[Sermon preached on Sunday, March 4, 2018]
Shalom, friends. I just came back from the temple, have you been yet? Yes, you went earlier? Did anything interesting happen? Same old-same old, just like every other time you’ve been to the temple? Hmm, nothing much to report or say, huh.
Well, have I got a story for you. You guys aren’t going to believe what happened.
You know how it usually goes, the temple is a bustling place; nobody can just show up and make their sacrifice, we have to do everything to get ready. Animals acceptable for sacrifice are for sale and there are so many out-of-towners exchanging their money to pay the temple tax. As usual, it was noisy, smelly, chaos of people and animals. But at the same time, there is a routine of to going to the temple, an expectation of what needs to happen and what will happen throughout the process. What? No, no, no, that’s not the wild thing that happened. Have patience, I’m getting to it!
I was waiting to purchase my doves, when this guy comes in. He was really angry and totally tore the place up. He chased the animals out with a whip, and toppled the tables. Money went flying everywhere. He was yelling and there was such confusion! He was saying stuff about his Father’s house and then he really started talking crazy. He told people who were questioning him that if we destroyed the temple, he will “raise it up” in three days. Yeah, you heard me, the temple that has been under construction for longer than most of us have been alive, he says he can build it in three days!
I feel so out of sorts now. Who do you think he could have been? Was he possessed or do you think he was a zealot from another region? Or was he something more? I just don’t know, there was something about him. He had some followers with him and when he spoke, there seemed to be an unexplained power and authority, not like someone who was out of his mind. Yeah, I just wonder who he was. Oh, look, the neighbors, I’m going to go see if they know about it all yet. Shalom!
How often do we hear stories that describe a normal event, but are suddenly exciting because of the unexpected? I was driving to work yesterday when… BAM, something exciting happened. Now the drive that you could not have cared less about a moment ago is suddenly important. My experience suddenly matters because it left the path of the routine and took an unexpected twist. Have you ever had an experience like the one I described in the temple? One where you thought you knew what to expect but something happened, good, bad, or indifferent, that made you stop in your tracks? Whatever it was, it made you want to share the experience and it made other people want to hear about it.
Jesus entered the temple in protest, but protesting was not the point. He caused money to go flying through the air, but money was not the point either. He was telling his disciples, and everyone else, that this place and what he says there is important! It is worth remembering!
Maybe that was the point. Life can, and let’s be honest, often does, get routine. We can start going through the motions, not really aware of what is really going on around us. The details of the sites and smells and how we feel during the experience does not make an imprint on our memories; it is the same as always, so why try to remember it. When something startles us out of that numb routine, it can leave us feeling confused, flustered, angry, frustrated, at a loss. Or maybe it can leave us motivated and inspired, energized to more fully engage with the world.
As we walk through life, we choose how to engage with the world. We all get to choose what is important to us and what does not warrant more than a passing glance. When Jesus entered the temple that day, he startled people out of the sleepwalking that many were undoubtedly doing each time they went to offer a sacrifice to Yahweh. He caused them to talk about their experience at the temple with their neighbors and friends. What was, for many, a droll task that was just another part of observing the law, became important again.
One day a woman was walking down the street, as she did every day. She listened to her favorite podcast and passed everyone by, often the same people, day after day. One day, as she walked, she noticed that there was a man who was quite obviously experiencing homelessness seated on the grass. She paused, and as she did, he looked up and smiled at her. Not a creepy, leering smile, but a genuine, warm smile. Startled, she hesitatingly smiled back. When she got to work, she told her coworkers about the heartwarming smile. The next day, she saw him again. She began to wonder how long she had been passing this man by without even noticing him. One day, she stopped and greeted the man. She told him that while at first he had startled her, his smile had made her day and she asked him his name. It isn’t important what his name was; the importance is that the woman asked for it, giving him an identity as a person, not just a man without a house, and from the connection made when someone experienced the unexpected. That man became important and worth second thought.
I don’t know how the story continued, but I like to think that they formed a sort of friendship, or at least a mutual respect and caring that made each matter in the other’s eyes. I also like to think that the woman stayed startled, and continued to notice what went on in the world around her. And all this, because a woman was startled out of her cozy bubble of normalcy.
Jesus was a disruptor. Not just in our Gospel reading, but throughout his ministry; his actions and stories were an awakening, sometimes a rude one, to many he encountered. He did the unexpected. When we encounter a disruption that catches us off guard, we can see it as a frustration, or we can see the face of Jesus somewhere in the disruption, whether it be in the disruptor, a victim, a survivor, a bystander, a responder, or someone after the fact. Good disruption or bad, Jesus is there. If we choose to reach out and be a positive disruptor in someone else’s life, we can be the hands and feet of Jesus, allowing others to see him in us. Maybe the disruption will lead to a connection that the person has been longing for. Maybe the work that God has been doing in the person’s life will be enhanced when you help that person to be startled into seeing what is important in their life.
Jesus made an imprint on the memories of his disciples, and probably others who were in the temple that day. This was the start of his public ministry and he wanted people to remember it. Right before this reading is the story of turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, but he did that quietly, at a private function. Nobody really cared who he was and he was not looking to ruffle feathers, at least not that day. If he had not made this day at the temple something to remember, his disciples might not have recalled the words he spoke so clearly.
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In their grief followed by amazement, those are the words the disciples remembered after the resurrection. They remembered the day when Jesus went berserk in the temple and recalled that they had thought he was talking about the physical temple they had been in. Now they realized that he had told them what was going to happen to him. Between the time of our Gospel reading and the time of the resurrection, Jesus did a lot of teaching in a lot of places and among thousands of people. Why should the disciples remember what he had said on that particular day in the temple? Whether he intended it or it was just a happy outcome, Jesus had effectively startled his disciples into remembering his words, which brought them comfort and confidence in his identity and in his resurrection.
Theologian and poet Thomas Merton is quoted in Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours, as having written, “The stars rejoice at their setting, and in the rising of the Sun. The heavenly lights rejoice in the going forth of one [person] to make a new world in the morning, because [they have] come out of the confused primordial dark night into consciousness” (192).
As we progress through Lent, go into the world conscious of each new day. Allow yourself to be startled awake to the moments of our lives, even if it comes from an unexpected source or direction, as the disciples and those in the temple were. I also challenge you to be the startling factor that will bring about positive change in the world. Allow the world around you into your life in new and unexpected ways. Reach out to the person who might feel invisible. Share your story, which might empower someone else to share theirs, owning it in the process. Today, awake from the darkness of routine embracing every moment.
Creator of all, we thank you for the opportunities you offer us to be the change we wish to see in the world. We ask that you startle us into wakefulness, that you may empower us to more fully embrace your will and your ways in our lives and in the world around us. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.