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

s100g15  The Third Sunday in Lent   8/3/2014

‘Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!’   John 2:16

The story of the ‘cleansing of the Temple’ appears in all four gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark and Luke (1) and here, so early at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John 2.   In the first three gospels it happens presumably on the sabbath before Jesus was arrested and killed, in what is often referred to as ‘Holy Week’.   Clearly Jesus’ actions set the scene and is the final straw that forces the religious into action to dispose of Jesus.   John’s placement really only reinforces this - that Jesus’ ministry is all about confronting religious exclusivism - from woe to go.   So today’s gospel is no sideshow but central to the gospel message.

So much of orthodox theology is about our personal acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, about our personal relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins by the Cross and Resurrection.   But the cleansing of the Temple - that which precipitated these events - is all about confronting the selfishness of religion and orthodoxy.   If we simply replace one form of selfishness with another, who is helped; how will society benefit?  Which are more easily removed - physical gatekeepers or spiritual gatekeepers?   No wonder the religious demand of Jesus to explain his authority!   They realise that their position as spiritual gatekeepers is threatened.

The essence of a marketplace is that people are there for their own benefit.   The words of St Paul spring to mind: ‘They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them.’ (2)  These people set themselves up as spiritual gatekeepers, excluding others so that others have to defer to them.   It is really spiritual graft.

The essence of the good news is not forgiveness of sins, but the open access of all to God.   The Cross shows us that an exclusive religion murders the real God.   It is the affirming and inclusive religion where God is proclaimed accurately.   If Jesus simply said that we ought to love our enemies the religious wouldn’t have bothered even listening to him.   The real blasphemy Jesus’ uttered was to point our their sanctified selfishness, to say that this was not divinely sanctioned, but rather that this perverted the ancient faith of the old covenant.

Jesus proclaimed a faith which is not about our relationship with God, irrespective of our ability to bride our way into getting preferential treatment, but on our relationship with those whose poverty means that they have no such (illusory) hope.   It isn’t just a matter of money - it is that spiritual or moral qualifications are entirely irrelevant - it is our relationship with others that is determinative.

We do not reach heaven and God by building a physical or theological tower like those in Babel  (3) but by our relationship with those around us; and those around us inevitably speak a different language, which we will have to learn.   Imposing our own language and customs on others is to erect our own edifice to which others have to aspire and admire - and to which all must contribute towards its perpetuation.   The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was given to enable the apostles to speak the language of the hearers, not for the hearers to be able to speak the language of the church.  (4)

The Holy Spirit is not, therefore, poured out on those outside the church to enable them to converse in the language of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, or the language of predestination, atonement, and redemption eternally echoing the Reformation, with which we are so familiar and conversant.   The Holy Spirit is poured out on us to learn, if we are willing, the languages of those around us.

So God’s kingdom is inherently multilingual, multicultural, multidimensional.

We do not have to tithe to get into the kingdom, nor do we have to suspend our intellect to get into the kingdom.   We get into the kingdom by our relationship with others: people who do not worship let alone tithe; we get into the kingdom by our relationship with scientists, atheists and dissidents.   Indeed the kingdom is this community of acceptance and affirmation.   The miracle of the Holy Spirit is that it is given to the church to enable the church to speak the language of society - miraculous indeed!   If society were to hear this happening now, how could there not be another Pentecost!

But no, faithfulness in the exclusive church is defined by steadfast refusal to talk in anything other than the language of the KJV and the BCP, the endlessly regurgitated arguments on either side of the reformation fracas, refusal to countenance the ordination of women or the inclusion of gay and lesbian people.   And who is thereby helped?

Actually nobody, because the exalted status of the church is entirely illusory, the alien will remain with us always, and society’s desire for egalitarianism rather than division will be stymied at every turn by the church, rather than initiating and supporting it.

Years earlier the prophet Jeremiah is told: ‘As for you, do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. .. For if you truly amend your ways and your doings .. if you do not oppress the alien .. then I will dwell with you in this place.’  (5)  The message is the same as Jesus, and should cause the Church to examine how she oppresses aliens when her ‘holy communion’ is actually defined by who cannot receive it!

1.  Matthew  21:12–13,  Mark 11:15–18, Luke 19:45–48.
2.  Galatians 4:17
3.  Genesis 11:1-9
4.  Acts 2:4,6,8,11
5.  Jeremiah 7:16, 5a,6a,7a