The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s100g09 Lent 3 15/3/09
'Zeal for your house will consume me' John 2.17
John here places the 'cleansing of the Temple' right at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, and by doing this I suspect that he sees the whole of the ministry of Jesus about cleansing the worship of God. Again this demonstrates that Jesus was not on about our personal morality, but about the proper perception of a loving and forgiving God for all people and how this translates into appropriate public expression. Those who know me by now will not be surprised when I say that the exercise of proclaiming a loving God for all and translating this into an appropriate public expression is not finished. The Church still has its moneychangers and those who sell animals, metaphorically if not literally.
It is a curiosity of my life that I begin the preparation of this sermon on the Saturday before Lent 1, just after Ash Wednesday. And on Ash Wednesday I heard the gospel about expressing our devotion in secret. Three times we were assured that the things that we do in secret will be rewarded. And it struck me that here Jesus was again speaking against our public worship.
Clearly there is a tension in affirming the need for **appropriate** public worship and **real** private devotion. Jesus had a zeal for public worship yet affirmed private devotion as what God really hears.
As I say, I was struck by the fact that the Father particularly hears the prayers that we say in secret. And I began to think about such prayers. As a good (if heretical :-) Anglican priest I rejoice in saying the morning and evening office, alone, over my morning cup of tea and again, alone, in one or other of the hospital chapels in the afternoon, but I am certain that this is not what Jesus meant by praying in secret.
I started to think about our private prayers as the poetry in our souls, the joy of sexual intimacy, the peace that comes with knitting, the satisfaction of a piece of music played, the purr of an engine newly re-assembled and tuned. I am not suggesting that when we feel any of these emotions we ought to spend a moment praising God I am suggesting that God hears these emotions without any conscious verbalisation.
When I do the service at the chapel at Bloomfield Hospital I always have a few moments after the administration of the Holy Communion when I prepare the sacrament for those unable to be there. (It takes a minute or two to intinct the consecrated wafers with the wine). But I always preface this time of quiet by saying that this is the best part of the service, for God has heard the words of the service 500 trillion times before. The thing that God really wants to hear is that which is on the hearts of those there.
This is an attempt to place the thoughts, the prayers, the emotions of those present at the forefront of importance rather than what I wear, what I say, or how the service is conducted.
Sadly the visible church is often more concerned with who is boss, how nothing can be changed because **ours** is the most kosher form of worship be that catholic, evangelical, biblical, charismatic, whatever. It is no wonder that the church in the western world is declining and while it has these attitudes it deserves to!
But the cleansing of the Temple that Jesus initiated in the beginning of his ministry is an ongoing thing. It is happening, not through me, but by the society in which we live. We are living in a world which is realizing that **people** are important, that **all** have to be included and respected. Sure, there are some reactionaries amongst 'christians' and people of other faiths who are trying desperately to hold onto the past and to the old divisions and hatreds. But their vociferousness is but a reflection of their desperation.
The original temple in Jerusalem was built and dedicated by Solomon as a house of prayer for all people (1 Kings 8.41-43; Isaiah 56.7) and we can assume that the desire for the Temple to accurately reflect this inclusiveness was the source of the zeal that Jesus felt.
So the same words I used about the exercise in futility of trying to formulate a creed that delineates who is in and acceptable - from who is out and unacceptable last week is the same here with regard to the Temple. To use the Temple to delineate who is in and acceptable - from who is out and unacceptable is similarly an exercise in futility, because it runs completely counter to our mission. The temple admits all or it is not God's temple. It is not restricted to those who genuflect the correct number of times, read the bible with the appropriate devotion, expound the scriptures correctly or exercise the gifts of the spirit suitably enthusiastically.
We might even find people coming who use a different name for God, are unsure of their faith, or have only two copper coins to contribute.
If I was to comment where I see a little zeal at the moment it would be in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, where the ideals of inclusiveness for all as we are - is celebrated. "'The parade is truly one of the most amazing events you'll find in Australia today,' Mardi Gras chair David Imrie told reporters in Sydney. 'It's spectacular, it's funny, it's topical, it's an x-ray of our culture, our mood and what's on our minds.' He compared Australia to Russia, where the Moscow Pride parade has been labelled 'satanic' by its mayor and banned, Mr Imrie said." http://bigpondnews.com/articles/Entertainment/2009/03/08/300000_party_at_Mardi-Gras_309724.html
"Religious imagery was a popular theme, with groups dressed as bishops, angels, nuns and popes. .. Mark Driscoll, 36, of Edgecliff, marched with the Surry Hillsong Group, who were parodying the homophobic attitude of the church. Mr Driscoll said the group "absolutely loves" to cause controversy. .. Marchers carried signs saying "Keep religion out of the bedroom" .." http://www.smh.com.au/national/revellers-work-themselves-into-a-leather-then-party-20090307-8rye.html
Their protest makes it clear that the world has come to the conclusion that 'christians' believe that the **only** place God is concerned about is what happens in the bedroom and is not concerned about their own sins of exclusiveness, their marginalisation and alienation of others. It is clear that the world thinks that the church of today is essentially unchanged from those who dragged the woman caught in adultery before Jesus, so long ago. If God were truly like this I wouldn't worship God either and neither would I commend the worship of that demon to anyone else. Hans Küng writes: 'The people who should today consider themselves guilty of Jesus' crucifixion and death are all those .. Christians, who have nothing to learn from those representatives of legality (effective in such a variety of forms) of that time. They crucify Jesus again.' (On being a Christian p 339)
Following on from my words last week, if Jesus were to have marched in the Mardi Gras would we be ashamed of him? You see, 'christians' sometimes think that the shame we have centres around our crucified saviour but the problem with this is that we also know that Jesus was raised from death. So we know that Jesus was vindicated and therefore we, **however we treat others**, will be vindicated too. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any momentary shame we feel on Good Friday is really a façade if we continue to marginalise and alienate others in the name of our 'god'.
God's house is the whole of creation and any structure that reflects this inclusiveness. Any structure that does not reflect this inclusiveness is not God's house. So for me Jesus would have marched, and indeed inspired those who did, in the Mardi Gras, for it is precisely in this way he demonstrates his zeal for the real Father's house that includes all people. And indeed it is precisely this zeal that caused, and still causes, hatred and shame amongst 'good christians' still today. While the 'church' is mainly concerned with who is, and who is not, within its walls - it is essentially irrelevant. Who is and who is not included in society is what really matters and the church either encourages this inclusiveness or deserves to fade into irrelevance.
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