Sunday, 4 March 2018

“Jesus… God…”: a sermon (John 2: 13 - 22)

Please note, this sermon is part of a series of sermons preached by a number of different people at All Saints’ Anglican Church, South Hobart, Tasmania, during the season of Lent, 2018.

The series is based on the acronym “ICHTHUS”, in which the first letters for the Greek words for the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” also form the Greek word for “fish”.
I was asked to preach on the Third Sunday in Lent (4th March 2018) on this phrase from the acronym:  “Jesus… God…”. 

The gospel lesson for this Sunday, as found in the ecumenical lectionary, is John 2:13-22:  John’s account of Jesus cleansing the Temple.

***

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I was asked to preach as part of this Lenten series, on the acronym “ICHTHUS” (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour) this particular Sunday was given to the phrase “Jesus… God…”.  When I saw this phrase, I initially thought of one heavy-duty theological word:  “Incarnation”. 

Now, as y’all know, the Incarnation and myself are not strangers in this pulpit.
  • Over the past few years, I’ve frequently preached from this pulpit during the season of Advent.  The theme of Incarnation was never far away.
  •  Last year, I preached from this pulpit on Trinity Sunday.  (One of the Ten Commandments for parish clergy – in all denominations - has always been “Thou shalt always try to organise a guest preacher for Trinity Sunday”.  Well done, Father David!)  Anyway, when I preached (or is that “praught”?) on Trinity Sunday, the theme of Incarnation was never far away.

What more can I say on the Incarnation from this pulpit that I haven’t said?
Here goes.

The Incarnation is only good news depending on the nature of the God who is incarnate.

We celebrate God who is incarnate in Jesus.  We celebrate the incarnation of a Jesus-shaped God.  We celebrate the incarnation of God who is mercy, God who is compassion, God who is love, deep at the centre of God’s very being.  This is definitely good news.  It’s excellent news.  It’s brilliant news.  If we were in California, I'd say it was "awesome" news.

If, however, our message was of the incarnation of a god who wasn’t a Jesus-shaped God, our message would not be one of good news.
  • The incarnation of a Hitler-shaped or Stalin-shaped god would be bad news.
  • The incarnation of a Pauline Hanson-shaped god would be bad news.
  • The incarnation of a Hugh Hefner-shaped god would be bad news.
  • The incarnation of a Rolf Harris-shaped god would be bad news.
  • The incarnation of a Donald Trump-shaped god would be bad news.
But we have good news, the good news of the incarnation of a Jesus-shaped God, of God who is love at the heart of God’s very being.

We see this in our gospel lesson.  It’s the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple as told in John’s gospel.  John treats this incident a bit differently from the other gospel writers.  They have it at the beginning of the week before the crucifixion. 

John, on the other hand, has this event at the very beginning of Jesus’ public life.  John has this as what the management people would call Jesus’ “mission statement” or “vision statement”.
John has one detail in the account of the cleansing of the Temple that the other gospel writers didn’t include.  In addition to overturning the tables of the moneychangers, Jesus also chased the animals out of the Temple, the animals brought to be sacrificed.  Not only did Jesus flip a few tables, he also caused a cattle stampede in a public place.

By doing this, Jesus took sides in an argument that had been going on among the Jewish people for the previous 800 years or so.  The argument was about sacrifice.
  • There were some who said that the sacrifices in the Temple were an essential part of worshipping God.
  • There were others who said that the sacrifices in the Temple were cruel and unnecessary.  They were those who said that the true worship of God needed to be focused on prayer, study, ethics, and lifestyle.  One of the earliest statement of this viewpoint was found in the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, where the prophet depicts God as saying “I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.”

By the time of Jesus, this viewpoint expressed by Isaiah had become pretty much the mainstream view within Judaism.  Those who insisted on the need for sacrifices had become a bit of a reactionary rump within the community, hanging on to their influence by virtue of sheer social inertia. 
A generation later, when the Romans destroyed the Temple, the Jews managed to reconstruct their life as a community very well without a Temple and without sacrifices, as a faith based on prayer, study, ethics, and lifestyle (as the faith of our Jewish neighbours continues to be today).  Those who, a generation earlier, insisted on the necessity of sacrifice were nowhere to be found.

When Jesus chose to express the “mission statement” or “vision statement” of his new movement in terms of causing a stampede of animals meant for the sacrifice, he was not rejecting the faith of his ancestors.

He was, however, expressing the compassion of God, the God with whom he identified in his very being.  In his actions, he expressed the radical compassion of the living God who declared, “I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.”:
  •  the God of mercy,
  •   the God of compassion,
  •  the God of love,  
  •  a Jesus-shaped God.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.  

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