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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 8, 2015

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. 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. The cleansing, moreover, is a kind of exorcism, literally, a “throwing out” of the money changers, the doves, sheep and cattle the whole sacrificial system. 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 …?

The inaugural Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, it strikes me, may be valued as a creative expression of anger or protest a channeling of anger in a Spirit of subversion and celebration. Last night’s parade saw prominent involvement of A-League footballers, and, for the first-time, a UnitingCare float.

Is there a wise way of managing our anger in the context of terrorist threats and violence, in the context of abuse and abuse cover-ups, in the context of sacrificial and punitive systems of law and religion? In the chilling context of capital punishment? Is there a way to channel this anger? By means of which prayer? By means of what action? With whom?

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 flip the altar-table 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 accoutrements and doctrinal certainties lest we deify what is, ultimately, corrupt and crass. “An idol must die so that a symbol of being may begin to speak,” says Paul Ricoeur. Good Friday will see the sanctuary stripped bare that we might again attend 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 beliefs and notions of religion.

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-stickers, the production line, the business as usual, the marketing, the self-help, the self-realisation …!

I don’t often cite John Calvin, but Calvin is credited with saying this: the human mind is a perpetual idol factory which is in line with our Gospel. For the love of God (in the name of love, in the name of an egalitarianism to come, an ecological/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 pour out the Holy Spirit on it and on us so that it and we may become the body of Christ? Have we any idea what we are asking?

“Because if that happens, if the Holy Spirit of God really descends upon us ... and drives us out to be Christ in the world, there’s no going back … if [the bread and wine] really become the body and blood of Christ in you, you can kiss goodbye ... your [conventional, calculable] religion, your sensible career path ... Look at your hands … Your hands are the hands of Christ …” (Nathan Nettleton).

It’s not that the bread and wine are signs referring to “something else” (as Calvin would have it). The bread (broken and shared) and wine (poured out and shared) are symbols or sacraments that join us one to another in a world of God’s making a kindom of non-violence and radical love an alliance with all those who suffer and hope (Louis-Marie Chauvet).

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. Sanctifying love in imitation of Christ who is the fulfilment of the law. Love over (conventional, calculable) religion.

Our Gospel shows Jesus causing trouble. The Gospel means to cause trouble, even for faith. And yet “real trouble lies not in a troubled faith but in an untroubled belief [religion]” (John Caputo).

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