Sunday, March 29, 2015

Let's Just Eat Pasta.

Matthew 21:1-11

21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.*’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
   humble, and mounted on a donkey,
     and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ 
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd* spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ 
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

This is not a triumphal sermon.

This will not be a “good” sermon.

I want to be done with the good sermon.
I’m tired of the stress and the fear and the wringing the Holy Spirit around the neck just to give me, something, anything, that will please and meet the needs and entertain and spiritually feed. I’m tired of being a fraud.

So. You’re gonna leave this place and your mother-in-law will ask what you did today. And you’ll say, “I went to church.” And your father-in-law will ask, “so how was the sermon?” And you’ll say, “It totally sucked. An absolute waste of my time. I should have gone home and eaten pasta.”

And maybe that’s what we should do. Just stop this whole thing right now, just sit around and eat pasta. Because pasta doesn’t surprise, it doesn’t disappoint, it’s everything you expect it to be. 

I wonder if that’s what Jesus was thinking as he somehow rode both a donkey and a colt into Jerusalem, for what he knew, and we know, to be the last time: "We should have just stayed home and eaten pasta. Linguini, Fettuccine, Farfalle, Angel Hair, whatever.”

I’m not what they want me to be, he thinks, as they wave their palms and lay down their cloaks and shout “Hosanna!” - a royal welcome.  

And so they expect him to bring chariots and spears and gold and jewels and a new constitution and his virgin betrothed riding in a palanquin on the back of an elephant and whatever else goes along with being a king in first century Palestine. 

They cried:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 

Hosanna to the Son of David! The Davidic monarchy is back!

The one who is going to give us pensions and health insurance and stable jobs with paid sick leave!

Blessed is the one who is going to stick it to the man and free us from this back-breaking work and finally make things fair.

Blessed is the one who is finally going to give the powers what’s coming to them.

Hosanna to King Jesus! It’s all going to be peaches and cream and caviar from now on!

I wonder if Jesus thinks, as he rides that coltney? donklt?, I am a fraud. That he can’t be what they set him out to be. That his kingship means suffering and death and fear and exile. 
Or does he just laugh at their ignorance, does he just smile down at them from atop his donkey-colt for not really knowing what they’re asking for? I wonder if he thinks, “guys, just go home. Get a big pot of water boiling. It’s time for some ziti with marinara sauce.” 

I spend a lot of my time, wandering around, feeling aimless, doing all the things, buying the groceries and feeding the kids and doing the work, all while thinking that I’m a total fraud. I don’t do quiet times. I don’t tithe anywhere near 10%. I drink too much Starbucks and once in awhile I let my kids eat at McDonald’s. I want to look like I’ve got it all together, but the truth is, I’ve lived in my house for almost eight years and have NEVER cleaned behind the fridge. 

Get a pot of water boiling, kids. It’s time for pasta.

Except, what Jesus was doing was really countercultural - and dangerous. He was directly taunting the empire, coming in to Jerusalem like a royal dignitary, like a military hero, and is surrounded on every side by adoring crowds. This is subversive. This is a treasonous act for sure. 

And the whole time, he’s revealing who and what are the real frauds:
People so hungry for power that they’ll tax the commoner to near-destitution. 
People so nervous about their status in the world they’ll crucify an innocent man just to prove who’s boss.
An empire so fragile that this crucified peasant from the dirty junk-town of Nazareth will overturn every status quo and notion of imperial power. 

Funny, how just one man riding in to town on a pokey little donkey-colt can cause such a ruckus.

Funny, how refusing to play the game of power and control can pull the thread out of the system, unravelling the whole thing.

Funny, how deciding to spend an hour eating waffles with my boys on a Saturday morning, instead of working on the perfect sermon, or balancing my checkbook, or getting the oil changed in my car, has the power to undo a little bit of fear that I’m just a fraud, that I can’t be who the world wants me to be, or, really, who I think I should be. 

Funny, how spending an evening feeding hungry folks, or tutoring antsy kids, or just getting out of bed when you really just want to hide has the power to turn the world upside down.

Funny how riding a donkey into town, or planting a garden, or looking for crocuses at the end of a grey and painful March is enough. It’s enough. 

Because these systems that control us, that tell us we need manicured fingernails and well-behaved kids and excellent credit scores, they’re really fragile. They’re so easily torn down, if we just look and see what the real fraud is. 

A homeless peasant from the junk town of Nazareth riding on a donkey is enough to disrupt the entire Roman Empire. He enters the gates and the whole city stirs, a low rumble like the thunder of an impending storm. 

Who is this guy? What’s he doing? What is he about?

And as soon as they start asking that question, it’s all over. 

As soon as you start asking, “who is this Jesus guy? What is he about?” It’s all over. Your life is changed. The thread has been pulled, and all the systems of power and control - the addictions, the consumerism, the fear and the manipulation, the “I need a new minivan-ness” start to fall apart. 

It doesn’t even matter what your answer ends up being. 

Because you’ve let Jesus in to your gates. 

You’ve let him in, riding on a donkey, maybe, or in the back of a pickup truck, or in the form of weeping or despair or desperate need, like the crowds waving their palms, with the expectation that he’s going to fix everything that is wrong in your life.
And he comes in, and instead, he upends it all. The temple you’ve built is torn down and will be rebuilt in three days. The temple of achievement and accolades, of security, of fear, or creativity, or religion, or capitalism, all those temples, torn down. 

He’s coming in, not to take the power and the control and to sit in the governor’s throne. He’s coming in to tear it all down. He comes to show us who the real fraud is. He comes to tear down all the walls of judgment and fear and depression and hunger, but he’s not going to give us jewels and low deductibles and sexy spouses and steady jobs in their place. 

He’s going to give us bread instead. Real. Good. Bread. Simple - yeast and flour and salt and water. But real. Not at all what we think we need. Not at all what we think we want. But real. 

You’re not the fraud. The gate and the temple and the empire and the internet and the drugs and the insecurity and the fear are the frauds. How can we get to the point where we can believe this? 

Where we can let the guy on the donkey come in and claim us for who we really are, and be for us, not who we think he should be, but who he actually is - The one who comes in the name of the Lord, the one who comes to overturn all the systems, all the fear, all the inadequacies, all of it. The one who comes to sit with us at the Table, who comes enjoy a good baked ziti or super-cheesy lasagna with us and we'll be surprised how good it is, how filling, how nourishing, how it was just what we needed. And Jesus will smile at you and say, this is good. Real and good. This is so good.

Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Don't Quit, Stupid. Die.

JOHN 12:20-33
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

So. This passage is a doozy for me - especially where I’m at this week. And I tried to get all outside of myself and just say something disconnected from me and what’s going on that you’d all find acceptable -- you know, the right combination of funny and entertaining and insightful and theologically nourishing -- but I just couldn’t. It just wouldn’t ring true. It would be a tinny sound. Hollow and harsh. It’d be a sugar rush, waxy Twizzlers or starchy white bread, but nothing to sustain you through the week. And from my side, there’d be no integrity; I’d have cheated you.

This passage is a doozy for me because of all this talk about death. 
All this talk about how the body and this world is bad, but the spirit, and the eternal, next world is so much better. 

And mostly, 
how do you read this passage when you really wouldn’t mind calling it quits, breaking up the band, selling  the farm, kick the bucket, and packing it in? 
I read it and felt betrayed by Jesus. “You’re supposed to give me hope,” I said to him, “Not encourage me to do something that I pay my shrink every week and pop all these pills every day to avoid.” 

See, I’ve got this galumphing, furry black dog — a common metaphor for depression. (In previous sermons, I’ve named him Karl.) Karl, the big black dog, sleeps at the end of my bed, and once in awhile I stroke his ears and entertain despair, entertain cave dwelling and cheetos and soap opera couch sitting and vampire novels, and then I can usually lull him back to sleep and go on with my day. 

But lately, Karl has been barking, nipping at my heels, drooling on my pillow, and sometimes, snarling his big white teeth right in front of my face. 

So, I ask a friend, “How do you preach this? 

How does someone with a pet Karl preach something like this

I just don’t know how to say, ‘dying isn’t so bad because new growth comes,’ when I really wouldn’t mind dying all that much.” 

And this friend, this friend who has the most annoying knack of cutting straight to the heart of me, making me cry awkward ugly tears in awkward public places, says to me, 

“That’s not dying. That’s quitting.”


And I'm wiping the tears with the stretched out sleeves of my wool sweater.
And then an old man starts staring at me as he puts sugar in his coffee at Starbucks. “Why yes, sir, all those kittens and food pictures and Justin Beiber memes on Facebook really are that emotional for me. So go back to your SweetnLow. Nothing to see here.”

And then, my friend’s back:
“Don’t quit, stupid.” My friend says. “Die.”

Wait, what? What does that even mean? 
“Don’t quit. Die.” ?

“Ok, I’m already blubbering into my latte,” I say to him.  “Hit me with it, 

How do we die without dying?

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” he says.

Well that’s annoying. Quoting Jesus. Bringing out the cliches and the cross-stitched decorative pillows. 
What am I supposed to do with that?

And I don’t want to admit that I think I know what he means.
But that it just sounds scary and ugly and difficult. And dark. And lonely. 

It’s a letting go. And that is terrifying. 
Because these things - sadness, fear, anger, self-hatred, all the pain that we carry with us, have become really good friends. 
At least for me, they’ve cemented themselves firmly into my sense of self. Who would I be if I didn’t carry these things around? I’d be nothing. Stripped naked. It’d be a little bit like starting over from scratch. It’d be a little bit like dying. A smoldering forest. The seed, buried alive. 

“But be the seed,” 
Jesus says. Be the seed that has to open itself up all weak and vulnerable deep under the soil in order to germinate and grow.

Be the forest that needs a devastating fire so that new growth can come. Be the Lodgepole Pines whose cones wait for the intense heat of the fire so it can drop its seeds.

Be the new moon.

So what is dying? What is losing your life to gain it? 
I’m not sure. 
But I think it has something to do with letting go. With sitting in the darkness. With transformation. It’s starting over with nothing but the charred remains of all you thought you needed. It’s feeling all the feels. It’s freeing Karl and letting him run wild in the woods. 

And boy is that hard. Because Karl is warm and comfortable. He’s persuasive and manipulative. He wants to convince me to quit. To give up. To succumb. To let the grain of wheat rot on the stalk, instead of fall to the earth. And I have no idea who I’ll be without that big fluffy dog licking my face in the morning and jumping up on me and scratching my shoulders at night. I’ll have to start over.

I’ll be a forest after the fire. The germinating seed deep in the ground.

This space will feel like death.
Your soul will be troubled.
You’ll want to hear the voice of God, and all you’ll hear is thunder.
Maybe you’ll cry in a Starbucks.

And maybe, just maybe, a little bit like Jesus hanging on a cross, a little bit like how a grain of wheat falls to the earth, not quitting, but dying,
maybe, just maybe, this - dying seeds and smoldering forests and dark new moons - maybe this is how God is glorified?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Snakes on a Pole

JOHN 3:14-21
14“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

We’ve got John 3:16 everywhere. It’s embroidered on our pillows, it’s stickered on our bumpers, it’s tattooed on our ankles and hanging from bedsheets at football games. 
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Interpretation: Believe in Jesus or burn.

Too bad for those who’ve been abused by clergy and have since rejected the faith. Too bad for the Pygmies in Africa who’ve never heard the name “Jesus.” Too bad for the mentally ill and the disabled. Too bad. Believe in Jesus or burn. Be cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We’ve turned this verse into a checklist - one of those notes you’d send to the cute boy in fourth grade asking, “do you like me? Check yes, no, or maybe.” 
We’ve turned it in to a pithy saying to win arguments and to end dialogue. 
It’s the official slogan of the Christian Corporation.
It’s the secret knock to get in to the basement card game.

This verse is “the One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

We’ve forgotten the stories behind this verse, and we’ve started to idolize the verse, instead of worship the God whose incredible love is expressed in the verse. 
We’ve forgotten our story. The stories of how God has touched us and changed us and molded us. The collective stories and the individual stories that testify to the truth behind this verse.

We’ve cemented this verse in our minds so much so that it has ceased to live, it has stopped being relevant and turned in to one of those scripture bombs you use to throw in an argument to prove your point about the exclusive nature of Christianity. 

But if we look at the language again, we can see it anew. 

In my language studies - both in my work with poetry and in my work with Biblical languages, it never ceases to surprise me how much the tiny words - the prepositions, the conjunctions, the articles - have such a huge impact on how we interpret the entire passage. 

The traditional translation of this verse is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”
The tricky little word here is “so.” And it’s used twice in this little verse. 

The greek word, “outos” has been interpreted to mean “so” as in “the extent to which” — how much does God love us? So much.  This interpretation emphasizes God’s great sacrifice, and, through centuries of really poor theological discourse it emphasizes the nature of substitutionary atonement - how our sin is so bad and God’s love is so great that the only way to get us back to God is through violence, through the horrific sacrifice of God’s only Son.  
But, “outos” can also mean something more like, “in this way,” or “like this.” So a better translation might be, “For God loved the world in this way…” Or, “For God so loved the world, like this…”  This interpretation then focuses on how God does what God does, the way that God loves. 
This is the way that God loves the world.
God loves the world sacrificially.
God loves the world in the darkness, as it is, right now. 
And Jesus is the way that God loves the world. And this is how God loves it - God turned violence into redemption, God transformed the horrific events on the cross into resurrection, God took our vengeance and rebirthed it for good.
God has loved through the entire story, through the whole narrative of human existence, God loves like this. That when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This can be seen even better if we remember the stories that lead up to this verse - remember the whole of the Judeo-Christian narrative.

This verse is but one of many, one verse out of thousands that tell the entirety of God’s love story for us. And if you only focus on this one verse, it’s like one of those pointillist paintings, you just get the dot, and none of the context around it. You just get a circle of color, not the entirety of the image. 

John 3:16 is placed in the context of a greater simile - Just like Moses lifted the snake in the desert, so Jesus is going to be lifted up. 

This is a reference to a really strange story in Numbers 21. In this story, the Israelites are wandering around in the desert, for years, and they’re complaining about the bad food and the lack of water. They want to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves and tortured and abused and oppressed. The Israelites are being fussy and dramatic. So God sends some poisonous snakes to bite them and kill them. Sort of like when Jonah scrapes his knee and he’s crying and so we offer to cut the whole leg off. Or maybe even more than that - another writer equated it to you breaking your arm and God cutting off your toe so that you don’t think about how much your arm hurts anymore. 

Anyway, God tells Moses to take a poisonous snake and lift it high up on a pole, and somehow it turns to bronze, and whoever would look at it would be healed from their snakebite. 

I told you this was a weird story.

So John is saying, “it’s just like that. Jesus has to be raised just like that, and whoever looks upon him will be healed.”

Except, except, there’s another story about this snake on a pole.

This is in 2 Kings 18. 
Years after the wandering in the desert, after the Israelite nation has been established, and everyone is all comfortable and worshiping their idols and their work and their cars and their bank accounts, King Hezekiah has come to fix things. He removes the high places, the pillars and the “sacred pole” - all the places where people have been worshipping the wrong thing. And this king breaks “in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it.” 

The thing that symbolized what saved these people, the thing that they looked to for salvation, became an idol. And they made offerings to it, instead of worshiping the One from whom salvation came. They worshipped a snake on a stick instead of the God who brought them out of Egypt and into the land that God gave them.

Three stories woven together. The snakes in the desert, worshipping the snake on a pole, and Jesus, raised up on the cross, and then raised from the dead, and then raised into heaven to be with God. 

You don’t get the full impact of this verse, until you get the stories behind them.

God loves the world in this way - that when we were complaining about the bad food, really bad stuff came and got us, but if we look at the bad stuff for what it is, what it really is, when we see how much it is destroying us, we are healed. BUT, if we start to idolize the bad stuff, then we’ve made another snake that bites us.

And maybe John 3:16 has become that snake that bites us.

We’ve forgotten all the stories behind the verse, and we’ve started to idolize the verse. It’s become another snake on a pole. A golden ring that we all salivate over so that we don’t go to hell when we die. It’s become a litmus test to determine if someone is in or out, on our side, or not.

But when we remember the stories, remember the full scope of the Judeo-Christian narrative, we press the reset button, we see the full picture, and the verse that has become a weapon suddenly becomes hopeful again.

God loves the world in this way - that when we complained about our sciatica and our arthritis, the frustration of waiting in traffic, and the annoyance of the guy who has 13 things in the 12 or less check-out lane, all while children are starving, and ISIS is murdering, and the planet is heating up for the profit of a few at the expense of the poor - God loves the world in this way, that when we see what is going on for what it really is, when remember the real story, when we put things in perspective, we come to understand what the Gospel truly means. 
It’s not about who’s in and who’s out - it’s not about heaven and hell - about who gets the ring and who doesn’t - It’s about how God loves. It’s about transformation and resurrection and renewal. It’s about tearing down the idols that oppress us and living in freedom. It’s about coming to know the full depth and breadth and height of God’s love for us. 

Thanks be to God.

*huge props to this:
I don't think I could have gotten anywhere with this passage without that post...

Oh Snap...

 JOHN 2:13-22
"13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken."

Growing up, I encountered two kinds of authority figures, two kinds of teachers. One was the kind you’d roll your eyes at when they told you to push your chairs in at the lunch table, the one you’d giggle about with your friends in a tight circle on the playground: this teacher’s ill-fitting wig, that teacher’s too-short pleated Dockers pants, that one time a bee flew up her skirt and she wriggled and danced and hollered like a little girl.  

And then there was this other kind. This kind of teacher who commanded your respect. They were quiet. They were patient. They were kid magnets and got you to do your best work. And whom you were terrified to disappoint. 

Just one disappointed look from Mrs. Dowling, my fifth grade teacher, and I was a puddle on the floor, a wreckage of shame and guilt, and ready to make it up to her, to do my best so as not to disappoint her again. These are the quiet authorities, the ones who didn’t have to give you detention or make you write lines or assign you extra homework in order for you to shape up. You strove to show how much you loved and respected them by doing your very best - from memorizing your state capitals to studying for the spelling bee - you wanted to do your very best for Mrs. Dowling. I think it’s because I knew she loved me. I couldn’t disappoint her because I knew that she really cared about me.

I like to think of Jesus this way. The one who held his authority quietly, who demanded respect not because he could rain down asteroids from the sky but because one disappointed look from him would crush you, would make you want to try again and do better, prove to him that you could be better. And then even as you tried and tried, he’d still be there, saying, “Jenn, calm down, I forgave you the first time!” But I’d still want to recite my times tables even faster for Him.

And let me tell you, if I saw Jesus in the Temple, overturning the tables and knocking over the stacks of bird cages, I think I might shit my pants. I think I might duck and cover and wait until the rage had passed. It’d be like watching Mrs. Dowling rip up our notebooks and break all our number two pencils into tiny pieces, it’d be that horrifying.

We like to think of the blonde, wavy-haired, blue-eyed, meek and mild Jesus. We hang pictures of that Jesus on our walls, or the Jesus where the kids are climbing all over him and he’s laughing all genial and welcoming.

But this Jesus. Oh snap. They just got TOLD.

We don’t get very many images of a God who’s pissed. And if we do, we write that God off as “the God of the Old Testament” not the God of now - as if there were two Gods, or as if God suffered from a split personality disorder. 

It used to be that that kind of god freaked me out. That god was primal, simple, and frightening. That god wasn’t a real god, the one you’d make live sacrifices to, or wear hair shirts for, or hang virgins from cliffs in order to appease their wrath.

That is, until I visited the Kali Temple in Kolkata, India. 

If you’re not familiar with her, Kali is one of the most terrifying deities in the whole Hindu pantheon. She is depicted with her tongue hanging out, with a ring of mens heads strung like pearls around her neck, and in one hand, she holds a bowl of blood, a guy’s head in another, a bloody sword in another, and the sign of peace with her fourth hand. To top it all off, she is standing on top of a defeated man - usually depicted as the god Shiva.  

This is a god you don’t want to mess with. She is terrifying and is all about getting vengeance. People sacrifice goats to her - the purer and blacker the goat, the better. 

Why on earth would anyone worship this deity? 

Is it simply out of fear? 

I don’t think so. When I watched Kali’s devotees entering and leaving the temple, they didn’t look particularly scared. They looked peaceful. At rest. And they all looked poor, bedraggled, world-worn.

You see, Kali is the god who is powerful for those who have no power. She is the god who kicks ass and takes names. All for the sake of the little guy, of the widow who has been abandoned by her family, of the child born with a disability, of the beggar who wanders the streets all night. People don’t worship her out of fear. They worship her because she is there to save them from the powers and the corruption and the world that has beaten them down.

She is there to kick the asses of the powerful because they have exploited the weak. 

And I think Jesus is tracking a little bit of Kali in this story. I think Jesus is ransacking the temple for the sake of the little guy, for the ones who get swindled out of their savings for the sake of the temple tax and to “pay” for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus is there to demand justice for the poor folks who have walked miles and miles out of religious devotion only to give their life savings away to some guys in purple cloaks waving incense and smearing blood over the altar. 

And I think this is awesome. Way to go Jesus! Stand up for the little guy! Way to stick it to the man! I love being a Christian because my God is the God of justice for the poor and disenfranchised.  Until…I try to put myself in the story...

Because the folks sitting at the dove booth and selling the unblemished rams and exchanging the coins and collecting the Temple tax - they’re all just cogs in the system. They have been swept up by the whole thing and for the sake of their own survival they have been dragged along by the current.

They thought they were doing the right thing. They thought they were fulfilling God’s commands, in the most practical, sensible way. You needed the moneychangers to exchange the Roman coins with the picture of Nero on them for temple coins that did not claim that Nero was the “Son of God.” 

You needed the marketers to offer unblemished animals - people were coming from far and wide to offer sacrifices, and they couldn’t bring their animals with them - at least not and keep them “unblemished.” They were doing their part to keep the system going. And the system is good, they thought. It’s important. It’s worth our life savings. 
They have been exploiting the weak. But not in huge, obvious ways. But in ways of quiet passivity.  

One day you see that Walmart has apples for half the price of your local farmer, so you buy those. Another day you’re so hungry and your blood sugar is so low you’re shaking, so you stop at the McDonald’s.  The clothes on the Macy’s clearance rack are cheaper than the Goodwill, so why not buy from there? 
Your baby falls asleep in his carseat, so you leave the engine running, even after you’ve reached your destination. You need to save for retirement, so you put your money in a general 401k, and try not to worry about what large corporation is benefitting from your investment. 

I’m the guy exchanging the Roman coins for the Temple coins. I’m the one who buys the dove to sacrifice on the altar for the forgiveness of sins and continues to support a broken system. 

It’s my table that Jesus is overturning.

A God of vengeance is great — until we figure out that we aren’t the victims. We are part of a system, we’ve been swept up by the commercialism and the fear and the consumerism and we’re just treading water, trying to survive. 

I love what Jesus does, when the temple authorities question him. “Who do you think you are?” they ask. Give us a sign, prove to us that you have a right to do these things, to cause such a ruckus, to overturn this paradigm that we’ve set up for ourselves. 
“Give us a sign,” they demand. 

And Jesus doesn’t, really. He throws it back on them. He puts the responsibility for change back on them. “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will build it back up,” he says. 

Tear it all down. Tear down everything you thought you needed. Tear down your role in the system, tear down the lies that you’ve bought in to, tear down your participation in the oppression of the poor. Tear down all the things you think you need.

And then I’ll rebuild it. 
I’ll rebuild you.

By overturning the tables and whipping the sheep out of the Temple, Jesus is pulling a tiny thread from the system. And this tiny thread is the beginning of the unravelling of the whole thing. This is a major paradigm shift. This is a radical step outside of anything these folks have ever known or imagined. 

And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying that my participation in the system has disappointed Jesus. That he’s going to look at me with that look

But what are we going to do now? 

Will we tear down our old systems of oppression and dominance and achievement and manipulation and let Jesus build us up again? 

Do we dare shift our paradigm so completely that we knock down everything we thought we wanted and achieved and earned, and then wait those terrifying three days to see what Jesus builds back again? 

I’m at the point in my life now, where I don’t think I have any other choice.

Thanks be to God.