Lent 3: Love Builds Up – Complaining and Standing Up

Readings from Scripture (CEB) John 2:13-22

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. 

Love Builds Up – Complaining and Standing Up 

In many ways, Lent is like a “best of” of the stories of Jesus.  We started with his baptism and wilderness experience and the never-gonna-let-you-down presence and love of God.  Then last week, we heard the story of how the disciples’ view of love, and their view of Jesus, changed as Jesus taught that self-reflection and suffering were an integral part of our love. 

Love transforms our suffering.  Love sustains us in the midst of suffering. 

In this year’s World Day of Prayer, Mothy shared her story when she was abandoned by her family.  She experienced deep heartache and sorrow, but said,

somehow, I met some Christians who told me that God. I could not understand this kind of love in the midst of my suffering, but I decided to trust. I trusted that God would take care of me, even though my family was not sheltering me.  This trust grew inside me and became the foundation of my life.[1]

Did you notice the fact that Mothy didn’t say that her living situation improved.  As difficult as it is to believe, it’s almost inconsequential to her.  She learned that current sufferings are not indicative of God’s love.  Love sustained her in the midst of suffering.

In the same way, our current sufferings are not Jesus’ focus.  Jesus’ commandment to love others is not encouragement for you to suffer abuse or toxic behaviour.  Jesus saying ‘pick up your cross and follow me’ is not to do harm to your mind, body, or spirit for the sake of the other.  Somewhere in the middle of last week’s sermon and this week’s we need to be reminded that the full commandment is to love God, and love others, as we love ourselves.  It’s an understood reality to Jesus that we are to practice self-care.  Only you know how hurt you are, how tired you are, how hungry you are…knowing that we keep our caring for others in balance with caring for ourselves.   And I’m preaching this for me to hear it as much as I need to others it.  While love does look like going out of our way to care for those in need, it’s also manifest in the ways that we ensure someone else’s toxic or painful behaviour doesn’t poison us too.  Jesus went to the cross, suffered and died because of the injustices and politics of the world, not because he chose to put up with difficult people.

The injustices and politics of the world are what Jesus confronts in the temple.  As this is one of those ‘best-of’ stories that we’ve heard before (and will likely hear again) Jesus came to the temple, saw the money changers, loses his cool and flips out, and afterwards flips tables.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all put this story just before the Passion stories – the stories leading to Good Friday.  This story gives good “reason” for Jesus to become a target –the writers heard the story of Jesus cleansing the temple and it makes sense that from that point on he’s on Rome’s radar. 

But in the Gospel of John, this story immediately follows the Wedding of Cana, and Jesus’ first miracle of water into wine.  What follows in Gospel of John is a pattern – if you’ll forgive the bible-study aside:  three times in the Gospel of John, the Passover is mentioned – here connected with the temple scene, again in John 6 when Jesus feeds the 5000, and once more in John 13 when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and teaches that service to others is the ultimate love.[2]  As a result, this temple scene then becomes less about “Jesus getting angry” as it is about where Jesus’ love and passion lead him, on behalf of others. 

(But that anger is so tempting to talk about.  Here we have a very human display of emotions from the person we call God.  It’s easier to relate to Jesus knowing he had bad days too.  That there were days that he couldn’t hold it together).  And without undermining any of that, I want to tack onto that interpretation that Jesus’ anger is a righteous one – he’s lashing out not at just the Jewish religious or Roman political system, but in the corruptions that all of us have put upon God’s holy word. 

“Religious institutional corruption” is present in all faiths – present wherever people are.  We receive this precious gift of divinely inspired stories of faith, and humanity takes it and twists and distorts stories of liberation and love for their own gain.  We put up tables, charge people money, and take advantage of the poor and lost for personal gain.  And if that we comes off too accusatory – or too pointed at us as individuals – it’s not going to help anyone if we practice our piety believing our church to be right when others are wrong.  We need to ensure that no matter what faith we follow, that there’s nothing that hinders or stops others from following their call to faith.

Jesus sees the hindrances and the barriers of temple tables, and is moved to lash out at the systems that have been created to convince people that that’s the only way to worship.  In the midst of Passover as people “do what is expected of them,” they’re met with obstacles – tables – that further separate God from the people.  Jesus is moved by anger yes, but moreso pity and love for those taken advantage of by the money changers.  His act of defiance is one of love – praying that those suffering might know God’s love in the midst of it, and so the flipping the tables becomes a courageous act rooted in love. 

I think we’ve all had to have courageous conversations in our lifetimes.  We’ve had to stand up for what we believe in, to speak truth to power even if our voice shakes, knowing that we are called to confront systems that enslave and endanger.  But those courageous conversations, while wholly necessary, are usually avoided at all cost.  We worry we might look ‘angry’ as Jesus did, or believe ‘Canadian niceness’ deems it’s not proper.  But little courageous moments build into bigger ones.  When you feel compelled to speak up when an inappropriate joke is said, this is a courageous moment rooted in love.  Understanding how a few of Dr. Seuss’ books are racially insensitive as we look at them today[3] gives strength to challenge other places when old prejudices and suffering continues to linger.  Here in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ begins his act of courageous love culminating in the most brazen display of love as that same love was draped upon the cross. 

Love sustains us in the midst of suffering, but it also fills us with courage we didn’t know we had. 

This week, we had ‘day’ with Sam.  He woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and everything we did set him off.  If it weren’t for his teachers (the last time this happened) saying just bring him to school anyways, we would have just gone back to bed.  With tear-stained cheeks, and bloodshot eyes, we loaded into the car for a surprisingly quiet ride.  The tears started up again on our arrival, and he reluctantly got out of his car seat.  As I put on his backpack and took his hand, I had to drag him, one foot in front of the other, towards the school.  Until.  From behind us we heard ‘HI SAM’ from one of his fellow classmates.  In an instant his demeanour changed.  His dragged feet turned to almost skipping.  He was so happy that someone recognized him, that he barely turned around to return the ‘hi.’

Being recognized, being remembered, being loved – sustains us.  It fills us with courage we didn’t think we had.  Just like Mothy, love sustains and fills regardless of our current situation. It prepares us for when we need to stand up and offer our voice of love for the world.  According to Brene Brown, researcher and educator, it’s through our vulnerability that we discover courage. 

Courage is not just a gauzy inspirational, I wish I could be thing…  Courage is a collection of four skill sets[4] that are teachable, observable and measurable.  It’s not a personality trait…indicating that you’re brave or you’re not.  And she that courage…is how [people] behave and show up in difficult situations…[5]

In your most difficult situtations that you’ve faced – is it your love (or your righteous anger rooted in compassion) in defense of others, that people have marveled at?  Is your love filling others, and sustaining them in the midst of their suffering?  Is it held in balance as you love yourself?  

For it’s no mistake that the Latin root of courage[6] is ‘cor’ – for when we start with love – love for self, love for others, love for those we will never know, that same love builds into courage.

May you too be filled with love, in order that you might have courage for the tasks God puts before you. 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rWE3TCR59U

[2] https://books.google.ca/books?id=KtcBoQEACAAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PA40#v=onepage&q&f=false (from Karoline Lewis’ book on John)

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/kidsnews/post/six-dr.-seuss-books-will-no-longer-be-published-due-to-racist-images

[4] The four skills are rumbling/wrestling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise <- a sermon series in and of itself!!

[5] Podcast Daring to Lead with Brene Brown, from the session entitled The Heart of Daring Leaders

[6] https://www.vocabulary.com/lists/680748

One Comment

  1. I haven’t left a message for a few weeks but I have found the services of Lent 1, 2, &3 to be very meaningful. I give thanks to Rev. Chris for wonderful reflections. I appreciate receiving services delivered from the sanctuary. Seeing others receiving communion today was a wonderful approach. And I really like the Commissioning; the words and photos are so fitting.

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