“Is There Still Time”
Here is a test. See if you can tell me what the following critters have in common: American burying beetle, shortnose Sturgeon, dwarf Wedgemussel, leatherback Sea Turtle, Finback Whale, Karner blue Butterfly. Give up? Well, these are all listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website as threatened and endangered species in Massachusetts.
There are many reasons why a species may become endangered, but the number one reason is habitat destruction. An alarming number of birds and animals have become endangered species over the past hundred years simply because we have destroyed so much of their natural habitat.
Some people aren't too concerned about the loss of these critters, but other are. And some people get very upset about endangered species, and protestors sometimes disrupt public meetings by their protesting.
In our text for today, we find Jesus in an action of angry protest over something precious that was endangered — true worship.
You remember the scene where Jesus cleansed the Temple. Jesus came to the Temple and he discovered it was not the kind of setting which was conducive to true worship. Scripture tells us that he got very upset when the habitat for true worship was endangered by the money changers in the Temple. He turned over their tables and took a whip of cords and drove the animals away.
We can only use our imagination to picture what the scene must have been like in the Temple as Jesus found it. Pastor Mary Zimmer describes the scene this way in one of her sermons:
The courtyard of the Temple smelled like a barnyard. Underneath the bleating of sheep and cattle noises you could hear the doves cooing in their cages. At low tables sat the money changers. The clink, clink of heavy coins was constant. And irritated, impatient voices were raised in arguments over the rates of exchange. The Temple courtyard was full of intense, busy people trying to get the best deal on an animal for the year's Passover offering. Even the most righteous Jews would have trouble praying in this place.
This cleansing of the Temple story is found in all four gospels, but it has a unique position in the Gospel of John. Most of us remember this story as told by the Synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and all of them place this episode during the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on Sunday with the people waving palm branches and shouting their "Hosannas." The next day, on Monday of Holy Week, Jesus went to the Tempe, threw out the money changers, drove out the animals and said, "Stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
In the Synoptic gospels this story is a crisis-point that serves as one of the reasons leading to Jesus' crucifixion. But John sets this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to show it as a defining-point.
It is not an accidental that this action takes place in the temple for the temple had become the center of the purity system. The animals being sold in the courtyard are for sacrificial purposes. The cattle, sheep and doves here are the proper animals for sacrifice, sold according to ones ability to pay. There were economic implications for purity: poor people who could hardly afford to give a tenth of their crop away found they were then unable to sell their grain for it was judged "impure." When it came to temple services, the poor were unable to buy the best animals.
Money-changing became a very important part of this system. Roman coins were considered impure and could not be used to buy sacrifices. The money-changers weren't simply giving change for a twenty - they were giving "pure" tokens in exchange for "impure" money . . . of course, for an extra fee.
Imagine an updated version of this story in our church today. Suppose everybody was required to make an offering when they came to church, but the Deacons refused to accept American money or regular checks. The new rule requires that all offerings to the church be made with a special credit card, perhaps one with a cross on it. Everyone must use that credit card to give their offering. Oh, and by the way, the bank will make 25% on the exchange of your money! Nobody would be very happy with that arrangement, but it is very similar to what was taking place in the Temple.
The money-changers were making profit on the people's worship. Jesus was outraged by such a sham of piety! He threw them out of the Temple because they were hindering true worship. Jesus came into the temple not to be destructive or disruptive, but to draw us back to the heart of God. Jesus came to the temple to overturn every barrier that separates us from God.
Worship was endangered in the Temple, and I would suggest that worship may be endangered today as well. Too many people are selling out their worship experience to the dictates and trends of the culture. Worship may be endangered because of a loss of habitat, a loss of a setting which is conducive to worship.
One of the things that I value most about our church is our kind of worship. Some would suggest that our service seems antiquated - out of place today. But I like it because it’s not showy, ostentatious, gaudy or glitzy. I like the fact that our worship is restrained.
In our worship we allow a long time for you to meditate as we serve Communion and take the offering. We have beautiful music playing as we sit quietly and pray. We think that is important. Such quiet meditation is a stark contrast to those services where everything is a show and for show.
The experience of transcendence is becoming increasingly rare in our culture. Amidst the noise, activity and technology of modern life, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a time or place where we are drawn out of ourselves and experience something of God's holy presence.
Some year ago I read about a Christian concert artist who billed his concert as a worship service rather than merely a concert of his music. The ticket price for enter this so called worship service was $30. Is it right to have worship where a $30 ticket is required? Isn't there a difference between a concert and a worship service? If he had sold out the 7,000 seat arena, he would have made $210,000 for the evening of so called worship . . . almost as much as our annual ministry budget. And none of that money would have gone for missions or to support any local church ministries. As we all know, religion has become big business in America.
But there is still time, and we need to make sure that we don't let our environment become so cluttered that we miss the essence of real worship. When we come into the presence of Jesus Christ, he brings us to God.
Jesus cleansing of the temple is a challenge for us to restore the natural habitat of worship. Have you thought about the ecology of worship in your own life? I think that can mean many things for us. It means for us to place a priority on being in the place of worship. It also means that we provide those times in our lives when we get away from the busy-ness and the stress of life. We need those times to center down, read the Bible and pray.
If we are so busy with life that we endanger those moments of worship, Jesus would like to come into our lives and overturn a few money tables and throw out a few of the distractions. "Stop making my Father's house a marketplace." Instead, it is to be a place of worship where we come face to face with Jesus Christ. There is still time. Amen.