Raise Up

March 7, 2021

Series: March 2021

Category: What Are You/We Up To

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Today's Scripture:  John 2:13-22

Today's Sermon


"Raise Up"

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.  THIS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.  AMEN.

Raise Up

            We are still recovering from a burst pipe following the completion of our renovation.  With this Sunday’s gospel reading is about Jesus’s talk of destroying the Temple just after construction has been completed, I can’t help but think we have taken this “putting ourselves into the biblical story” too far.  It’ll be repaired, we’ll be okay.  It’s just a reminder that things go wrong in church just as they do in the rest of life.  When serving as a youth pastor, I didn’t catch a date change on the contract for a yearly camp we ran for our teenagers.  That left us having to leave the camp a day before parents were to pick up their kids, and many were on vacation, meaning we had to place over 75 youth and 15 adults somewhere for the night.  It actually turned out well.  We ended up going back to the church where we had the biggest lock in you could imagine. It just took a little creativity and willingness to rethink some things.

            This season has caused us to rethink a lot of things.  Households, workplaces, schools, doctors’ offices, whole communities have had to reimagine how to operate.  When Jesus went into the Temple and overturned the tables, he is saying it is time to rethink things.  It’s easy for us to act scandalized upon hearing there were moneychangers in the Temple, but to be fair the moneychangers played an important role in the Temple’s operation.  Faithful people came to the Temple to make sacrifices, to offer gifts, and they couldn’t do that with Roman coins, which bore Caesar’s image, any image really, so they needed a place to change currency. 

            Jesus wants to rethink the entire system.  If you believe this story, and it appears in all four gospels making it likely to have been historical, then Jesus sees something about the Temple and the authorities in his tradition that needs to change.  They have either become too cozy with the powers of the day, the Empire, or they’ve adopted Empire tactics, violence, to break away.  Neither was acceptable to Jesus.  Jesus is inviting the deconstruction of the Temple before its destruction, which actually happens in the year 70 after a failed violent revolt against Rome.

But, Jesus doesn’t stop with deconstruction; he talks about raising something up in place of the Temple. This is an important point.  There is some ease in tearing down dated institutions.  We live in a particularly anti-institutional era, and there’s a value in deconstructing systems that have flaws and biases built in.  Institutions need reform, some need total dismantling.  There is a question that necessarily follows:  Then what?  What can be built, or grown to use a more organic image, to put in its place?  Society needs collective bodies working in a coordinated fashion for a common purpose—what we call institutions—to hold and support society, common life.  Tearing down is one thing, creation of something new is another. 

This is to what Jesus is speaking when he says, in somewhat typical cryptic fashion, “I will raise it up.” We often read this story as a premonition of his own resurrection, for Jesus says this will happen in three days.  The writer refers to it as “the temple of his body,” which again you could take to him simply his resurrected body, but I think there is something else here happening here as well.  Remember, it doesn’t say Jesus will be raised, it says Jesus will raise.

            The body that Jesus will raise up from the rubble of the destroyed temple will be the body of people who followed him.  They will be defined by how they relate to each other, a way defined by peace, by equity (not just equality), and by mercy.  It was an alternative system of communal life to the institutions of empire.  We have been calling the followers of the risen Jesus the body of Christ since almost the beginning.  What an extraordinary image.  It’s actually one next exclusive to Christianity.  Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist poet, teacher, and activist, once wrote, “The Next Buddha May Be a Sangha.”[1]  A sangha is a community that practices dharma, sacred teaching, truth, reality, together.  He writes, “It is possible the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and lovingkindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation.”[2]  To put it back into Christian language, the second coming of Christ may be in the form of a community, the bodyof Christ.

            What is Jesus up to?  That’s the question we’re asking each week in Lent, Jesus us up to establishing a way and a way of relationships that stands in contrast to ways put in place by those who live by empire rules – the rule of power and wealth. 

One of the things we have learned during the pandemic is how much we yearn for community.  As we return to gathering, what kind of Westminster will we raise up?  Will we match the dedication and commitment to renovating our building with one that rebuilds and expands our communal practice of the way of Jesus?  How? What will that look like?  How can we continue to be a place where people can grow spiritually, find community, and better the world?  What would it look like to give our way of being together some special attention and how might that help people?

            I was sharing an idea I had with Bethany the other day, where we might come together for regular meals to be followed by break out rooms of various sorts.  We have this marvelous new building.  In one room there might be contemplative prayer, meditation; in another the singing of hymns and Christian, in another yoga/body prayer, in another guided conversations, in another a class on theology or spiritual practice, in another a Bible study.  There are so many possibilities.  Almost before I could finish, Bethany said, “We used to have something like that here. It was called ‘More Than a Meal.’” What a wonderful return to our roots as we week to grow in new ways.  It sounds like it may be time to bring that back.  A meal is a good place to start, where fellowship and sharing begin. It was, after all, the table where Jesus commissioned us to remember him.