Finding Jesus in Disruption
A sermon on John 2:13-22, Exodus 20:1-17, and I Corinthians 1:18-25
I would like you to imagine that you are a Galilean peasant in the first Century.
As such, your life is fairly typical of the majority of humanity for most of human history. You are poor, intimately connected to the earth – dependent on your ability to produce food for your own and your family’s survival. You live in close proximity to your extended family, and you have known most of the people in your community since you were a small child. You are likely to live out your life and die within 10 miles of where you were born.
But there is ONE extended trip that you have taken many times. You go to Jerusalem every year, at the time of the Passover feast, to offer your yearly sacrifice.
This duty is required by your faith, and so you go, despite the challenges the trip poses:
You are too poor to make the journey by any means other than your own two feet. It’s a long trip – about 70 miles, and most of that over rocky or mountainous terrain. You are used to walking distances, but even so, it takes you at least 4 or 5 days to get there.
You need to carry food and supplies, but at least you aren’t also burdened by your sacrificial animal. Trying to herd a young goat or sheep all that way would make the trip practically impossible – and that’s if your small flock even produced an animal without blemish, as required by the law. At least you know that you can buy your sacrifice at the temple, even though it won’t come cheap. The law offers this one accommodation for the scattered people of Israel.
But the trip is still wearying. It takes you through Samaria, so you can’t count on any hospitality there. And you don’t feel that much more at home when you get to Jerusalem. You may be of the same people, but the culture of Judea is different than that of Galilee – centered, as it is, on the religious life of the Temple, and the political life of the capital. Here, you are a country bumpkin, and the people of Jerusalem let you know it. The minute you open your mouth your accent sets you apart. You don’t really belong.
It’s important for you to be here – you sacrifice (in more than one way) to participate in the holiest festival of the year – but it takes its toll.
And then, after the long, tiring, uncomfortable journey, you arrive at the Temple courts… to find them in disruption! Animals are running wild, and tables are overturned, and people are yelling and scrambling on the ground for scattered coins.
And at the center of the hubbub is a maniac with a braided whip yelling something about his Father’s house.
It takes you a few moments to realize that you have seen this man before. It was a few weeks ago, at a Wedding in Cana. That had been a raucous scene as well, but in a good way. You had been relaxed, and enjoying yourself, among people you know, in an environment you knew you belonged. It had been a rare few days of carefree celebration.
Until the wine ran out. It’s not that you can’t have fun without wine, but you are a sympathetic person, and you felt awkward for the hosts. It was a major embarrassment and would have ended the festivities on a sour note.
But then you heard Mary from Nazareth directing the servants to talk to this man - Jesus you think his name is. And he had issued the strangest instruction… to fill six huge stone jars with water, up to the brim, and then to turn around and dip out of them. And – unbelievable as it was… the water had turned into wine! Really good wine! You can still remember the taste.
It was… a miracle. You wouldn’t have believed it if you didn’t see with your own eyes. And tasted with your own mouth. There was no doubt, this Jesus was something special….
But now… now he seems less like a miracle-worker, and more like a madman. He is causing chaos, and interfering with the appointed work of the Temple at Passover, and – for you – making a long, hard journey … pointless. Because how are you supposed to do your religious duty, and be made right with God, if there are no animals to buy for your sacrifice?
Thoughts and emotions war inside you as you stare at this wild, unrestrained, powerful man with fire in his eyes.
Part of you is angry. Angry at the chaos he is causing, and angry at the disrespect he is showing to God’s Temple, and angry at the impact this all has on you. What right does this man have to disrupt the sacred rituals of your people? Who is he to claim this sacred space as his Father’s house, and to decree what goes on here? And what does he mean by claiming to be able to raise the Temple in 3 days if it is destroyed? He may be a miracle worker, but it has taken 46 years to build the Temple. This is much bigger than 6 jugs of water turned to wine.
But… he DID turn water into wine. It was unbelievable… until you looked at him and felt… it’s impossible to describe what you felt.
He’s a man. A walking, breathing, human being. But he is also something more. You can’t deny that. The fire in his eyes is NOT madness. It’s zeal. A passion for God and for God’s worship.
You look into the eyes of this Jesus, and suddenly you remember the words of the Torah that you have recited since you were a small child.
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:2-5a).
A jealous God… a God who won’t tolerate anything interfering with the connection to God’s people.
And you have a crazy thought. What if God wants to get closer to us? Closer than a designated sacred space, and a ritual system that assures our rightness with God, but only through the intermediaries of priest and animal and altar. What if God wanted to get close enough to touch… or share a cup of wine?
It sounds like utter foolishness…that this man with the whip, and the crazy words of raising a temple in 3 days… that this man who disrupts our orderly worship could actually be… what? A revelation from God? An invitation to know God in a new way?
It’s not logical. It’s completely outside the bounds of what you have been taught to expect… It’s a stumbling block for the wisdom you have received from your ancestors.
And yet… you sense an invitation in his eyes. An invitation to embrace the lesson in the disruption. To let go of your defenses, and your fears, and your instincts to protect the rituals that you have been taught to trust because… those rituals – even God ordained rituals – can become idols when they are what you trust. When the holy place, or the holy actions are your source of security, your sign that you are right with God – instead of placing your trust in God alone, a God who comes near.
You leave the temple that day, not knowing what to think. Is he a miracle worker? Is he a madman? Is he a revelation from God? You don’t know. You want to believe, but you don’t want to be foolish.
Then, three years later, when you are back in Jerusalem, back in the Temple to offer your yearly sacrifice. Back in that mixed experience of reverence and discomfort; of dislocation and not belonging in the place that is the center of your faith, you see Jesus again.
But this time, he’s hanging on a cross. And all the promise, and power you felt in him seems gone. And it breaks your heart… even though you hadn’t been brave enough to embrace the disruption of everything you knew to follow him. You had wanted it to be real. You had wanted God to be that close.
The disappointment is like a weight on your shoulders as you prepare for the long, plodding journey back North.
But as you are heading out of the city, you hear a rumor. A rumor that Jesus has been raised from the dead. His disciples are reporting that he has appeared to them, several times. And performed wonders.
And someone says: “Remember what he said? When he threw all the animals and money-changers out of the Temple? Remember how he said if the Temple was destroyed, he would raise it in 3 days? He was 3 days in the tomb! I think this is what he meant. His body is God’s temple!”
And you know it’s true. The meaning of his words, and the hope of his resurrection, and the invitation you saw in his eyes. It’s all true!
His body is God’s temple. And you don’t have to travel to Jerusalem to get close to God. Because God has come near.
Near enough to touch, or to share a cup of wine.
Thanks be to God.