The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s100g12   The Third Sunday in Lent  11/3/2012
'Zeal for your house will consume me.'   John 2.17
John recalls the so-called cleansing of the Temple happening right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, here in chapter 2.   The other evangelists remember it happening in the week before Jesus was crucified.   They see it as the final straw which galvanises the opposition to Jesus into action, culminating in them having Jesus killed.   This reminds us again that it was the devout and the orthodox who opposed Jesus.   They were precisely the ones who kept the commandments - most conspicuously the Pharisees, and those for whom the Temple was so sacred - most conspicuously the Sadducees, who hated Jesus.   As I said last week, Herod and Pilate were only bit players who had no interest whatsoever in what was a religious conflict - unless it degenerated into civil unrest.   The people selling cattle, sheep and doves and the money changers were all there to impress – impress the Temple hierarchy and to overawe the common man and woman.   These all indicated how important and influential the orthodox and the devout were.   This was THEIR temple and they too were zealous for their house, enough to consume them.   The suggestion that their Temple would somehow not last was blasphemous in the extreme.   They believed that it was everyone else's mission to perpetuate that which belonged to them alone.   Any ministry anyone else had was entirely inconsequential.   The perpetuation of their monument was paramount.   John’s placement of this confrontation right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry serves to show us that in John’s view, Jesus mission was always religious and even right from the outset was going to be opposed by the orthodox and the devout.  

Both Jesus and those who hated him were zealous for the Temple – what was the difference?   For those who hated Jesus, the Temple was theirs.   For Jesus, the Temple belonged to others, his Father, yes, but precisely because of this, to others, all others.
The point cannot be made too strongly, it was those who kept the commandments, worshipped God and claimed to love God with all their heart and mind and strength who had Jesus killed.   This is the religious conflict which is as relevant today as it was then.   So our keeping the commandments, our worship and our love of God can just as equally result in us siding with those who had Jesus killed.   And it all revolves around whose Temple it is – ours or everyone’s.     As I said last week, the church's paranoia about the advance of secularism betrays the conception that the church is always the possession of the orthodox and the devout, and secularism ever threatens the perpetuity of that memorial to themselves.
Recently I saw a cartoon on the internet at: of a membership class with a graphic of ‘Churches & Christian movements Throughout History’ from 1 AD to now.   The teacher is pointing to a little twig on the family tree of all the denominations, saying ‘So this is where our movement came along and finally got the Bible right.’   One of the students responds ‘Jesus is so lucky to have us’.    Statements like ‘the Lord is my shepherd’, ‘Jesus is a friend of mine’, ‘St Peter’s (or whatever) is my church’ need to be re-interpreted.   The Lord is everyone’s shepherd, Jesus is a friend of all, and St Peter’s is for all.   Otherwise we are siding with those who had Jesus killed.   Jesus didn’t say ‘No one comes to the Father but by us’ as the church has been wont to say for centuries.
So by extension ‘christianity’ is never ‘ours’.   Our interpretation of the faith can never be the 'kosher' one.   The faith always includes others, others who think, worship and live life differently to ourselves.    

And it comes to me (again) that Jesus opposed both the Pharisees and the Sadducees, he didn't bother to suggest that they love one another - that would be an exercise in futility!   Jesus wasn't the least bit interested in the unity of the ancient people of God and so is not interested in the unity of the various factions within the Anglican Communion.   Indeed the various factions within the Anglican Church are not in the least interested in loving anyone other than those who live in the manner to which they approve and/or worship in the manner to which they are accustomed, thereby perpetuating their particular take on the faith.   Jesus called both the Pharisees and the Sadducees to look beyond themselves - to those quite outside their field of view - the tax collectors, the prostitutes and the other miscellaneous sinners.   So too we are called not to work for the unity of the Anglican Communion, but to look beyond ourselves, to those considered 'beyond the pale'.  

Neither our zeal for keeping the commandments, our zeal in adherence to a particular ritual, or our zealous love for God ever sets us apart from others.   Of course the whole point of keeping the commandments is to bring us closer to others.   The whole point of our ritual is communion with others (otherwise we would do it by ourselves).   The whole point of our love for Jesus is to feed others, as Peter was well reminded three times.

Jesus came to change things, and the change was to do away with religious hierarchy, superiority and divisions.   Jesus' prodigal love understands the younger son's need to break the parental bonds and the chagrin of the older son who has always done the right thing.   The prodigal Father anxiously waits for the younger to return to the family and then pleads with the older not to absent himself from the celebration.   The first murder was committed because the older son perceived, rightly or wrongly, that his younger brother's offering was preferred over his own.   But then the church has spent her life proclaiming the superiority of her offering over everyone else's.  

So if our zeal is to parallel Jesus' it will be about the acceptability of other people's offerings, along with our own.   This is the sort of house God is building, this is the sort of celebration God is hosting.  And, for me, it is only this sort of life that is worth being zealous for, for it promises a more humane society for all rather than an endless continuation of the divisions and hostilities of the past.

Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"