a committee is formed. There is method to our madness and I cherish our system but sometimes it seems too much.
There are moments when I think our polity gets in the way of ministry. If we truly want to feed the hungry why do we need a committee’s approval first? There is a story of a United Methodist church in Greensboro. The minister was new and it was time for the annual United Methodist Men’s Barbeque. She was told that everyone sold tickets and that she was expected to sell some too. She wasn’t much of a salesperson so she decided that she would buy her tickets and then hand them out to the homeless who lived under the railroad track down the street. The homeless were a little shocked and weary but the minister assured them that if they came to church they would receive a nice barbeque meal. The day of the barbeque a ton of homeless showed up. The word had gotten around about this church’s meal and they didn’t realize that one ticket equaled one meal, they though one ticket invited everyone. Soon they church had a situation at hand. They could turn those who didn’t have a ticket away or they could provide food for those who really needed it and not make the money they were hoping to make.
A committee couldn’t meet to make this decision. Administrative Council didn’t have a chance to come together for debate, reflection, and a vote. A decision between polity and ministry had to happen in an instant. The church fed the hungry and didn’t make the money they were hoping to make. They realized in that moment what church was truly to be about. See that is what the people forgot about when Jesus walked in that day. The money changers and the cattle were all there to make life easy but they had slipped away from their purpose. We need to realize that every so often we need to step back and see if we are being church and living up to Jesus’ calling.
It is easy for us to sit in the same spot week after week and get comfortable. But Jesus comes in and makes us uncomfortable today. I asked you to move because I wanted you to get a different perspective. We have to ask ourselves if we are being Church and that question is hard to ask when you are sitting where you usually are. Is Trinity doing what we are supposed to be doing or what is comfortable? Are all our ministries, worship services, fellowship opportunities, living up to the expectations of Jesus? What needs to be driven out, redone, changed, to please Christ and have us be Church?
And all God’s people said…Amen.