Some of us have perhaps heard about Jesus cleansing the temple at Jerusalem - today’s Gospel story - as being the necessary work of Jesus to clear out the corruption that invaded the temple system.
Certainly corruption is an evil leach that seeks to attach itself to any and all human institutions, including religious institutions. And certainly God in Jesus Christ took a plunge into the grave as part of purging not only individual sin, but to cleanse the stain of sin from the places where our best efforts have not kept those lesions from infesting our institutions, thereby too often divesting them from their Godly and humanitarian intentions and leaving them hollow husks that do less to serve and more to hurt those they are intended to help.
Yet what if our gospel story today is more than a reminder that God’s righteous anger is kindled in that face of human defacing of God’s divine desire and the commandments of which we were reminded in the first lesson read from Exodus?
Theologian and Pastor Mary Hinkle Shore wonders if Jesus is not only cleansing the temple, but also creating a divine drama to draw people’s attention to a new temple. (Working Preacher, March 4, 2018)
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” says Jesus, and of course he is not referring to the Jewish temple at Jerusalem, but to the temple of his own body that will be broken on the cross for the salvation of the world, and then resurrected in three days to fulfill God’s salvation, new life promise.
Yes, this new temple is Jesus’ own body. Jesus’ body that will be broken on the cross so as to break apart all that is broken in us as humans and in the institutions that we have built. Then, by Jesus’s own body and blood, through this new temple, the resurrection work, the reconstruction work, the redeeming action from inside out will begin to create a beautiful and harmonious new world of light and love and joy and possibility.
It is of this new world of possibility and light that Paul is writing to the bickering people trying to form a new Christian community in the city of Corinth, admonishing them to look not to their own wisdom for guidance, but to the wisdom and strength of Christ.
We know that Paul founded the church in Corinth and then continued on his missionary journey during the 1st century. It was while he was in Ephesus that Paul heard the frustrating news of how jealousy and rivalry and immorality was affecting the fledgling Christian community at Corinth.
And we would do well to look at those bickering Christians of Corinth and say, “there but for the grace of God go I.” “There, but for the grace of God, go we.” For it takes vigilance and fairly constant and intentional work to build congregations that are healthy and marked more by the Holy Spirit than the sometimes small desires and opinions of those of us who populate these congregations – even the pastors. It takes vigilance and fairly constant and intentional work to build congregations that are healthy and marked more by a sense of Christ’s mission – such as Redeemer’s mission to “Share Christ’s Welcome” - than by any one person or another – even the pastor - getting her or his way.
I thank God every day that Redeemer, New Paltz is, by the grace of God, on such a path of health, and I trust that by the grace of God all of us will daily recommit ourselves to being part of building up this community as a bastion of health and healing for generations to come.
For the healthy body of Christ has never been more desperately needed. Needed to build up the people of God through conversations that go deeper than “Hi, how are you? Fine, thanks.” Yes, the healthy body of Christ is needed to build up the people of God through sharing the joys and sorrows of our daily lives, getting in ever deeper with each other because we are part of Christ’s body and therefore the resurrection lives by God’s promises through us. Christ’s resurrection lives in conversations such as those we are having each Wednesday during Lent, where we dive into the Bible to consider institutionalized racism and how we as a Church can, by the power of Christ, be part rooting out this and all human plagues of sin from the institutions of this world, including the Church.
And more, my friends, there is much more. For the healthy body of Christ has never been more needed as we go out into the world to share the gospel good news of Christ’s never-failing, all-encompassing promises of redemption amidst homelessness and hunger, a growing plight of world-wide refugees with countries not willing to help them get a second chance, gun violence in our schools and further violence done by people speaking in hatred of one another rather than finding common purpose to enact common, sensible change. The world needs a striving-for-healthy, working-to-be-resurrected-by-Christ-Church to speak truth in love amidst this world gone mad.
And into this world gone mad, into our lives sometimes gone crazy, into the midst of these and all forms insanity Jesus strides in and cleanses the temple. Cleanses our hearts and minds. Cleanses the Church and other worldly institutions, and points beyond time to the eternal story of God’s love that will be poured out through his very body.
This is not an abstract story to make us feel hopeful. This is truth of God’s love that will not let us go. This is the truth of God who in Christ has made a new creation, a new temple through his very own body and blood poured out and given for us on the cross. This is not a story, but the reality and truth of Jesus, who desires to cast out from us all that does no serve God so as to make in us and in the Church and in this world a holy habitation.
A holy habitation;
A refuge of hope;
A city on the hill that does not keep itself distant from the needs of the world, but knowing its own hunger and thirst for the truth and love that only God can provide in Christ, goes willingly to serve in the world, even as Christ will willingly go to the cross for our sakes.
Oh, what a promise of hope we have in Jesus Christ.
Oh, what a temple.
Oh, what an invitation.