[Jesus] also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” John 2:16
If you know anything at all about Church history you are aware that in the earliest days of the Church being a Christian was not easy or comfortable. In the beginning it was one of a number of sects within the Jewish tradition, but not a particularly popular one. Many of the tenets of the faith were incompatible with the common practice of both Jews and Romans. While the first Christians valued humility and nonviolence, in speaking out against the prevailing political power and the foundational principles of the economic and social structure as well they found themselves in a very dangerous situation. It is said that the Church was built on the blood of the martyrs and it is true that many people of faith suffered and lost their lives in the various persecutions. To be a follower of Christ at that time required the courage of conviction and a willingness to give up everything…wealth, position, social acceptance, family and even one’s very life. I wonder how many of us would be able or even desire to accept that cost?
The truth is we’ve all gotten too comfortable with our cheap grace and our easy religion. We throw out cheerful, pious comments like “have a blessed day” and offer our “thoughts and prayers” but what have we really given. We see a world of pain and suffering around us but it makes barely a ripple in our self-absorbed lives. We spend our days working for money to acquire things we don’t need and our evenings entertaining ourselves to distract from the chaos we feel powerless to address. We have an intellectual concern about various causes but if it doesn’t affect us directly we give lip service, maybe share a Facebook post and then put it in the back of our minds.
What if we actually stopped for a moment in our incessant busyness and asked about a stranger’s life and then looking him or her in the eye gave them time and opportunity to tell us? What would happen if instead of throwing out “thoughts and prayers” we really did pray for that person in distress or trouble and then got up off of our knees and gave our prayers substance by actually doing something to help? What if a whole bunch of us people of faith just stopped…stopped buying into the comfortable lie that things will always be the way they are because they have always been that way? What if we started living our lives like people fired up by the Holy Spirit unashamed to love openly…to welcome radically…and to stand publicly against injustice and to speak truth to the powers that be.
In our Gospel today Jesus, filled with a righteous anger goes about cleansing the Temple of those who have turned a house of worship into a market. What this account of the story doesn’t tell us is that this temple market was common practice at the time. Because people of faith traveled great distances to come to the Temple at Jerusalem they could not always carry their animals or grain for sacrifices with them. Having them available to buy at the worship site was a convenience that many people would have utilized. The Scripture doesn’t say that the sellers were extorting unreasonable amounts or that the worshippers were complaining. Jesus went in and disrupted business-as-usual. He obviously found the mixing of religion and commerce to be unacceptable.
I wonder what Jesus would think about our modern religious economy….large megachurches with commercial coffee vendors outside of the sanctuary, Bible-based theme parks, countless purveyors of religious merchandise all making a nice profit from the personal piety of the public. Faith has become big business. But what does any of it mean for the one who seeks to know God and to follow Jesus with an authentic faith. I could string any number of ornate crosses around my neck, tattoo the 10 commandments on my back and fill my Virgin Mary tote bag with a huge Bible in a cover printed with John 3:16 and drive to Church every day in my car with a Jesus fish on the back and a rosary hanging from the rear-view mirror but if I have no love in my heart and no compassion for the poor, the lost and vulnerable then I am an empty vessel at best…a whited sepulcher….a liar.
Christianity was always intended to stand in opposition to the status quo for the simple reason that the things that society seems to value are not the things of God. Jesus tells his disciples that to follow him they (we) must be willing to give up everything. That is not an easy thing to conceive of or to do, yet it is what is asked of us. There are no half-measures with God…he wants all that we have and all that we are….not because God needs anything but rather it is for our benefit. If we can lose our attachment to stuff…our fear of being without then we are free to live fully into the Gospel of love. If we do not fear scarcity then we will be able to share what we have with those who do not have…not out of duty but joyfully out of love. If we look forward to eternity and no longer fear death then no one has power over us and we can live our lives in the way we feel God would have us to live. We are free to speak truth to those who may not wish to hear it. We don’t have to worry about losing social status or reputation or influence because those things have no value for the Christian.
To follow Jesus in the way of peace is the path to liberation….to love without condition…to compassion without limitation….to deep abiding relationships based on mutual respect and a common goal to nurture goodness in the world and in each other. This is the reality of life in the Kingdom. The sad truth is that many have traded that vision for a cheap imitation…for a comfortable religion that does not challenge individuals to love boldly but rather gathers people of like mind to be entertained and props up the status quo with the lie that God’s favor leads to prosperity and power. Whether we want to admit it or not…the United States is not God’s chosen country and its citizens are not God’s chosen people. Our government is not ordained by God and capitalism is not holy. Many of us have made an idol of our current way of life. If you take the long view of history you will see that governments rise and fall…civilizations come and go…nothing lasts forever and nothing is certain but change.
The best that any of us can do is to seek to be the best people we can be given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Being faithful to Christ is really not that complicated…it means loving others in the way Christ has loved us….fully, joyfully, without reservation and without condition. If this sacrificial love is your driving force it will lead you to share what you have with those who do not have…to defend the vulnerable….to comfort the suffering….to stand against injustice and to welcome the stranger…to forgive those who offend you…those who hurt you and those who persecute you….to pray without ceasing. Following Christ doesn’t require you to sit in judgment of anyone. That does not mean that we do not call out evil when we see it but that must be done carefully with love and with a willingness to forgive. We teach holiness by example so do not be afraid to live your faith openly. Showing your love does not make you weak….being open to forgiveness does not make you a victim. We are God’s gentle people and the Gospel of Christ is best shared through acts of kindness.
Brothers and sisters we live in troubling times and I know many of you are anxious about the future and suffering some measure of spiritual exhaustion from dealing with our chaotic political and economic situation. I know that much of your distress is rooted in your concern for the vulnerable…for those who will feel most strongly the effects of policy changes made by those who have no idea what life is like for the poor and the disenfranchised. Whatever happens in this country and in the global community to which we are all connected by virtue of our humanity and in some cases economics, the truth is our call as Christians remains unchanged. We are to love God with all our heart, our mind and our strength and to love others as Christ loved us. What that looks like may change in response to the events around us but the heart of our Gospel is eternal. No matter what happens in the world we will always have opportunity to act in love…to comfort…to heal…to make peace…to forgive.
In like manner the love of God for us is eternal and unshakeable. While we may get things wrong more often than not the Holy Spirit is constantly leading us on…nurturing the Christ within us, strengthening our faith and prompting us to greater acts of self-sacrifice. We are God’s beloved children and we have power to change this world for the better…more power than we can imagine if we can put our fears aside and commit ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must not lose hope but keep putting one foot in front of the other…even when we cannot see the path because of the chaos around us. God is ever with us and we are not on our own. All of this creation is precious to the one who created it but it is through us that God’s purpose will be fulfilled. It is through us…one good deed at a time….one act of compassion after another that the world will be changed and the Kingdom of God will be made present.