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No More Facades

No More Facades

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Alright, I need someone to call me on my phone. I’m serious and I’ve got a little prize for whoever reaches me first. I know some of you have my number, so go ahead. I’ve left my ringer on even though we are in church, which is something you should never do…if you’re a pastor.


All things considered, it’s probably not great to leave your ringer on if you’re a congregant either…but who am I to judge? You know, you do you.


Oh, ok, here we go… “Hi, this is Sarah. Hi_____, thanks for calling. You just earned yourself a chocolate. Ok, I’m going to hang up now. Thanks. Bye.”


Okay, what happened to my voice when I answered the phone? It changed. I have a phone voice. Genevieve points this out to me all the time. My voice automatically changes when I answer the phone into something - I don’t know - higher? perkier? Sweeter? Maybe….faker? Whatever it is, it’s not my regular speaking voice any more than my preaching voice is my normal speaking voice.


My normal voice, the voice I use in conversation with people I know well, has a different cadence. It is a little quieter…more halting. There’s less affect and I’m not as concise or clear because I’m thinking as I go.


Who else has a phone voice?  Or a teaching voice? Or an “I’m the boss, so listen” voice, or a special voice you use when you talk to strangers that is different from your “real” voice?


I think we all have different voices, which is a little weird when you think about it. But no where is this more noticeable then when one is parenting or being parented and things are not going the way the parent wants.


I can remember being in trouble as a kid and the relief I would feel if the phone rang or someone came along, because my parent’s voice would instantly change from “Now you listen to me, young lady,” to, “Hi, how are you? Oh, we’re just fine, thanks.”


The look in their eyes was still full of warning, but I knew they weren’t going to yell at me in front of someone else, because here is the thing about parenting.


You want everyone to think you’re good at it.


And here’s the other thing about parenting. You’re probably not.


Just kidding. You probably are, just not all of the time. By which I mean that we parents want everyone to think we’re good, patient people with reasonable, well behaved children who see the wisdom in everything we say and act accordingly. But no one gets that, at least not all of the time.


However, that doesn’t stop us from pretending everything is fine when it’s not, because we don’t want to make a fuss in front of other people.


We don’t want to cause a scene.


Parents, like pretty much everyone else, want people to see us as good on the outside even when we’re struggling on the inside, perfect in public even if we’re a mess behind closed doors.


And so we employ voices. We pretend. We hide what’s really going on for the sake of appearances in spite of the fact that there are times when parenting is so hard, so heartbreaking, so infuriating that you can imagine yourself going so far as to flip a table to get the attention of the precious child you love so very much.


And friends, you are all smart people, so I trust you can extrapolate here if you are not a parent. I don’t care if you’re a teacher or a leader, an activist or an artist. We all want people to think well of us - even if that means we sometimes have to hide away the less respectable parts of ourselves - because we all want people to take us seriously when it really matters. When they don’t, it’s so heart breaking that it makes us angry.


Which is why it’s actually kind of a relief to see Jesus get angry in this passage. I think Jesus quite literally flipping out is something we can all relate to.


Whether you’re a parent or just someone who really cares about the state of the world and desperately wants people to wake up and do better, it’s a relief to know that there are times when it’s ok to get angry.


Times when our anger is justified, maybe even righteous. The trick is knowing when that time is, so I think the first question before us today is: what was it exactly that made Jesus so angry?


What made Jesus so mad that he would walk into the temple court on a high holy day - into a place where devout people had come from all over to make peace with God- and wreak such havoc?


What possessed him to make a whip of cords and drive out the cattle and sheep that people needed to buy in order to make a sacrifice?


Where did he get off emptying the cages full of doves. Who did he think he was, overturning the tables of the money changers and pouring their coins out on the ground?


Because this is the gospel of John - the gospel of signs - we know Jesus wasn’t just making a scene, he was making a point, but no one got it back then and truthfully we still struggle to understand him even now. So to get to the bottom of this, let’s start with what Jesus actually said.


“Take these things out of here,” he cried! “Stop making my Father’s house a market place.”


Now you need to know that on the surface, Jesus’ accusation was absurd. The money changers and the people selling animals were not doing anything wrong. In fact, they were there to help everyone else do things right.


The money changers were there to exchange Roman coins with Caesar’s image on them for temple coins, so no one would carry a graven image into the temple.


The merchants were there to provide a full range of unblemished animals for sacrifice - from doves you could buy for a few pennies all the way up to bulls - to ensure that even the poorest pilgrim could participate in the temple rites.


And Jesus knows this full well. The truth is, Jesus isn’t angry at any of them. He knows that they are just doing their jobs. There is no evidence in the scripture that these folks were corrupt or greedy or taking advantage of anyone. Though I must confess that this hasn’t stopped Christians - myself included - from reading all of that into this passage, painting our Jewish siblings with that brush, and doing tremendous damage as a result.


So let me be clear lest anything I say come across as antisemitic: neither the money changers nor the merchants were doing anything wrong. Jesus’ anger was not directed at them, but at the sacrificial system itself. And that anger was as old as the Hebrew prophets themselves.


Jesus’ critique was nothing new. Jewish prophets like Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea had long proclaimed that what God desires is not sacrifice but mercy, not burnt offerings but justice, not hymns sung to the glory of God on holy days, but a holy people who honored the image of God in all people every day.1


Each of the prophets in their own way makes it clear that God has no interest in people going through the motions to get right with God in the temple if they have no intention of living right with God when they leave. That kind of hypocrisy makes God angry.


The point of coming to the temple for confession was not simply to receive absolution, but to engage in a process of true transformation, to not just act like good person in the moment but to become a better person as a result. That’s what the prophets were after.


In fact, Jesus’ accusation is actually a reference to the another prophet, the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah proclaimed that there would come a day when there would be no need for traders in the house of God - no marketplace for sacrifices - because every home would be a house of God.2


A time when there would be no need for a temple even, because we would each be as good and kind and just to one another within our own house everyday as we expect ourselves to be when we are inside God’s house on a holy day.


Overturning the tables, quoting Zechariah, and letting the animals go free, then, was a sign. It was Jesus’ way of signaling that this day has finally come…and not a moment too soon.


Now, here is where things get confusing, so see if you can follow me here. And if you can’t, don’t worry, because the people weren’t able to follow Jesus’ reasoning either.  Jesus tries to let the people know in his own cryptic way that the temple’s days are numbered, but that it will all be okay because he is the temple now.


“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”


We know that he is talking about his body - his death and resurrection - because we have the benefit of hindsight. We know that Jesus plans to reconcile us to God once and for all by becoming the ultimate sacrifice - the ultimate symbol that nothing we can do will ever separate us from God’s love - such that we won’t even need a temple anymore.


But they didn’t have a clue what he was referring to. They thought Jesus was talking about the building, which was so massive that no one in their right mind could have imagined it ever being destroyed. Jesus sounds delusional to them.


And yet, by the time John wrote these words down, the temple was really and truly gone. In the year 66, the Jews led a military revolt against Rome. They occupied Jerusalem until 70 CE when the Romans reclaimed the city and destroyed all but the western wall of the temple.


John’s Jesus knows his people will not follow in his way of non-violence and that they will be crushed as a result. He knows Romes will triumph and how devastating this will be for his people.


So weirdly, by the time John wrote these words down, both the Jews and the Christians had already been forced to live into Zechariah’s prophecy whether they were ready to or not, forced to re-envision their homes as sacred places to practice their faith because their homes were the only “safe” places where they could worship.


But the destruction of the temple, which could have marked the end of their faith, actually became the path toward realizing the truth that Jesus and the prophets held dear, the truth Jesus was trying to call everyone’s attention to that day in the courtyard, the truth that the temple, the sacrificial system, or really any other religious rite or observance is not the point.


Come back to me now if none of that temple stuff made sense, because this is the point.


What Jesus and all the prophets always seem to be driving at is the idea that religion is not an end in and of itself. The whole purpose of the temple, our churches, of everything we do here is not to create people who are good at being religious but to house a religion that creates good people. That is God’s end game. That is the point.


But all too often we miss the point because here is the thing about religion.

We want everyone to think we’re good at it.

We want everyone to think we’re good at it because we want everyone to think we are good, patient, well behaved people who see the wisdom in everything God says and act accordingly.


We want people to see us as good on the outside even when we’re struggling on the inside, perfect in public even if we’re a mess behind closed doors. And so we show up here and put our best foot forward so people will think the best of us.


But no one is good, at least not all of the time. And simply being good at the appearance of being good isn’t helping anybody, least of all us, and it’s certainly not fooling God. In fact it breaks God’s heart. It drives God mad, so mad that Jesus goes so far as to flip these tables to get the attention of all God’s precious children and let us know that God doesn’t need us to go through the motions, because God loves us already.


Jesus allows the sheep to run off and the doves to fly away in an effort to remind us all that we don’t have to buy or preform our way into God’s heart.


The sacrifice of an animal or of your time and money and effort here at church is not what it takes to get God to love you, because God loves you already.


Confession is not what it take to get God to forgive you, because God has forgiven you already.


A pilgrimage or a fast is not what it takes to get God to draw near to you or hear you, because God is with you and hears you already.


Holy places and religious practices are important not because they give us a way to contain or control or convince God, but because they bring us into an awareness of God’s love, God’s grace, God’s presence, all of which is here for us already because God is here with us already.


We don’t do those things for God. We do them for us.


We come here to confess and receive absolution so that when others confess to us we will remember to forgive as we have been forgiven.


We come here to learn about God’s love for us so we will extend that love to all.


All of this (the building, the words in the bulletin) is just a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.


So if any of it helps you get there, great, but the important thing is that you get there…get to that place where you’re living in right relationship with God not just on Sunday but everyday… get to a place where there’s no more phone voice or facade or best behavior, there is just your voice, your life, your behavior; a life pleasing to God because you live your life with love toward all.


Appearances are so important to us, but we’re not fooling anyone, least of all God.


God doesn’t want you to go through any of these motions just so you look right.


What God wants, more than anything, is for you to be alright.


Anything less breaks God’s heart.


Anything less makes Jesus flip out, and we don’t want that now do we? (She said with her “ don’t you make me pull this car over” voice.) No, we do not.


Friends be at peace. You are loved. You are forgiven. May everything we do here today help you live into that reality that you might extend God’s love and peace to all. Amen.


Footnotes:


1.Isaiah 1:11 "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.


Hosea 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.


Amos 5:22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!


2.Zechariah 14:21 And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them.

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