Zeal for the Father’s House? What was Jesus doing with a whip in his hand? And, why was he tipping over tables, and stampeding the cattle and the goats? Look at them run! Why was he freeing the doves? Look at them fly! And, why was he overturning the cash drawers, spilling money all over the stone Temple floor? Such a clatter! Is this “meek and mild” Jesus? A lovely little hymn calls Jesus that. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” we sing. So, where does the Jesus of today’s Gospel Lesson come from?
The animals were there for sacrifice. Their jugulars would be cut, their blood spilled, and parts of their bodies burned. The doves were there for sacrifice, too. You wouldn’t want children watching, but, that’s the way it was. And, maybe that’s what Jesus was up to, along with a few other things, ending that ugly practice. It is Jesus there, in that place, that Temple place. Make no mistake. It is Jesus with whip in hand. It is Jesus overturning tables. It is Jesus chasing cattle and sheep out of that holy place. It is Jesus setting the doves off flying. And, it is Jesus dumping money out on the Temple floor.
Buying and selling in the temple
What was it about? It was about buying and selling in the Temple. And, buying and selling that prevented some from participating in the Temple worship. It was about merchants who went home happy — good day at the Temple. And, pilgrims who could not afford to participate in Temple worship because the cost was too much.
Mark’s gospel tells us what the merchants were doing prevented people from “all nations” from fully worshipping in the Temple. Profit, money, buying, selling got in the way of worship! And, Jesus, may I say it, was ticked! (verses 15-19)
What the church needs
I’ve heard it all my ministerial life, what the church needs, is a good business sense. Made me cringe most of the time, No, I would say in response, what the church needs is:
- more than anything else is a greater heart and greater love.
- greater compassion and greater mercy and understanding of people.
- a spirit, a stance, a mission, that declares the church is open to all.
And, when that does not happen, Jesus makes a whip and turns over tables.
Let all people come in, Jesus asserts! That’s what his sacrifice on the cross means. Open the doors wide to everyone. Shut no one out. The Father’s house must be full with all kinds of people, those who dress well, and those with holes in their sweaters, those who speak well, and those who have trouble saying what they mean.
Agnes, the organist
A great story is told by Michael Lindvall, a Presbyterian minister, in his book, Leaving North Haven. It’s one of my favorite stories — I’ve repeated it a few times over the years. In that book, Michael Lindvall tells of being a supply minister for a small town church in Carthage Lake, Minnesota, a mythical town on the way down and out. The Carthage Lake church hasn’t had a minister of its own since 1939, but, a handful of people hold on and gather for worship one Sunday each month at noon.
The clerk of the congregation, Lloyd Larson, tells Michael Lindvall, there are only eleven members now, but there will be an organist, the same organist. Preachers have been promised for sixty years. The organist is Lloyd’s sister-in-law, Agnes Rigstad.
Michael Lindvall describes the church! It’s a small, white frame building, with two large stained-glass windows, one of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lamb in one arm, staff in the other, and the other which depicts Jesus praying alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. There are two cars and a pick-up truck out front. That day there are twelve worshipers, including a young man, scattered throughout the sanctuary, sitting in their customary pews. Lloyd explained there are no bulletins, so the guest preacher should announce hymns. Michael nodded to the organist, with was at the organ with her wig slightly askew and responded with a big smile.
Worship began. Michael announced the opening hymn, number 204, “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart.” Agnes smiled at him and played, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The eleven elderly members sang by memory. Only the young man used a hymnal. Following the sermon, Michael announced the next hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” He looked directly at Agnes, who smiled back and played, “I Love to Tell the Story.” After the prayers and offering, Michael walked over to the organ bench, bent down, and whispered, “Agnes, what are we going to sing?” She smiled and began to play, “Just as I Am, Without One Plea!”
After worship, Agnes shook Michael’s hand but didn’t say a word. Lloyd Larson explained as they talked after the worship service, “Forgot to tell you about Agnes! You don’t need to tell us what the hymn is, only when. Agnes only knows three hymns, so we always sing ’em!”
“Good grief, Lloyd, you mean to tell me you’ve been singing the same three hymns for 60 years?” Lloyd was concentrating on the frayed carpet. “We like those hymns well enough, and we know ’em by heart. And, she’s our organist!”
Later, Michael met the young man, Neil, Lloyd Larson’s grandson, who explained, “Agnes is my late grandmother’s little sister — Lloyd’s wife’s baby sister. Agnes has never been quite right. She never says more than a few words. But, she learned to play those hymns in one week 60 years ago when the regular organist got sick. It was a moment of musical emergency. Anyway, she hasn’t been able to learn another hymn since. Playing the organ this one Sunday each month means the world to her. Sometimes, I think it’s mostly for her that they keep this church open. Aunt Agnes lives for the first Sunday of each month.”
Paul of the New Testament says it this way! “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal! If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing!” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
So come …
- So, come, you rich and powerful, let us learn humility together!
- Come, you who are not well and having a tough time at living, we will lean on another. Come, you young people, who must struggle with so much in our day, even terrible school shootings. We will support you. And, we will share whatever we have learned about life and faith with you.
- Come, you who are older and struggling with aging issues, our strength will be your strength! We can lean on one another!
- Come, you who are facing hard and major decisions which alter living, we will stand with you!
- Come, you who are fearful about what the future holds, we will help you, because we think about that too!
- Come, you who wonder about God’s role in our complicated world! Is God with us? Is God not with us? Let’s look for God and think about God and find a way together!
Love bears all things! That’s what we know! Love believes all things! Hopes all things! Endures all things! That’s what we believe! Faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love! Can it be said any better than that? (1 Corinthians 13)
That is why God so loves this world that he gave his only Son! To suffer! To die! And, to live again! So, we can, no matter who we are, find a way to live with hope! So, come the doors of this church are wide open — real wide!
~Written and preached by Rev. Jerome H. Groth, Jackson, Wisconsin
Text John 2:13-22
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
(13) The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (14) In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. (15) Making 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. (16) He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (17) His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (18) The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (19) Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (20) The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” (21) But he was speaking of the temple of his body. (22) After 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.