holy cross sermon for the third sunday in lent, march 8, 2015

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In today’s Gospel Jesus manifests an attitude toward the Jerusalem temple
that the religious authorities find peculiar – to say the least. Listen
again to what the Gospel says:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In
the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and
the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove
them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the
coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those
who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my
Father’s house a house of trade.” (John 2.13-16)

The story is probably a little less remarkable to us than the event itself
was to those who witnessed it. We are accustomed to thinking of “holy”
places, or religious or philanthropic institutions, as being peculiarly
outside of the economic framework that governs the rest of our life. We
even have a familiar legal category in which we lump these things. We call
them “non-profit organizations.” So we almost inevitably get upset when we
hear of such a group seeming to make a profit. And this, our visceral
reaction, I would venture to guess comes in part from our having
internalized, as a “Christian” society, Jesus’ having driven the money
changers out of the temple.

But what is really going on here in John’s gospel? Bishop and Biblical
scholar, NT Wright, has suggested that to understand Jesus’ teaching and
mission, it is crucial to understand his attitude toward the temple at
Jerusalem – the way that Jesus speaks about it and relates to it.

And on this score, we need to remember that the temple was the earthly
dwelling place of God’s glory. After the exodus from Egypt, when the
children of Israel wandered in the desert, the glory of God dwelt in the
tabernacle of the “tent of meeting” – where the Ark of the Covenant was
placed. In Exodus 40 (34-35), after God had told Moses how to construct the
tent of meeting, and when it had been built and the ark and been put inside
of it and sacrifices had been offered, Exodus says: “Then the cloud covered
the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And
Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode
upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

When Israel arrived in the Land, and David had established the city of
Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the first book of Chronicles says, “Now when David
dwelt in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Behold, I dwell in a
house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent,’”
and David decided to build God a temple. God, however, had determined first
to establish David’s dynasty. And so it fell to the son of David, Solomon,
to build the temple that David had proposed. And 2 Chronicles says that
when the temple was completed sacrifices were prepared and King Solomon
prayed, and “When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven
and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the
LORD filled the temple,” (2 Chronicles 7.1).

“The glory of the Lord filled the temple.” The temple of the God of
Israel, on Mount Zion, was God’s house, the place within the world where
the Creator of the world was manifest, and where his people worshiped him,
and to which, according to the prophets, all the peoples of the earth one
day would come to worship the true God. For example, the prophet Isaiah
said:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of
the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be
raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many
peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the
LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and
that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2.2).

This vision of all the peoples of the world streaming to “the mountain of
the house of the Lord” – to the place where his glory dwells – and in that
place coming to know the Lord, his “ways” and his “paths,” his “law” and
his “word,” – this is what Jesus fulfills. And this is what the writers of
the Gospels want for us to see in Jesus’ attitude toward the temple, and in
his words concerning it, as in today’s reading. Jesus is the reality that
the temple foreshadowed, the one toward whom it pointed. Jesus is the one
in whom the Glory of God abides essentially. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus
goes up to Jerusalem for the temple festivals, in every case fulfilling
them and transcending them. And when the religious authorities question him
about his strange behavior in this regard, he says somewhat cryptically
about himself: “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here,”
(Matt. 12.6).

The first chapter of John’s Gospel, the chapter that serves as the gateway
to the rest of it, including today’s reading, makes this point forcefully
about the person of Jesus. John tells us who Jesus is, that he is “the Word
[of God that] became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,”
and he says that “we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from
the Father,” (John 1.14).

And this is of the essence of Jesus’ disciples. We are the ones who see the
glory of the God of Jacob filling Jesus, being manifested in all that he
says and does – and most especially in his death on the cross. Saint Paul
wrote about this central aspect of being a Christian. He said: “It is the
God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our
hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face
of Christ,” (2 Cor. 4.6).

“…the glory of God in the face of Christ.” That is what we are called to
see, and to proclaim to others. Let us therefore seek his face – and
especially during these remaining weeks of Lent. Let us use this time to
seek the glory of God in the face of Jesus, by prayer and meditation, and
by a more frequent and earnest recourse to the sacraments of the Church,
which he gave us as a means to himself – and especially confession and
communion. And let us seek him by means of self-denial, that he might take
the place of ourselves in ourselves, that we might say with Paul, “I have
been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who
lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the
Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2.20).

When his glory begins to dawn in our hearts, then will be fulfilled for us
what Isaiah spoke: the mountain of the house of the Lord will be
established for us as the highest of the mountains; and we will sing the
Songs of Ascent, saying to ourselves with eager anticipation, “Come, let us
go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that
he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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