Days 15 and 16: Getting Lost in Business as Usual (John 2:13-22)

(Again, trying to play catch up. This sermon was delivered on March 8, 2015.)

grandcanyon1How do you make the grand canyon? One drop at a time.

It’s true!  Geology is an interesting subject, but it is not a subject for anyone in a hurry to get somewhere. Almost everything in geology happens over a long period of time. The only exception to that is volcanoes and earthquakes… which I’ll get back to in a little bit.

Monument-Valley-1Overall, though, time is the determining factor in the formation of land, landmasses, geological structures, rocks, and minerals. In combination with pressure, heat, and the movement of water, amazing formations can be created–or destroyed. If you ever watch any old John Ford cowboy movies, one of the places he always shot his films in was Monument Valley, so named for all the interesting geological structures in the desert there. Plateaus, valleys, hills, spires– all of them created by a combination of time, water, heat, and pressure.

However, if you were to try and watch these things happened in real time, I hate to say it, but you probably wouldn’t be able to. These formations and structures happen not over a period of years, or even decades, but centuries. Millenia. Thousands and millions of years of time went into these structures. Great changes don’t often happen in short periods of time… unless something extraordinary happens. Which brings me back to volcanoes and earthquakes.

3023455-poster-p-volcano_0See, volcanoes and earthquakes are the wild card in the geological deck. See, the earth’s crust is made up of constantly moving plates of solid rock. These plates sometimes separate and rub together based again on variables in time, pressure, heat and water. When they do, we get earthquakes and volcanoes. The very earth itself shakes, crashing, smashing, burning, melting and creating new forms. The entire state of Hawaii is formed out of a thin spot in the earth’s crust, where hot magma shoots up and cools, creating an island. The Rocky Mountains were formed because of their location near a fault line, where the earth rubs up against each other like a crumpled piece of paper, forming a line of mountains hundreds of miles long.

So you see, change can happen when you’re not paying attention, and build up over long periods of time. Or, change can happen in an instant, and destroy whatever sense of permanency you had.

Today’s scripture lesson marks the next chapter in our journey of getting lost in Lent. We’ve wandered in the desert and learned about taking up our cross. Today, we bear witness to groundbreaking, violent and necessary change in the face of perceived permanency.

photo by Jack Zallum

photo by Jack Zallum

When we talk about Jesus, we often have a certain image in our heads we like to maintain. This is in part because of how we like to think of people. As a general rule, if we can reduce a person to a 2 dimensional figure, we will. This is a space saving technique that everyone engages in from time to time, and there’s nothing inherently bad in that, as long as you recognize that it never totally captures the essence of someone. See, people in real life, people can be unpredictable given their personality, values, motivations, histories, etc. However, unless you spend a great deal of time with that person interacting, most often you won’t see it.

What you will see is what they present to the outside world, which tends to appear 2 dimensional, simply because we can’t see the inner lives of other people. To the outside world, you seem 2-dimensional too. Think about it like this. A pyramid, if looked at from the side, looks like a triangle, but from above, it looks like a square. In truth, it is both–and neither. Appearances can deceive, when not taking the 3rd dimension into account.

The same is true for Jesus. There are any number of stock Jesus 2-dimensional cardboard cutouts. There’s your all purpose “friendly teacher” Jesus who tells you to love your neighbor and let the children come to him. There’s your Austere Holier Than Thou Jesus, who is distant and constantly reminding you he’s the son of God (most often seen in John). There’s your hippie dippy new-age healer Jesus, who goes around wowing the crowds and walking around barefoot. And of course today, you have one of my favorite Jesus’s, the angry, prophetic, table-turning Jesus.

This is not exactly the norm for a lot of Jesus’s behavior. We don’t often see jesus get angry. This is the one time we really see him let loose, and it can be jarring if you’re used to one of the other sides of Jesus’ personality. So this leads me to ask: What is it that sets Jesus off? What is it about this situation that makes him angry, and throw tables across a room?

Jesus, being the incarnate Son of God, is able to see things from a different perspective than us.  Last week, Jesus criticized Peter and said that he has his mind set on “humanly things,” instead of “Godly things,” or heavenly things. He was thinking too much like a human, and not enough like how God thinks about things. This is the same logic that Jesus applies here to the temple: We had gotten too caught up in humanly things, and forgotten to see through God’s eyes.

How could this have happened? This is the temple of God, the holiest site in all of the Jewish faith! What could have happened to make the Temple into a marketplace, as Jesus calls it?

The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question how do you make the Grand Canyon: One drop at a time. None of these things happened all at the same time. The first thing you need to remember is that this is the second Temple in Israel’s history. The first one was destroyed by invading Babylonians. Then, this one was built in the return from Exile. Since then, Israel was being ruled by foreign powers like the Greeks, and in Jesus’s time, the Romans.

By the way, as an aside, I always thought it hilarious that in classical images performing this action, his face is always peaceful and serene. Which is weird.

By the way, as an aside, I always thought it hilarious that in classical images performing this action, his face is always peaceful and serene. 

Because of that, the money was different from what the Temple priests accepted. Greek and Roman money had the faces of the emperors on them–a direct violation of the commandment against graven images. So, Temple coins had no faces on them. Over time, Money-exchanges moved in to facilitate the trade for holy sacrifices. And if the merchants only accepted the Jewish coins, if they wanted to trade with Romans, they needed to exchange back and forth. So they moved closer to the temple, to the point that they just moved into the front door.

These things didn’t happen day one. They happened over the course of hundreds of years, to the point that they had been going on for so long, it just seemed normal. It was just sort of… business as usual.

So Jesus comes in, knowing how it ought to be, and sees everyone lost in business as usual. Seeing this, he knows that the best remedy for people who have gotten complacent is a shock to the system. So he gets angry. He throws over the tables, and drives everybody out. When questioned, his response is that it was foretold: zeal for his house would consume him. And consume him it did.

Jesus performed his role in the temple, and performed it well. The question for us today though, is this: How do we find our way out of being lost in Business as Usual?

Churches have a bad habit of being stuck in a routine, lost in complacency. We do things one way that suits for a time, but time never stays the same. Time moves on. But churches are inherently conservative institutions. We like to conserve and remain the same, because it’s familiar. It’s safe. It’s how we’ve always done it, and it’s how we’re always going to do it.

So how do we as a church stop being complacent? That is a hard question to answer. Jesus performed his shock to the system–and he was killed. We like to imagine that we would often be on Jesus’s side when he does these kinds of things, but more often than not, it’s our own sanctuary that he disrupts than someone else’s.

Perhaps the best way to address this question is to answer it first in our own lives. Churches reflect the people that are a part of them. Therefore, maybe the best way to ask this question is to apply it first to your own lives. How have you grown complacent in your own life? What slow drips happen in your own lives that can cause great canyons to form? Have you been complacent in your prayer life? In your reading of scripture? In your communication with your loved ones? In your behaviors at work or school?

Complacency is not a new spiritual issue; it’s plagued us since the beginning, and will plague us for years to come. What we have to remember is that occasionally, Jesus is going to shake us up at some point. He’s going to correct us, either gently, or forcefully, depending on how bad we let it get. So pray about this. Ask God what you have grown complacent about.

How do you make the Grand Canyon? One drop at a time. How do you get out of the Grand Canyon? One step at a time. Thanks be to God.

About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. Currently, he is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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