SUNDAY SERMON: Turning over tables

By Rev. Stephen Baldwin

OT: Exodus 20.1-17

NT: John 2.13-22

Being a creature of habit, nothing chaps my lips more than change. Especially meaningless change. Which, let’s be honest, is most forms of change. 

When they moved my favorite cookie dough to a new spot in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, way down low where only an oompa loompa or a child could see it and buy it before I even know it’s there, I almost had a heart attack. 

Or when they changed the speed limit in Hart’s Run from 55 down to 45 when my foot has been trained for decades to drive 55 through that wide open straight stretch, I almost lost it. 

Being a creature of habit, I do not like change. Amen? Glad to see I’m not the only grump here today. 

But one change itself isn’t usually enough to make us lose our cool. Usually, it takes a combination of factors to do that. Like when they moved my cookie dough, increased the price, and there was only one roll left. That got me hot! 

Of course, I’m kidding. Mostly. But you know what I’m talking about. You’re having a bad day, you run into an unexpected change, and then when someone says the wrong thing…it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Worn down. Maxed out. Fed up. You can’t take it anymore. 

When we’re feeling like that, it’s easy to lose our cool. You see it every time you go into Kroger. It happens to us all. It even happened to Jesus. 

In today’s story, he loses his ever-loving mind in the temple, turning over the tables of the money changers, calling them every name in the book, and chasing them out with a whip! 

Only a couple stories about Jesus are in every Gospel, and this is one. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the turning over of the tables at the end of Jesus’ ministry.  In fact, it is the impetus for his arrest.  

While the temple was a Jewish holy site, the Roman government controlled it.  Like the price of a ticket to a concert or ball game goes partially to the venue and partially to the band or team, the priests would have kept some of the money raised in the temple courts and they would have given the Romans a portion.  

A disruption of revenues during a crowded time like Passover would have been no small thing.  It would be like college basketball teams not receiving ticket revenues during March Madness.  The priests and the Romans would have counted on filling their coffers during Passover.  And according to John, Jesus’ first action (only after turning water into wine at a wedding, which, let’s face it, would have been a popular move), is to bust into the temple during rush hour and disrupt the revenue system. 

Why was Jesus so upset? Look at what he says. “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace!” He’s upset with the sellers, who he thinks are making a mockery of God’s house. He’s upset with the temple authorities, who are allowing it to happen in a holy place. And he’s upset with the Romans, who encourage that kind of system in the first place. He’s upset with everyone! 

Here’s the thing to keep in mind. By the time John was written, the temple had been destroyed.  Jews and early Christians had no central place to worship.  This would have been an extraordinarily difficult idea for them to wrap their heads around.  

Today, people move from church to church without any problem whatsoever, confident that God is present everywhere just the same…or at least similarly.  But people of the first century believed that God lived at the temple.  The one temple that existed which was in Jerusalem.  Nowhere else.  If you wanted to see God or hear God or thank God or petition God, you could only do that at the temple because that was the only place where God was.  

When Jesus causes such a commotion, sure, he was mad about the money.  But I also think he was preparing his people for a day in the future when they would have to look elsewhere for God. They would have to look inside themselves as a community and as individuals to God’s temple. 

We are in that situation today. While we can come to church every week and spend time with God and our church family, the world is changing. The church is changing. The way we spent time with God thirty years ago, twenty years ago, ten years ago, is very different now. That doesn’t mean we can’t access God anymore. It means we have to adjust. It means we have to deal with…change. 

The church didn’t get worse after they lost the temple; it just was different. The church didn’t get better in the 1950s when everyone came; it was just fuller. The church isn’t worse today; it’s just different. 

Jesus prepared his followers for a day when they would have to find God outside the church and share God outside the church. We still face the same challenge.  

Thankfully, we don’t have to turn over tables or pull out the whips to meet the challenge. All we have to do take God with us wherever we go. And that’s probably putting it too strongly. All we have to do is recognize that God is with us wherever we go. 

God makes every moment of every day holy, if we take the time to recognize it. Even on those tough days when they move the cookie dough at the grocery store. 

Jesus might just turn over the tables in your life. Not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to find God and be reminded that even if everything else changes around us, God will be with us always. Nothing can ever change that. God goes with us wherever we go. Amen.

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