Neil Glover on the 21st January 2018
The attack on the temple wasn’t a mild act of reform, but an attack on the very heart of religion itself.
Based on John 2:13-25
The script from earlier in the morning, at Weem, is below:
Oh dear friends in Weem,
I have a dilemma this morning,
Because I want Church to be an uplifting, affirming experience,
And the gospel text this morning.
Is about Jesus making a whip of cords,
Imagine you were to pop round to our house, the Manse,
And found me at work in the garage, first you would be shocked that I was doing anything remotely resembling DIY
And you might ask
“what are you working on Neil”, “I’m working on a whip”.
“I’m planning to use it in Church tomorrow”
Jesus, makes a whip
And he attacks the Jerusalem temple.
Oh that’s fine, he attacks a temple miles away
One that doesn’t even exist any more,
Oh we don’t mind those sorts of things,
And no one was injured so far as we can tell,
An injury free attack, miles away, years ago,
But my job is to find the story today
To bring the temple nearer to home
And that’s going to be hard,
Because it might be close to home
Because we would much prefer a nice story this morning.
We like our Sunday mornings whip free.
So what would he be attacking
Oh I know, let’s make the equivalent of the Jerusalem Temple
The Headquarters of Judaism, and of its country
The Church headquarters at 121 George Street.
Or National Headquarters at Holyrood.
But what if the target is nearer than that.
This might be uncomfortable.
What is Jesus is Attacking
The first is that he drives the oxen and the sheep from the temple.
You can’t have a temple without sheep and oxen
It’s like driving the drugs out of a hospital
Or the books out of a school
Or clearing the shelves in a supermarket.
Temples need animals
To heal human brokenness and failure and guilt and fear
Our humanity is a mixed package
We mess up
We feel bad, guilty
We condemn ourselves, blame ourselves, sometimes even hate ourselves
We even blame ourselves for things that other people have done.
Recently I went to visit someone in Tollcross in Edinburgh, up by the Kings’ Theatre…
Where I used to go for piano lessons.
And I remembered the time that I got jumped and attacked there when I was at secondary school
And I remember the deep shame that I felt
That these guys were younger than me,
But that I hadn’t been able to fight them off
And I had helped provoke the situation
I found a myriad of ways to blame myself.
To be attacked as this painful additional effect
We blame ourselves for being attacked
And that increases our pain, our brokenness
So we carry round within us our wounds, our failures,
We blame, ourselves, we blame others
We blame ourselves for what others have done to us
And we blame others for what we have done to them
And sometimes we hide from the pain, sometimes we deny it, other times it overwhelms us.
Any overs: overindulging, overexamining, overworking, overcharging, overeating, overdrinking…. All these are usually escapes from the pain.
And the claim of temple, is that we will get rid of that stuff for you
The Oxen and Sheep will take the blame.
But the Oxen and Sheep don’t work.
So part of the reason for the whip,
Is that Jesus wants to destroy something
That promises an end to the pain,
But doesn’t take it away.
The temple has failed.
And we are going to come to more of the temple failure
In John Chapter 5 – man who is not healed
John Chapter 9 – a man who is put out for being able to see
There are two things going on with the attack on pigeons
Jesus drove out the pigeons.
Pigeons are prescribed in the scriptures as part of the burnt offering with the animals
As a breach of the purity code, or of sin.
If a woman has given birth and is to be purified
If someone has a skin disease and needs to be reintegrated
And if a Nazirite takes a vow
What if the woman now is supposedly unclean after childbirth – no temple?
What if someone has sinned through breach of the purity code – no temple?
What if someone has been healed of a skin disease or been reintegrated – no temple?
The law of sacrifice gets rid of this whole code.
And replaces it with Jesus
Obsession with trade
There is an extra reason for Jesus venom
The sacrilege of chasing money
Not earning money
But chasing it.
This is not to say money is dirty, or that money isn’t holy
Or money shouldn’t’ be in a temple – you needed money changers in a temple so that people who lived far from Jerusalem could buy their animals at the temple
Instead of having to transport them across Israel
You can’t carry a pigeon from Galilee to Jerusalem,
That’s going to be a stressful journey
But the money changers forget what too much handling of money does to you
It makes you forget what the main thing is
That is what money does,
It is transfixes, it casts a spell, it claims a magic for itself.
And these money changers have forgotten that this is God’s house
God’s house, not a house of trade.
So where are the targets nearer to home
I think this is an attack on religious institution
Which has found something more important
Than its chief purpose
Which is an encounter with God.
I believe that Church’s should have fellowship together
But the social side must never be a substitute for the intimacy with God
To which we are called to.
I see this in the Church of Scotland
Because this temptation exists in every religious institution
The music we sing becomes more important than the one we sing it to
The arrangements and governance become more important than the one who ultimately governs and arranges
The scriptures tell us to maintain good relationships with outsiders
But when that becomes a concern at the cost of the Church’s own prophetic identity
When respectability, a general endorsement of everything eclipses our call
To live as a different, counter cultural community
Then we become the target of the whip.
There is also another subtler version of this attack,
Think for a moment why someone might be attracted to buying a pigeon
Than being with God.
Because to be with God is a scary business, it feels boring, it feels denuding, we come only as ourselves
There is no activity in which to escape
So the attack here is on those items of busy-ness, business which are about avoiding
The main thing
To be here with God.
You don’t get bored selling pigeons
As you might fear prayer might become.
Another thing here,
In attacking the temple,
Which is a seat of dark power
Jesus invites the temple’s attack upon him.
And then this remarkable exchange which exists on many levels.
“Zeal for my house will consume me”
Which is a quote from Psalm 69 and carries the implication that to have zeal for the Father, will bring with it a social cost, because in a religious society they don’t truly recognise the one who is God.
But more than that, Jesus engages in a kind of verbal exchange with these temple people
The best analogy that I can think of,
Is this thing here, the General Assembly where I appear once a year,
To answer questions on our work
And great store is placed on my ability to handle myself.
To find clever answers, to win the shame-honour contest
Some people can’t handle it.
We pretend that we are honouring God
But really it is a big shame honour contest.
“What sign do you do”
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it in three days”
“This temple took 46 years, how can you build it in three days”
And Jesus then is silent,
Purposefully losing the exchange,
Not because he doesn’t have an answer
But because he will wait three years to give it, to be resurrected.
And so Jesus invites the temple to kick him out
To ban him
To be with the marginalised,
By becoming shamed, marginalised himself himself.
God is with the marginalised, the shamed, the outsiders.
The fired, the losers, the verbally silenced
And do you notice that when God moves to that place
They become the centre,
Because the centre is where God is.
This is such a profound truth
It is in our brokenness that we connect with God.
21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
He is the one who will take the shame away,
He will do what the doves and the oxen can never do
He will somehow, in his very presence,
Be the one who undoes the damage that we do to ourselves and to each other.
He will take it away.
If you are using false religion to hide from your pain, the whip is for that false religion
If you are dealing with failure in your life, his job is not to condemn you, it is to take it away
If you are using religion, and failure to shame others, or wish shame on others, he will do away with that religion,
But if you are dealing with shame, deep shame, or the being an outsider, because you fail to live to the ideals of the society around you… he will take your shame away.
This is about the end of scapegoating,
The way that we take others, and want rid of them so that we would be cleansed.
Where are we still relying on rituals and superstitions and scapegoats and sacrifices
To right ourselves
Not silly things like the horoscopes,
But the deep down standards that judge ourselves by.
He is to undo an entire system, and his disciples will not understand this until he is resurrected.
A whole way of being that promises, and uses the language of God, but estranges us, hurts us
That is why the whip is there.
This is I think is why it says that many believe in him because of the signs
But he did not entrust himself to them because he knew the hearts of people
Because to them, Jesus was just the miracle worker extraordinaire, an extra prop to the God system
Not the one who would completely bring it down
And replace it with himself.
And the image is to meet this remarkable God
Who comes to us
Tearing apart with whips and cords
The apparently good, but busy things that distract us from intimacy
Who moves himself to the place of shame
So that we who walk in the darkness that we blunder into
The blame we attach to ourselves
The blame we attach to each other
He walks into that place
To be temple
To be the place where we are at home