Dwight Watt - Watt Thoughts #178 4/18/2009
#178 Why Cleansing? (Watt Thoughts)
Notes from sermon given on 3/15/2009 at Bethel UMC near Kite GA and on 3/22/2009 at First UMC at Swainsboro GA
Scripture: John 2: 13-22
The story in this scripture is different than the rest of scripture about Jesus. Here he is chasing off people and showing his anger. In the rest of the scripture he generally shows a different character. In those places he is drawing people to him and is often the peace maker/mediator. The story is different in the timeline of Jesusí ministry in John than in the other gospels. Although some think that the cleansing occurred twice (at the beginning and end of his ministry) I think the writers just put the story in place it fit best in their story line. I donít think it would have occurred twice, the first time would have occurred as reported in both places, the second would have never occurred as they would have all been alert and had stopped him immediately since they would have known his reputation from a couple Passovers before. Think about it if you go vandalize a church on Christmas eve and then show up on Christmas Eve two years later again (and to top it off have been giving talks everywhere about that churchís leadership problems) would you not expect to have several people assigned to keep close watch on you and stop you immediately if you start to do anything that could do damages.
Jesus is calling for a cleansing of the temple. He is angry that they are worshiping God as God had told them and that these actions were handicapping others from being able to fully worship.
This scripture reminds me of an event one day when I was in China in 2005. Our last day in Beijing had a free morning before we were going to fly to the next city. We had been to the Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and other sites. We had seen Maoís mausoleum by Tiananmen Square with the lines of people waiting to view the body, but not visited it. About half of us decided to tour the mausoleum. Maoís body is on display. We were told to be there by 7:30AM, to take no cameras and be prepared for a line of at least an hour. They opened at 8. As the line moved thru the building I noticed several things. What I saw is what makes this relate to Jesus in the scripture today. Outside near the line was a small handi-house type building selling flowers and people would drop out of line, go over and buy and get back in line. Artificial or real, what price charged I do not know. They were wrapped in plastic like a couple of roses or carnations from the grocery store. At the door they made sure you had no cameras, cell phones etc. As we went to enter the building there were several ways people behaved. As we went to enter the building there were several ways people behaved. There were lots of school children on field trips to the mausoleum and their behavior was similar to school children of same age e going in the Smithsonian here or other places. There were also older men in the line and their behavior caught my eye. In the temple Jesus noticed them, remember the story of the poor woman and her prayers? As we came in there was a large statue of Mao that was probably about the size of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. The statue was a short distance from the lines in the opening room. Those who had bought flowers ran up to the front of the statue and dropped the flowers in a cart in front of it. When the cart was full they rolled it out and rolled in another cart. I donít know this but I wonder if the full cart was rolled back out to he flower building and sold again.
However the old men were different. They walked solemnly over to the statue, quietly bowed several times and quietly came back. Mao meant something to them. We then walked thru the middle room where you looked at Maoís body behind two glass walls. You were not allowed to stop. The head looked like him. It was a dark room. I assume I saw Mao.
Then the surprise (and related to what Jesus experienced and was reacting to). In the back room was a small government souvenir stand. OK. We walked out the door and lined up on both sides of the sidewalk to the street (probably at least several hundred feet) were vendors selling anything with Maoís name or picture including playing cards, dice, shirts, towels, name it they had. Picture in your mind what is sold with Elvisís picture or this with Obamaís picture and name, then put Maoís picture there and it was there. My comment at the time was if that was Mao we just saw, they must have several ropes tying him down, as he would be spinning in his grave, i.e. in the mausoleum we were just in. Jesus had a similar experience in the house built to workshop his father, God. He got pout the whip.
The animal sales and money changing had begun as a service by the priests, but was abused and turned into a profit venture. When the temple was destroyed in a few years in 70AD, it was amazing the money found in it.
In Numbers and Leviticus God had told how the Jews were to worship. One of the things was the sacrifices to be offered. They were to be unblemished animals or birds or grain. For the farmers in Israel this was not a problem, but it was for the city dwellers. Who were like many of us today, they had no livestock, much less unblemished livestock, so the priests initially sold basically at cost as a service to the worshipers. Secondly the Passover was a major sacrifice time and time of tithes and offers and to the Jews scattered over the Ronan Empire it was important to return at least once in life. For those in close distance it was expected they would come to the Temple during Passover. For us, we donít have a location that we are expected to visit at least once in life. However if you look at the Moslems they have that event still, and that is they are expected to go to Mecca at least once during their life during their major religious festivity. These people from other regions could not get an unblemished animal to the Temple unblemished. Most, if not all of us, have blemishes. You could not offer me as an unblemished sacrifice with my eye. By the time these people had tried bringing the animal lots of miles they would have hit harsher conditions and gotten blemishes.
The money was the other problem. They were to pay their titles and offerings at the Temple, but they could no use the money in their pocket. It had rulers images, check ours, it has presidents and others images, or animal images so it was not acceptable to offer God. Basically you had to pay in Shekels. They money changes swapped your money for the acceptable Shekels. We need money changers still. I doubt any local business would take Brazilian Real Dollars (pronounced (het-i), but it is neat I have a real dollar in my pocket (from Brazil), do you? When I was in China I to get US money changed to Chinese money the hotels usually offered the service basically at costs. Others on the streets charged you and sometimes high prices. The money changers figured they could make a profit and it became like we hear many payday lenders are.
The animal dealers were a racket by Jesusí time. The priests ruled animals you brought to the Temple had a blemish and would buy it off your hands fro a minimal price. After all you did not want it with you rest of time in Jerusalem and did not want to take home. Then they took it took the dealers in the outer sanctuary who then sold it as unblemished at a high price.
Not only that but the money changes and animal vendors were doing this in the outer sanctuary where the gentiles worshipped. Think of the smell and noise in that room. Now picture the gentiles trying to worship God. Not easy to picture all that in one picture is it?
The priests hit the same problem as we have seen ministers (and politicians, business leaders, etc.) and lay people hit today. They start doing service fro God to people and some lose sight of the reason and see a way to get rich in money or fame and they fall. When I was a student at Winthrop University in the 1970ís near Charlotte NC I remember Jim Bakker growing PTL from a single building in south Charlotte to Heritage USA in Fort Mill. It seems like I recall it from 1974, but may have started a year or two later, one of the local rock radio stations morning show had caught on that he had gone for the money and they had the Pass The Loot Club every morning as satire. Sex has brought down some, but often it revealed a money issue behind it. Bakker did fall from a scandal and went to prison on money. Which memory do you think of when you hear Bakker: the Air conditioned doghouse or his secretary?
Jesus was mad because they were not doing their calling from God, but had made profit making their mission and were keeping people from easily worshipping God. I donít think he has a problem if a guest speaker sets a table on side of Narthex to sell a few of their books or if we have a cola machine downstairs and that we basically charge cost on. Many of us hearing a good speaker or musician like to get their book or CD to learn further, but the sales should be the side and not intrude on the worship experience. If we do have people show up that are thirsty and canít afford the drink and we donít give, then I see a problem or we put the soda machine where there is none in a long distance where people would be thirsty and charging $1.5 for a drink we paid 25 cents for. As far as I know neither church I am delivering this message to has a drink machine in the building that charges.
Do we need cleansing? The church, local or larger, or us individually? Do we take things God calls us to do and grow it where it no longer is Godís or prevents others from worshipping God? We all, individuals and churches (local or denominations), need to be careful we do not fall in the trap the priests, animal dealers and money changers did.
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