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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 3, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 11, 2012

Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18,25,30; John 2:13-22

For the love of God’

Today’s Gospel sees Jesus in an angry mood – sees God, that is, in angry mode. All four gospels present an account of the cleansing of the Temple. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the accounts come at the very end of Jesus’ ministry, just before he is arrested. In John’s Gospel, however, the account comes at the very start of Jesus’ ministry – just after the miracle at Cana (turning water into wine). In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus is angry, he says, because the Temple has become a “den of thieves”, a place of corruption. In John, we read, Jesus is angry because the Temple has become a marketplace. God be with you …

There are at least two ways we might proceed. We can reflect psychologically – What makes us angry? How might we express our anger in healthy and even creative ways? Who is this angry Christ and what does he show us or teach us? Such an approach can help us to resist gnostic/escapist denunciations of anger – passive-aggressive immaturity, silly commitments to “nice-ness” that mask jealousy, denial of the body and its passions and/or conservatism that wants nothing to do with passions for reform or revolution. Carl Jung once wrote that Jesus’ overturning the tables marked a regression, a misjudgement on Jesus’ part. I disagree. I find it refreshing – even liberating. As one commentator says, the Gospel offers “both permission and sufficient grace to deal with the anger that will inevitably arise in us and in our churches” (Debra Dean Murphy).

Are you angry? Who or what makes you angry? How do you tend to deal with anger – in yourself, in others? What if you’re angry with someone you deeply care about? Can you name that? Can your relationship handle that? Make time and space for it, without judgement – without getting personal or abusive? Can I reflect on my anger – Do I have someone trustworthy with whom I can reflect? Can I channel anger in a creative way? Can I learn from it? Or do I just keep smiling, festering, resenting …?

That’s one way we can proceed. Maybe it’s an approach to take with the youngest members of the congregation. Might we encourage them to accept and channel their anger in healthy and constructive ways? What might they have to teach the rest of us?

We can also take another approach, a theological approach. Whether we attribute Jesus’ anger to corruption or crass commercialism (or both), we are confronted with an overturning of religion – an angry overturning of our precious religious system. We really ought to spill the coins and tip over the altar-table – snuff the candle and push back the pulpit – if we’re to see what the Gospel would have us see – if we’re to be confronted by a holy God who will not be domesticated in our temple/church.

Indeed, Lent is a time to strip away liturgical accouterments – and also doctrinal certainties – lest we idolise what is, ultimately, corrupt and crass. Good Friday will see the sanctuary stripped bare – that we might attend again to symbols of new life, new meaning, new possibility …

But we’re not there yet. Today is a day for setting the love of God over our cherished notions of faith and religion: Love over faith.

For the love of God, says Jesus, get these idols out of here! For the love of God, let these animals go! (Can we hear that afresh?) For the love of God, stop the machine, the bumper-sticker production line, the business as usual, the marketing, the self-help, self-realisation clap-trap!

I don’t often have a kind word for John Calvin, but he is credited with saying this: that the human mind is a perpetual idol factory – which is in sync with the Spirit of the Gospel. For the love of God (in the name of love, in the name of an egalitarianism to come, an ecological/sacrificial/joyful/peaceful kindom to come), tear down this religious system!

What might it mean, in Lent, for our religious systems to be overturned by God? One commentator writes: “This table is to be approached with reverence and awe … Do we realise what we are saying when we hold up the bread and sing ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ and ask that God will pour out the Holy Spirit on it and on us so that it and we may be the body of Christ? Have we any idea what we are asking? Or do we just mouth it …? Because if that actually happens, if the Holy Spirit of God really falls on us with all-consuming fire and drives us out to be Christ in the world, there’s no going back … if [the bread and wine] really becomes the body and blood of Christ in you, you can kiss goodbye forever your icing-on-the-cake religion, your sensible career path and your model family. Look at your hands … Your hands are the hands of Christ, your hands hold in their grasp the most volatile and mysterious power in the universe …” (Nathan Nettleton).

Our Gospel goes on to say that the body of Christ is the temple that truly matters. The body of Christ – the community of vulnerable flesh-and-blood creatures beloved of God – is the site of encounter with God. Embodied love. Brokenness offered for the sake of others, for the sake of the world. Love over faith; love over religion.

Let’s complete the homily together. Often what we think is important in the church is merely superficial, and a means of stifling the call to love. It may seem attractive and impressive – but is, perhaps, illusory, less than inclusive … You are invited to come to the table; to take a square of mauve paper; to crumple or tear it up, even angrily. … Amen.