3rd Sunday in Lent 3/3/2024

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1 Corinthians 1:18-25

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.   19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

John 2:13-22  

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The Road to Righteous Anger 

OK, what happened to the Jesus they taught me about in Sunday School?  This is not the Jesus I saw pictured on the wall, you know the one, where he gazes off into the distance with an otherworldly look on his face.  This is not “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” as Charles Wesley wrote.  That is not the Jesus we see today.  This Jesus is angry, furious.  Turning over tables, spilling out coins!  Driving animals and people from the temple, with a whip!  What was going on?  

In order to understand why Jesus was angry we need to first understand where he is and what is happening.  Jesus has gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the festival when Jews remember the Exodus story of God leading them from slavery to freedom.  The city would have been filled to overflowing as Jewish pilgrims from all over came back to Jerusalem for Passover.  Jesus is at the temple, in the Outer Courts of the Gentiles.  Now when we think of temple or church we think of a place that is calm, contemplative, a quiet place to pray.  This was not so in Jesus’ time.  All those pilgrims needed to sacrifice unblemished animals and to pay their temple tax.  It was too hard to bring the animals to Jerusalem, much easier to buy them when they got there.  The temple tax couldn’t be paid in the Roman coins used in general commerce because those coins bore the image of Caesar, which was considered idolatrous to the Jews.  It was necessary for pilgrims to exchange their Roman coins for the acceptable coinage of the Temple, thus all the moneychangers who undoubtedly charged a fee for the exchange.  Imagine the noise and the smell!  Cattle mooing, doves cooing and sheep bleating, people shouting out their wares.  This was no place to pray yet this was the only part of the temple where Gentiles were allowed to be, this was their only place to pray, filled with noise and confusion.  

Jesus is not disapproving of the sacrifices but of the business taking place in the temple courtyard that was to be reserved for prayer.  Jesus was angry because worship was being hindered.  Jesus’ anger wasn’t just “I’m mad at the world” anger or “I want my own way” anger.  Jesus’ anger here is what is called righteous anger.  Righteous anger is anger that is justified because it is anger based on ethical concerns over wrongs that have been done.  Jesus’ actions remind us of the prophets of old who cried out in protest against profaning the temple, against debasing the worship of the Lord, against substituting ritual for devotion.  

Now it is very easy for us to be smug and sit back and pat ourselves on the back because, after all, Jesus would approve of our church, no animals in here, no moneychangers but that would be to only look at the surface.  This is prophetic speech and action by Jesus though and we would be wise to listen carefully and reflect carefully to see if Jesus is speaking to us.  We are in the season of Lent when we are called to examine ourselves so today we are going to look at our worship, to see if it is acceptable worship.  When I say worship, I’m not talking about our church service or what kinds of music we play, but the worship we bring to God every day of our lives.  Everything we do and say is to be offered up to God as worship.  We worship God with the way we live our lives.  

So what is acceptable worship?  Let us turn to Micah 6:6-8, verses I am sure you have heard before.  Listen first to the question. “6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  And here is God’s answer.  “8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.  Any actions outside of this are not acceptable worship.  

When we think of all our actions this way it makes us reconsider our anger at our kids or spouses, our impatience in traffic or grocery store lines, what we read or watch on TV.  

Try this experiment, let it be a Lenten discipline.  As you go through your day, picture Jesus right beside you, hearing every word you say, seeing every action you make, knowing every thought.  I bet it makes a difference!  I tried this once.  I was challenged to pretend Jesus was in the car with me as I drove.  I am a very impatient driver.  Now I don’t yell out the window, honk my horn or make nasty gestures at people but I can think some very mean thoughts towards anyone in front of me who doesn’t drive the way I think they should.  When I pictured Jesus sitting in the passenger seat I was very convicted about my driving.  

When we truly worship God, we put God first and not ourselves.  We ask God what he wants from us rather than asking God to fulfill our desires.  Our prayer is that God’s will is done not our own.  Now to some that might sound like a very dull way to live, but I assure you, it is not.  A life fully surrendered to God is a life filled with the joy of knowing God, it is a life filled with peace.  Paul tells us in our reading from 1 Corinthians today that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.  It is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  We know that the message of the cross, the message of redemption is Good News, not foolishness.  We give thanks that God has opened our minds and hearts to know the message is one of love, God’s great love for all of humanity.  

We have covered ways in which Jesus might be angry at our worship.  Now let’s consider it from a different angle.  Are there situations in our world in which the proper, Christian response is righteous anger?  I mean, Christians are always supposed to forgive, aren’t we?  We aren’t supposed to get angry, are we?  This may surprise you but there most definitely are situations in which the proper Christian response is anger, righteous anger.  Any place where we see innocents victimized, we should be angry.  Any time there is abuse of power, whether in a marriage, against children, in government, we should be angry. Let’s think of some examples. 

This is National Black History Month so let’s consider the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others who worked with him brought about enormous change in our society which has led to equal rights for all. This is pleasing to God.

Human trafficking is an ongoing issue in both our own country and around the world. There are many people and organizations working to free people trapped in this hidden world. This, too, is pleasing to God.

Where in our world should our response be righteous anger? I think of the war in Ukraine which is a war of aggression, Putin wants Ukraine to belong to Russia again and because of this thousands have died. The proper response to Putin is righteous anger. 

The attack against Israel was horrifying and the response is righteous anger. Hamas needs to be removed from power. Yet there are thousands of innocent Palestinian children caught in the middle. What of them? I have no answer. 

We need to consider what are the justice issues in our world where we, as Christians, can take action?  If we want to know if a situation should provoke righteous anger, we can ask ourselves if it is a situation that would cause God to be angry.  Over and over again through the pages of the Old Testament God is angry because widows, orphans and the poor are not being cared for.  God told us to welcome the stranger among us. God is angry when people put ritual ahead of righteousness, prosperity ahead of peace, or complacency ahead of justice.  When children go to bed hungry in our world God weeps and God is angered.  When there is war and violence, God weeps and God is angered. When the stranger is not welcomed, God weeps and God is angered. When people are enslaved, God weeps and God is angered.  

These are all situations where we may experience righteous anger, where anger is the proper response.  But then, what are we to do with righteous anger?  Righteous anger will compel us to action.  It may be prayer; it may be some type of service, some type of involvement.  No one answer is right; we need to evaluate each situation.  Some may be called to prayer, others to direct involvement in a cause, some to raise money, others to speaking out.  Each person and each situation is unique.  God has given us each different abilities and interests so our calls will be individual. 

All of these are acceptable ways of worship.  During the weeks of Lent, Christians consider what it means to follow Jesus, to walk the way of the cross.  I invite you this week to ponder any ways in which God might be calling you to righteous anger and action.

Please pray with me: God arouse us to be angry at what angers you.  Help us to see our world through your eyes.  Open our ears to the cries of the oppressed.  And then grant us the courage to enable us to walk in ways of justice and truth.