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  • Writer's pictureNat Bothwell

Sermon Outtake: John 2:13-22

March 7, 2021

Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Slater, Iowa

Pastor's note: below is a sampling of the real thing. For the full sermon, check out Bethlehem's website or YouTube channel.

Faithful Jews would have gone to Jerusalem…to the temple grounds… three times a year

as a matter of spiritual practice.

Deuteronomy 16... I’ll paraphrase a bit…

“Three times a year all of your men must appear before the Lord at the place God will choose. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.”

Those verses would have been the law of the land in Jesus’ day. Pilgrims would have come from all over… diligently… dutifully… faithfully. Some, from very far away.

...And this is what prompts the evolution of a marketplace in Jerusalem. Over time, a market evolves on temple grounds. ...Conveniently, just outside of the temple, a person could buy whatever they needed. Whatever it was that you could afford to give as an offering, you could buy it in Jerusalem… there on the spot.

A bull in excellent health.

A sheep without a scratch.

A stock exchange (quite literally) naturally develops in proximity to Jerusalem’s holiest place. All of it, ironically rooted in a spirit of deep devotion… tradition… and identity.

There was a temple tax too. Any Jew in Jesus’ day would have paid that tax.

A half shekel wasn’t much, but it doesn’t take much when 3 or 4 hundred thousand people pay the tax. Sooner or later, it becomes real money.

The church of Jesus’ day used those funds to maintain God’s house, as they knew it… a structure of mortar and stone. And there’s one more wrinkle.

The temple tax couldn’t be paid with just any currency. According to Jewish law, that tax had to be paid with a specific coin... which is where the moneychangers come into play.

In a town full of law-abiding pilgrims, you needed a supply of the proper currency,

and a way to exchange Roman and Greek coins for shekels.

All of this comes about, quite organically, and there’s an undercurrent of faithful “doing” in it all.

Then Jesus shows up.

And [there], all heaven breaks loose.

Jesus re-orders the whole scene in today’s reading. The cattle and sheep… are driven out… even the doves. Even the bankers... all of it.

Jesus resets everything, and the tables are turned.

The temple authorities pull Jesus aside, essentially to ask, “Who do you think you are?”

It’s a reasonable question.

Jesus’ answer tells us exactly who he is.

He’s God with us.

In Jesus, God has chosen a very different place to dwell.

The church leaves the building this morning.

Everything that Jesus up-ends in this reading is the product of faithful doing…

the natural progression of obedience, under the law.

So what, do you suppose, is happening as Jesus up-ends all of that?

I’ve been thinking about grace this week.

In Christ, God doesn’t call us to new religion… God calls to new life…

Bonhoeffer said something like that.

Grace, a gift.

Grace, God’s own activity in the world.

Something that we can’t possibly earn… we can only receive.

It’s “grace” that makes an appearance on the temple grounds this morning,

and at the center of it all, is God’s own work in Jesus Christ.

You and I, as Christians, aren’t made right with God by way of all that we do… or don’t do… (thankfully).

Instead, in Christ, we’re made right with God by the gift of God’s own doing.

God has already secured your good standing under God’s law because in Christ, God has fulfilled the law… for all time.

And the letter of that law is “love.”

...Jesus will die on a Roman cross. He’ll be raised three days later… mystifying the world

for two millennia and defeating death itself.

That’s the story of God’s free gift to all of humanity. Why? Because that’s how God loves...

and God doesn’t call us to new religion, but new life.

You and I will fail time and again to love as God loves, and there’s not enough livestock in Iowa (or Texas, for that matter) to narrow the gap.

God has already filled that gap... in person… for your sake and for mine.

The tables have turned, in Jesus Christ, and what matters most to God… even more than your faithful doing, is your very being.

A matter of relationship.

A life of trusting, and continued turning.

A life lived, with Christ at its center.

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