March 2018  
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John 2: 13-22      “Going Out of Business Sale”   3/4/2018                                        

Rev. Jerry W. Krueger      Boardman UMC

Driving down Hwy 224 last week, I saw the Golden Corral Restaurant had closed up shop. As has a local Denny’s, and a Goldstein’s furniture store. 

When markets change, needs for specific services or goods disappear, business like A&P grocers, Blockbuster stores, Hummer off road vehicles, Pontiac cars, Newsweek, Mesa Airlines, MGM movie corp, close their doors. Businesses fail by abandoning core values, and thinking and saying, “We’ve always been here in the past, we’ll always be here in the future.” That is a red flag.

Jesus enters the Jerusalem Temple, sees its practices, and becomes enraged.  What caused Jesus to become so angry that he becomes a holy terror?  It can only be one thing: injustice.

The centuries old sacrificial system in the temple, had morphed into an efficient machine for fleecing rich and poor alike. It generated huge profits for the insiders who ran it.

If you went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, your goal according to the Law of Moses, was to sacrifice an animal. You could raise and bring your own animal, but most pilgrims, found it easier to buy an animal locally, at the “Temple Pilgrim’s” steep markup.  Like the special tourist price you may encounter some places.

Mosaic Law proclaimed presentation of a perfect animal, without mark or blemish. Unless you purchased a pre-approved animal within the temple precincts, you had to bring your offering before an inspector, who would tell you whether or not it met the grade. And what do you think happened? The inspectors got monetary kickbacks from the animal-sellers. Rarely was a sacrificial animal brought in from the outside, passed by corrupt inspectors.
And if you had journeyed from one of the lands outside Judea, such as Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, even distant Rome -- the coins in your purse were stamped with the Emperor's likeness. Graven images violated the 2nd Commandment, and were forbidden within the temple.

So here is the scam; to buy a sacrificial animal, you had to exchange your Roman money for image-free Judean coins. The money changers had a monopoly on that business, and charged huge commissions, but you, my faithful pilgrim, had no recourse. Corrupt temple merchants ripped off the Temple worshippers, coming and going.

The reason Jesus raged through the temple had nothing to do with the proximity of money to a place of worship. His anger was sparked by injustice: that God’s temple had been transformed into a corrupt, unjust, ungodly, money machine for cheating pilgrims out of their life savings.
And Business was thriving at the temple

Like a no-nonsense CEO, Jesus comes to work to clean house and take names. The mighty are fixin’ to fall!

John's first readers would have known the temple was already a smoking crater by the time they read his gospel, since it was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Jesus' words and actions were not only prophetic, but a stark reminder that any institution that claims to be of God is doomed to failure, if it refuses to pay attention to God's own core purpose and values -- and what's going on in the shadows of the temple altar, is symptomatic of a huge problem in temple worship.

The history of the temple follows the trajectory of some failed companies. Leaders stick their heads in the sand, and then poof, business closes up. Think about it. How much film do you buy anymore? Paper checks are on the decline, landline phones are decreasing, cassettes and VHS tapes are gone too. If these manufactures thought they’d be assured of being around forever, they were mistaken.

It began idealistically when Solomon built the Temple at God's behest, making a permanent dwelling place of God, among his chosen people. Solomon's temple was designed to remind people of the Garden of Eden, the place where God and humans once lived face to face, and there the priests offered sacrifices to God for the forgiveness of sin. The temple was the focal point, the center point of all creation. It represented the best of the covenant enterprise between God and God's people.

Soon, Israel began to believe its own brand of hubris, shunning God, reaching out toward other divine markets in the form of idol worship. Its pursuit of more, and a failure to recognize the warning signs of apostasy, of falling away from God, led to major fractures in its corporate life, and eventually resulted in God executing a hostile takeover.

That was God exiling his people at the hands of foreign invaders, Chaldean’s & Babylonian’s. When the Hebrews were allowed to return, they rebuilt the temple, but it was never what it once was.

By the time Jesus entered the temple that day, it was clear. It was a mere shell of its former glory and mission. Instead of being a holy place -- its core identity and function -- it had become a shopping mall, a bank, government building, and revolutionary symbol wrapped into one.

The money changers and sellers made a profit selling sacrificial animals to the people, especially the poor (like the mall); the treasury and records of debt were administered there (the bank), the high priest, who was a Roman appointee, and the scribal lawyers had their offices there (the government); and the zealots looked to it as a national symbol that, if it could be recaptured, could house a new government  Every interest group saw the temple as the symbol of salvation, but none of these functions were going to save it, or the people.

Jesus would do what the temple could not. He came with humility and not hubris. He gave himself away instead of pursuing more power, calling his disciples to lose their lives in order to find them. He engaged in the risky venture of challenging the prevailing religious worldview, and risked death on a cross to see his mission through. He didn't grasp at another way of salvation, but embodied it in his own person.

And, finally, he didn't surrender to death, but demonstrated the reality of resurrection. Jesus showed his disciples that the path from good to great, was the Christian’s narrow path of suffering and self-denial, and not the wide road of the temple that led straight off a cliff.

This raises for us at Boardman UMC, and the Christian Church in general, some questions. Are we being faithful to Christ’s call, or are we ready for a fall?

- Do we measure the church's success in ways that cause us to have hubris, rather than humility? Are we so enamored with our own selves and reputations, building, programs and leaders that we fail to question whether we're doing what Jesus wants?

-Is our mantra always about “the way it used to be in the good old days?” Our future is not just in our past.

- Do we avoid the risk of being prophetic and challenging people, with the gospel of the kingdom? Do we believe worship should only be pithy quotes, and wimpy theology that makes us feel good and comfortable?

-Do we blame the secular culture, the economy, the government or any other outside force for any decline?

- Are our churches grasping at speedy fixes -- new programs, charismatic leadership, and better coffee -- that will turn everything around quickly?

- And lastly, does this church have a spirit of hope, or a spirit of defeat? 

These are all warning signs that a church is going out of business. The only way back is to allow Jesus to come in and clean house, making him the center of our worship and our mission. 

This Lenten season provides a good opportunity for us to do some real evaluation.  If Jesus were to come into our church, what would he toss out, drive out in order to accomplish his purposes through you? What practices, programs or perceptions might we need to abandon, in order to be the incarnate Body of Christ in our community? What would it mean for Jesus to cleanse this church, in order to start something new?

This is all challenging food for thought, and as a hope filled church and people, I invite you to pray that the Holy Spirit continue to guide us, to direct us, to challenge the Boardman UMC congregation as we move into a hope filled future, serving others, the community, as we work for the transformation of the world for Christ.

In the holy name of Jesus we pray.   Amen.