I've had some requests to post this sermon. So here you go.
I have gotten in a habit as of late to do some light reading before I go to bed. I usually pick up a piece of fiction a novel perhaps from the best-seller list. But this week I picked up a non-fiction book by Bill Bryson called a Walk in the Woods. It is about a middle-aged man who decides that he is going to walk the entire Appalachian trail from Georgia to his home in Maine. As he prepares for this journey he purchases all of the necessary equipment as well as maps and survival books to guide him on his way.
Of particular interest is the time that he spends obsessing over possible bear attacks. What he learns is that even the experts can’t tell you exactly how to prevent or escape an attack. When you are out in the wilderness you are quite simply vulnerable and exposed to the elements, to the silence, and to the wild.
I finished my reading on Wednesday night with Bill and his travel companion about to take their first step onto the trail. My head was filled with their anxiety and apprehension and excitement to venture on into the unknown. My head was also filled with our Biblical texts for this week and the craziness of this blizzard that we just made it through. And I have to tell you that it made for a really interesting dream.
I will get back to the dream in a moment but first I think I should fill you in on how we have encountered the text this week. For those of you who have been taking the Crossways course we are right in the thick of studying how the temple system came into being.
The feature that set apart the Solomonic Temple from other Temples in the ancient world is that there was no idol in it. It contained only the Mercy Seat over the Ark and the Cherubim overshadowing the Mercy Seat. This declared to the world that contrary to popular belief idols are not necessary for God to be present. The God of Israel was not localized in any sense. But if you know anything about the history of Israel you know that idolatry is always a problem. And building the temple did not solve the problem of idolatry.
A later king of Israel Josiah began to encourage the exclusive worship of Yahweh and outlawed all other forms of worship. Josiah destroyed the living quarters for male prostitutes, which were in the Temple, and also destroyed foreign pagan objects related to the worship of Baal who was a commonly mentioned pagen god. Josiah also had the living pagan priests executed and even had the bones of dead pagan priests exhumed from their graves and burned on their altars, which was viewed as an extreme act of desecration against the pagan deities by their adherents. (2 Kings 23:4-15)
And so that brings us to our encounter with Jesus in the Temple from today’s reading. We encounter an angry Jesus who is turning over tables and quite literally driving people away with a whip. The more I study this the more I think that Jesus is confronting idolatry in the temple. Some people say that it is because the image of Ceasar is on the coins that are the currency in the temple marketplace – perhaps. Other people say it is because the sacrificial system is being done in a way that is contrary to scripture – perhaps. What we know is that Jesus is making a statement here, he is saying, “I am the true presence of God – not this building.”
So now I’m going to take you back to the dream I had the other night. Like I said I had just started reading this book about hiking the Appalachian trail and right before that I had been reading the scripture for this week. In my dream I became the person who was on this trek. On my back I had my pack filled with all of the things that I would need for the journey. I stood looking into the wilderness – looking at the trail that disappeared into the darkness ahead of me and I was scared. I knew that ahead of me I had forty days of being alone in this great unknown world. But despite my fear I pressed on.
Much of the dream consisted of me waking up to the beauty of the things that were around me. Being more and more aware of my surroundings and more and more aware of my impact on the landscape. At the end of my hike I came to a clearing that I decided would make a wonderful camp. So I began to unpack and set up camp there. Now do you remember the bears that I had been telling you about? Well this where that bear decided to make it’s appearance. It reved up on all fours and growled ferociously at me. I not knowing what to do stood there paralyzed with my eyes clenched so tight that they actually started to ache.
With my eyes still closed I could hear that the bear was moving and began grabbing my things and tossing them around. Much to my surprise the bear began to speak as he held each item. He held up a tent and he said, “this tent represents all of the material processions you build up in your home the things that you recklessly consume and dispose of. These clothes represent the pain and anger from people and relationships in your life that have suffered because you were occupied with “more important things”. This backpack represents all of the pain and hurt that you carry around with you.”
Then he turned and said to me, “put them down, you don’t need them. I will provide everything that you need.” Then he walked away.
I sat there for some moments realizing that Jesus had come to my dream and turned over the metaphorical tables in my life. And if only for a moment I felt free of the burden of those things in my life. I felt free of the external expectation of who I was supposed to be and do and I just was. Idolatry seems like a strange word to use these days. But we see it in all sorts of forms in our lives. It is anything other than God that takes hold of our lives and dictates how we should live. It is anything in our lives that says that we are less than the people that God created us to be.
I want you to take some time today either individually or as a family and work on this meditation together. Begin by reading the scripture for today and then I want you to identify all of the tables in your life that need to be turned over. This is part of our Lenten journey – out in the wilderness and perhaps confronting a God who may at times be angry with us. We celebrate a God who is with us a God that we call Emmanuel and perhaps we should be awake to what that God who is with us is up to in our lives.
This meditation is to be done as an individual or as a family.
Read John 2:13-22.
Begin with a moment of silence.
Imagine that you find yourself out in the wilderness with your backpack filled with what you think that you need to live. God then comes to you in the disguise of a wild animal and begins to rummage through all of the pieces of your life. He is metaphorically turning over the tables of your life. What tables in your life need to be turned over?
Your tent represents what in your life? Why does it need to be overturned?
Your food represents what in your life?