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Cleanliness vs Godliness

March 4, 2018

John 2.13-22


I am not happy with the person who cleans my house.  He only shows up about once a month, if he feels like it; and when he does, he always has an excuse—‘I don't have time to do everything, I'll do it next time. I'll do it next week.’  When he dusts, if he dusts, it’s only the tops where the dust is obvious.  The shower stall is worse - there is always an excuse for not cleaning that; and when he does, he leaves the mould, saying he will get it later when he has time, which never comes.  When he vacuums, again it’s only what’s obvious, rarely what’s hidden behind or under things.  


I don't know quite know how to handle this personnel problem.  How can I fire him when he is me?


Lent is the spiritual season that should create a yearning in us to clean our house, and maybe even to clean our souls.


Lent is the great spring-cleaning of the Christian life.  The word Lent comes from an Old English word meaning ‘spring.’  


In the early church, Lent was viewed as a spiritual spring, a time of light and joy in the renewal of creation and the life of the soul.  It represented a return to a life in which God was once more the centre.  It learned from Jesus’ time of 40 days that he spent in the desert as he listened for his Father’s will.  It is the traditional season of preparation for the great ‘Feast of Feasts,’ which is Easter.  


This Sunday's gospel is about cleansing and renewal.  It is about the clearing away of everything that obstructs our way to God.  We usually think of today’s gospel as Jesus cleansing the temple of commercial abuse.  Jesus meek and mild becomes Jesus unhinged.  


It must have been terribly disconcerting for his disciples to witness the event.  There was Jesus throwing furniture, shouting at the top of his lungs, and money flying about.  Clearly it was something that he cared passionately about.  Jesus wanted nothing to invade or obstruct the way into God, the sacred space of the Temple.  But it was also about cleansing on a cosmic scale that Jesus came to accomplish in his person and his life. 


In the ways of the covenant that God had made with Israel, the animals and the money changers actually had a right to be in the temple. The animals were necessary for the Old Testament sacrifices.  The moneychangers were there to provide currency exchange, because there were pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire.  They could then purchase sacrifices, and pay the half-shekel Temple tax. 


In John's gospel, Jesus is not cleansing the Temple from commercial abuse.   Instead Jesus is making a statement.  He is showing that the animals and the money changers are no longer necessary.  Jesus was purposefully disrupting one of the most significant feasts of the Jewish year.  He was acting out the new reality that had arrived with him.  


The sacrificial animal system understood to be ordained by God in the law of Moses was no longer necessary.  God's Son had come. He was opening a new and better way to his Father.  In place of animal sacrifices, there would be a single, perfect, once for all, sacrificial lamb which God would provide, namely Jesus.  In John’s gospel, the words Jesus uses imply that the sacrificial activities are just no longer necessary.


That is because John’s gospel looks forward to the Day of the Lord, which is bible speak for the coming reign of God.  On that day God's presence will be fully complete in a new Jerusalem.  At that time all the nations of the earth will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  There will be no need for traders in the house of the Lord. In that end-time the worship of the Lord God as king in all aspects of life will have become real. 


In that time, which we now associate with the return of Jesus, we will have a new temple, which is Jesus' own crucified and resurrected body.  'Destroy this temple,’ he said, ‘and in three days I will raise it up.’ 


Today in our world we have no Temple to which we turn, unless it is places like the major venues for sport around the world.  But maybe that is a good example.  In the time in which we live football teams usually have their own home stadium.  Competition between teams is often quite strong.  It can even occasionally border on the violent.  


Now imagine a time when all teams and all supporters will come together in one great victory celebration in the temple of the MCG.  Then imagine this with all the peoples of the world, from every faith, from all time, coming together in Christ. 


I said at the beginning that I am not at all pleased with the performance of the man who cleans my house.  But after studying this passage, rather than judge him and his superficial cleaning methods, I probably should get him some help.  Clearly, he needs the help of someone who knows how to do a deep clean.  


Jesus cleansing the Temple is an encouragement to deep clean our personal sacred space, as well as the way we do church together.  It is a warning against every kind of false security.  The faithful worshippers of that time had accepted animal sacrifices as providing a way to God.  They were content with what they had.  


We put our faith in the way we do things as Anglicans.  God help us if we become too content.  Today’s gospel reminds us to think like Jesus about the possibilities for personal renewal, church renewal, and world renewal.  It is a reminder to keep our own personal sacred space free from unhelpful distractions, to keep open a place in our lives where we meet with God. 


I experienced something of a living parable yesterday.  I know it was meant for me.  Last month my eldest son, who is quite a keen gardener, gave me a bonsai plant.  It is a mango tree that he started from a mango seed, and is about 25cm tall.  As a bonsai, if I trim it properly, it will never get any taller, but it has long, droopy leaves that are about half of its height.  


I noticed a few days ago that the growing tips were shrivelling up.  Then on Friday I noticed that the big leaves were starting to droop.  I was in a panic, so I texted my son for help.  He gave me a few ideas.  But while I was vacuuming on Friday (actually!), on a whim I decided to put the plant in a sunnier position.  Yesterday, to my amazement, the grown leaves had sprung back out, and one of the growing tips had become a leaf about 3cm long!  All from putting the plant in the light of the sun.


Maybe that is what Lent is all about - putting ourselves back into the light of the Son.



Lord, help us to keep our sacred space open for you, and clear of needless distractions.  May we be ready to celebrate Easter with renewed lives truly made in your image.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.

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