WORSHIP THIS WEEK: This Sunday, June 16, we worship on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (the time after Pentecost).  Jesus highlights the mysterious horticulture of the kingdom of God, in which we can never underestimate the magnitude of what can be done with something small.  We welcome Pastor Arden Krych, who will preach and preside. Join us at 10:00 in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship:https://www.youtube.com/live/BVwInjrcBG0?si=931YpLrC1LksyemF

John 2:13-22

March 3, 2024

I’ve said it several times lately: Bodies are weird.  They torment us with aches and pains of indeterminate origin.  We find ourselves playing whack-a-mole with tests and procedures and doctors’ appointments, taking care of one issue only to find that another springs up to challenge us.  But bodies are also wondrous.  They give birth and take walks and offer amazing hugs.  Bodies help us ride bicycles, play sports, sing beautiful music – or just sing in the shower.  There’s a reason we applaud when a baby takes those first few steps.  It is a marvel.  We watch for the first time as the baby discovers how to stumble through the world.  And then fall.  And maybe cry.  And then get back up again.

I often wonder what it was like for Jesus to be in a body.  To experience all of the joys and pains of being in a human body must surely have puzzled him at times.  But it doesn’t keep him from talking about bodies – specifically, as he does today, about his own body.  We’ll come back to that in a few minutes.

Let’s first get our bearings in today’s gospel.  This year we’ve been in the gospel of Mark up until this point, but this morning we shift to the Gospel of John for a few weeks.  We hear a story of Jesus coming into the temple in Jerusalem and doing some dramatic things.  Making a whip of cords.  Finding the people who sell things in the temple and driving them out.  And for an added flourish, he pours out their money and flips over their tables.  It’s quite a moment.

Some version of this story appears in all four gospels, so it was important to the people who eventually wrote down the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Curiously, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all put this story at the end of Jesus’ life, just after he’s ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to the sound of “Hosannas!” and just before the events of his trial and crucifixion.  John, on the other hand, places this story in Chapter 2, near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, just after he’s turned water into wine at a wedding.  There’s something about this story that, for the author of John, points toward what Jesus will care about most in his ministry.

With the help of some scholarship by New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine, I want to help us understand what the Temple was like.  It was enormous, for starters.  About the size of 12 soccer fields put end to end.  It had several layers. The inner sanctum was only for the high priest, who entered it on the Day of Atonement to ask forgiveness for himself and for the people.  There was also a Court of the Priests, the Court of Israel, the Court of the Women, and the Court of the Gentiles (or non-Jews), who were also welcome to worship in the Temple.

It was in that outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, that today’s gospel takes place.  It’s where the vendors sold their goods.  Most of the pilgrims who traveled from their hometowns to worship in the Temple, especially for the big days like Passover, needed to buy some animals when they got there.  Maybe they needed something for the sacrifice, like a pair of doves, or for the Passover meal, like a sheep.  It didn’t make sense for them to bring the animals from home over their long miles of travel and risk the animal flying or running away, getting stolen, or dying.  And hey, sometimes travelers get hungry on a road trip.

But what is it that has Jesus so upset there in the outer court of the Temple?

First, let’s be clear about what Jesus isn’t doing.  He’s not saying that worshiping in the temple is bad.  He’s not rejecting the center of Jewish worship life.  He’s certainly not rejecting Judaism itself.  He says, according to John, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  There’s something about the commodification of this space that has gotten Jesus worked up.

Jesus might be alluding to the prophet Zechariah, who says that “every cooking pot in Jerusalem…shall be sacred to the Lord…so that all who sacrifice may come and use them [the cooking pots] to boil the flesh of the sacrifice.  And there shall no longer be traders [t-r-a-d-e-r-s] in the house of the Lord…on that day.” [14:21]

Jesus imagines a time when there won’t be a need for these salespeople in the temple because every household will be like a temple.  People’s homes will become sanctified in and of themselves, and the sacred space of the temple will be spread throughout the community.  The people listening to John’s gospel would know what it feels like to worship without a temple.  By the time John’s gospel is recorded, the temple is a pile of rubble, courtesy of the Roman Empire.  They know what it’s like to mourn for a place of worship and then to discover that new spaces can be sacred too.

It’s important that at this point in the story Jesus talks about a different kind of temple.  He talks about a temple being destroyed and then raised up in three days, which leaves his listeners understandably confused.  But he’s talking about the temple of his body.  He’s shifted into metaphor.  It’s another way of predicting that he will suffer and die and rise again – which is why we hear that his listeners remembered the metaphor only after the resurrection.  That’s when it would have made more sense to them, right?

The body of Jesus is a temple.  In the first chapter of John we hear Jesus described as the Word.  The Word became flesh and lived among us.  Or, more precisely according to the Greek, the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us, tabernacled among us.

The love and mercy of God are not confined to any building – not a temple, not this sanctuary, not any building.  The love and mercy of God can be found wherever God’s people are.  And by showing up in a body, Jesus reminds us that all bodies are holy because each one is created in the image of God.  Each one is a dwelling place for God.

If the body of Jesus has become the New Temple, then we, the community that gathers in Jesus’ name, must make sure that the body of Christ here at Gloria Dei is a welcome place for all people.

That’s why we are doing the learning and the work of the Reconciling in Christ process – so we can be clear about our welcome for LGBTQIA+ people, all of whom are made in the image of God.  That’s why we work against the “isms” of the world, including racism, because people of color are made in the image of God, and no one has the right to desecrate the dignity of those in whom God dwells.  That’s why we put our bodies between the bullies and the people the bullies threaten.  And that’s why, as we’ll do today at Homeless Solutions and as we do each week through the Chatham Community Food Distribution, we put our bodies to work so that people will have enough to eat.

It’s also why we must be kind to our own bodies.  There will be a million people trying to sell you a million products to be thinner and glowier and stronger, but Jesus says, “Don’t make God’s creation a marketplace!  You are holy, and you are beautiful, just as you are.”

Bodies are weird, but they are also wonderful.  They are places where God lives in you and in every single person you will ever meet.

Cole Arthur Riley has a beautiful prayer that ends with these words, which I invite you to pray with me now:

Let us remember that our beauty is never dependent on anyone’s belief in it, including our own.  This flesh, this face is inherently sacred – its beauty cannot easily be undone.  Show us daily the miracle of these bodies that pump blood, shed tears, keep breathing.  Remind us that we are those whose flesh grows back, that we possess the mystery of regeneration within our bones.  Give us the courage to marvel, every mirror a portal to the awe we are worthy of. Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ


Entering the Passion of Jesus:  A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week by Amy-Jill Levine, Chapter 2, “The Temple: Risking Righteous Anger.”

Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Staying Human by Cole Arthur Riley, Chapter 7, “Body.”

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