Tuesday, March 10, 2015

“Cleaning House” (John 2:13-22)

With the time change and the warmer weather . . . Spring is getting closer.  With Spring comes Spring cleaning . . . people are stirring from their winter hibernation and solitude to jump in with both feet to give their homes and houses the once-over.  Carpets are cleaned, windows are washed, everything is dusted, floors are mopped and waxed . . . it is time to clean the house and make it livable once again . . . presentable to themselves and to others.    

In psychology and spiritual direction the “house” is a symbol of the individual . . . a metaphor for the person.  When one dreams of a house he or she is dreaming about themselves . . . and, surprisingly, it is typically a pretty accurate description. 

In our reading this morning the writer of the Gospel of John provides us with a picture of Jesus doing a little house cleaning in the temple.  Jesus arrives at the temple and he is not pleased with what he sees . . . there were people selling cattle, sheep, and doves . . . others were sitting around at tables exchanging money . . . it resembled a marketplace more than it did holy ground.  Upset, Jesus sort of goes ballistic.   He makes a whip from cords and proceeds to create havoc by driving out the animal sellers and their critters . . . he overturns tables and tosses out the money-changers . . . he cleans house with a definite statement: “Get out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

Needless to say, this did not make everyone happy.  People were not cheering him on . . . no, they griped and complained.  In cleaning house Jesus pretty much upset the economic balance and livelihood of temple.  As offensive as those merchants were—the animal sellers and money-changers, they were still providing a service to those who came to the temple to worship.  Those selling animals sold them to the worshipers as sacrifices to offer to God.  Those who were exchanging money were providing a service to assist the worshipers in making an acceptable offering in the local currency.  True, they might have been gouging their shoppers, but hey . . . everyone has to make a living.

Jesus literally upsets the apple cart as he cleans house.  The sellers and merchants are not happy that Jesus puts them out of business.  So, they complain.  In particular they want to know by what authority Jesus has the right to come in and mess everything up.  They want a sign to prove that Jesus has the power to do what he has done.  Jesus simply tells them: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Such cocky answers does not sooth the complainers.  They don’t buy it telling Jesus that it took over 46 years to build the temple . . . and, he thinks that he can destroy it and rebuild it in three days?  Hogwash!  It cannot be done.  Unfortunately for Jesus they don’t buy it and keep on complaining.  But, they don’t get it.  The “temple”—the “house”—of which Jesus is speaking is not the temple made of stone, but the one that is called the body.  As followers of Jesus we recognize now that Jesus was not talking about the Temple, but himself.

One of the great debates throughout the journey of faith as described in the scriptures has been the dwelling place of God.  Was it on a mountain?  Was it in a special tent?  Was it in a temple built of stone?  Where exactly does God dwell?  Is it this building where we gather to worship and fellowship?  What do you think? 

I would suggest that God is everywhere . . . like the air that we breathe.  And, I would suggest, that God is within us . . . that God dwells within our hearts.  All of creation is “holy space”.  If this is the case, then we might want to take to heart the scene we just witnessed in the Gospel of John of Jesus cleaning house.  What Jesus demonstrates in the temple cleansing is what he expects of his followers when it comes to their own houses.  As someone once said, “It is an outward demonstration of an inward act.”

In the season of Lent a yearning is created within us to clean our house and to clean our souls.  We are to be about the business of “house cleaning”.  When I think of those merchants and money-changers that Jesus tosses out . . . and, about the fact that this is a call to cleaning the soul . . . I wonder how I am selling God short within my own house . . . selling God short within myself.

None of us is immune from the clutter of life.  That is why we have to clean house every-so-often . . . to get rid of the clutter so we can get some more clutter.  Sometimes that clutter makes it impossible to do what we want to do.  So it is with our spiritual lives.  Sometimes we clutter our “temple”—our “house”—with more clutter than we can manage and still live a life that is according to the will of God.  We can’t see God through the clutter.  When that happens . . . well, when that happens we need to clean house.

Lent is the season of “house cleaning”.  We are called to examine our houses . . . called to determine what it is that is cluttering up our faith . . . what it is that is blocking our relationship with God and with one another . . . and, we are called upon to toss it out and make it livable once again.  It involves a lot of examination, discernment, and prayer . . . hard work.  House cleaning is hard work and that is probably why no one enjoys it.

Thus we complain.

As a parent I never enjoyed Saturday morning when it came to cleaning the house.  Each kid was given a chore to do.  With each assignment came the traditional lament . . . the gnashing of teeth . . . the moaning and groaning.  The kids would complain and complain and complain.  Their mother and I would tell them to get to it . . . that their complaining was only making the task that much longer.  I once pointed out that they complained for nearly an hour about having to do a job that only took fifteen minutes . . . they had now made the job an hour and fifteen minutes long.  Using the infamous motto of Nike they were told to “just do it”.

The same goes for us as followers of Jesus.  No one likes Lent and its challenges that it puts upon us to examine our lives, to clean our houses, and to get back on the right track with Jesus and God.  No one likes it because it is hard work and work that none of us enjoys doing.  Yet, we need to do it . . . we need to clean house.  If we don’t they might put us on the next episode of “The Hoarders”.

We are called upon to keep the place where God dwells clean of all that would block our relationship with God and others.  Yet, God really has no physical dwelling place as everything in creation is God and is God’s.  So we must begin where each of us knows God and that is within our hearts.  We begin with our own house.  May the Spirit guide you through this cleaning of house . . . may we all discover that relationship that brings us closer to God and one another.  Amen.

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