“Taking Up Residence”
4 March 2018 – Third Sunday of Lent
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 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. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 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.
Sunday afternoon was always
“Moving in Day.”
“Nippers” as we affectionately called them,
Would come walking down the trail to the lodge
Loaded down with every conceivable personal item,
Over stuffed duffle bags,
Flashlights, bug spray, and sun tan lotion, often
With Mom and Dad trailing behind.
Veteran nippers were excited to return to summer church camp.
Rookie first-timers were more iffy.
Some couldn’t wait to break free from home life
And looked forward to an experience as described in the marketing mailers:
Swimming, campfires, sleeping out, hiking, and playing lots of new games.
Other first time nippers showed up at Casowasco
With the look of terror in their eyes.
They were leaving the safety and security of the family home behind
For a week of living among strangers,
Boot camp like forced marches through bug infested woods,
And eating in a dining room with government surplus supplied food.
It’s hard to leave a safe place
And take up residence someplace else.
We heard in our Lenten Bible study this past week,
As we focused on the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost,
That the whirlwind of the Holy Spirit blows us to unexpected places,
To engage in unexpected and marvelous ministries,
And supports us with unexpected and unlimited grace.
Try and explain that to a first year nipper
Being left off at Mount Tabor lodge
Whose eyes are filling with tears hearing
Dad punching the accelerator of the car speeding out of camp!
It’s hard to leave a safe place
And take up residence someplace else.
The Gospel of John is the only one of the four Gospel authors
To locate the narrative of Jesus cleansing the Temple
Near the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke report on this narrative
At the very end of our Lord’s ministry;
After Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem,
But before Maundy Thursday and the events in the Upper Room.
It’s hard to believe that Jesus could have survived
The angry backlash of Temple authorities
For the next three years.
From a chronological, historical, factual accuracy point of view,
Matthew, Mark, and Luke most probably got it right.
So, what’s up with the Gospel of John?
I’m glad you asked!
John is frying other fish.
As is often the case in the Gospel of John,
The Gospel author is making a theological statement,
Not a historical statement.
John is far more interested in sharing a message of Good News
That describes God’s relationship with humankind,
With creation, and with our place in it.
John is far more interest in answering the question,
“What does it mean?”
Than answering the question, “What happened when?”
What does it mean when Jesus enters the Temple
And uses a whip of cords to drive out
People selling cattle, sheep, and doves,
And money changes at work at their tables?
What does it mean when Jesus tells the Temple authorities
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?
For the common Jewish individual at the time of Jesus,
Jerusalem was the spiritual capital of the universe,
And the Temple was where the Lord chose to reside
When He wasn’t holding down court up in heaven …
… High above the visual dome that covered the earth.
It was believed that this was God’s house.
The Lord made an appearance once a year in the Holy of Holies,
The inner most room only visited by the High Priest once a year.
As such, the Temple was worthy of grandeur.
Though it had been destroyed periodically over the previous two centuries,
The most current rebuild in the time of Jesus had exceeded its maturity.
It was being turned into a palace of opulence, wealth, and excess,
Being built out at the expense of the middle class.
The social and economic gap between the rich and the poor had never been wider.
The Temple exuded power and authority over a people
Who believe they were chosen children of Abraham,
While being subjected to increasing submission and helplessness.
John’s Gospel puts Jesus in the center of the tornado
In this violent confrontation.
With a whip of cords,
Jesus is communicating a message that
God no longer resided in the Jerusalem Temple.
The Temple was no more than stone, sculpture, and art.
God had vacated the wealth, the excesses, the opulence
And had taken up residence elsewhere.
Our God of justice and mercy
Doesn’t put up with unfairness and coercion.
Never has, never will.
“Look at me!” Jesus speaks with zealous fervor.
“The Lord has taken up residence in me!”
Jesus is the new temple,
The new residence of God.
Destroy this temple,
Murder Jesus Christ,
And in three days God will raise him up.
Like early Church Christians
We also respond with hindsight
To the theological reality of God taking up residence in Jesus
As reported in the Gospel of John.
This new reality is called incarnation.
God vacates the prior age
By becoming God the Son,
Taking on a human body and human nature,
Was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
Jesus is fully God and fully human.
Jesus is the new Temple moving forward,
Jesus is the residence of God.
God had left a safe place,
As creator, covenant maker, as law giver,
As judge, jury, and exile warden.
God boldly took up a new residence
In one who heals the sick,
Raises the dead,
Casts out demons,
And is willing and able to go head to head with Satan himself,
All on our behalf.
God’s new residence
Becomes a kingdom and palace where love abides,
Where grace has replaced judgment,
Where neighbors matter,
Where sins are redeemed,
And where anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord is saved.
This was just not even conceivable to the first century Jewish mind.
For one to proclaim that the Lord had taken up residence in himself
Is tantamount to blasphemy,
A direct violation of the second commandment.
Let’s take this one additional step.
Take a look at Acts 2.
After Jesus is resurrected and ascends into heaven,
And the Holy Spirit of God comes on the day of Pentecost,
Empowering all disciples of Jesus to become prophets
To witness the Good News of the Gospel to all the world,
God takes up a new residence!
Jesus the Son had taken his place in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
Now, the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in a new body,
Who the Apostle Paul identifies as
The Body of Christ.
The mere idea of God taking up residence in the body of Christ’s followers
Would be so outside the realm of possibility,
No one would have even dare
To ask the question,
“What does it mean?”
Yet, it happened.
The Holy Spirit of God takes up a new residence
Following the ascension of Jesus,
In the Upper Room,
At the Pentecost.
God has moved from Temple to Jesus
And from Jesus to each of his followers.
We are the Spirit filled Temple
In whom dwells the Lord, our God.
The Jewish community who could wrap their minds around
This theological reality
Were baptized and became part of the Christian roll tide
That swept across the known world.
The Jews who couldn’t get past the implication
That Jesus was blasphemous,
In violation of the Law, …
They refused to convert
And, sadly a wedge of schism
Was driven even more deeply
Between Jews and Christian in the early centuries.
In the spirit of the Gospel of John,
All Lenten pilgrims are encouraged to ask the question,
“What does it mean”
That the Holy Spirit of God
Has taken up residence in me?
First, I have to ask myself
Am I living as a good steward of God’s Temple?
Am I keeping myself healthy?
My mind focused?
My behavior reflective of the God within?
Second, can I trust in the Holy Spirit within,
That blows me like a hurricane to unexpected locations,
To engage in unexpected missions and ministries,
Supported by unexpected and unlimited grace and mercy?
Lastly, like a whip smacking Temple turnover
And a Pentecostal cosmic cataclysm,
When the Holy Spirit of God dwells within,
One is likely to draw a crowd,
And that crowd might,
Or might not,
Be friendly or receptive of the Good News.
Are ye able to weather the storm of persecution
On behalf of our Christian faith? …
Believing that God is present and strong,
Endowing each of us with gifts and grace that will ensure success,
Knowing that God Advocates advancing His kingdom
And promoting our place in it?
Can you and I take it on the chin
And still pick up his cross and daily follow Christ?
The God in you loves you,
And so do I.