Saturday, March 7, 2015

Getting Jesus Out of the Building

John 2:13-22

This familiar story from the Gospel of John creates great images in our mind: Jesus on a rampage in the temple courtyard, tossing aside tables and money and freeing animals from their cages; sheep running loose in the courtyard; money changers struggling to scoop up coins before others could steal it.
Jesus enters the temple and looks around. He sees an outdoor market  in progress, with some vendors exchanging foreign money into temple money. The temple money is then used to purchase animals for sacrifice from other vendors. Merchants of other goods – perhaps bread and tunics and pottery -- take advantage of the opportunity and set up their own materials for purchase.
The atmosphere is not one of reverence, but of commercialism. The vendors try to make as much money as they can at the seasonal festivals, just as merchants today hope to make a lot of money during holiday sales. Jesus is angry that people are making money from the worship of God.
Jesus then makes a strange claim. If you destroy this temple, in three days I will raise it up again. We all know how long it takes to build anything -- the permits themselves take forever! -- so this statement would puzzle us, too.  
That is, until we realize that Jesus is saying that his body is the temple. For the Jews, this is blasphemy! It sets the tone for the rest of the Gospel, and for Jesus’ life and ministry.
From this day on, Jesus will refer to the intimate relationship between God the Father and himself as one being. Since Jesus is the temple of God, and the incarnation of God, God-with-skin-on, there is no need for a building to contain God. The physical temple can be torn down, because God, like Elvis, has left the building.
We as a congregation need a building; we need a place to worship and teach and from which to serve the people of our community. We may call this building God’s house, but it is not the only place where God resides. God resides in the churches up and down the street, and in towns and cities around the world. But God does not just reside in buildings; God also resides in the world around us, and God’s Spirit resides within each of us. It is we who take God to our neighbors.
We do that in lots of ways: we offer a hug and a tissue and a prayer to someone in distress. We bring food and personal items for the food pantry; we give extra so those in need can get basic dental work. We teach children more than how to read and do math; we teach them they are loved and valued. We offer rides and shopping and other help to those who can no longer do it for themselves.
We have buildings and land so they can be used for God’s purposes in our community. We make quilts and fill shoeboxes here. We have parties here. We have Vacation Bible School here this summer.
Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts meet here on week nights, and gather here before camping events. We used to have an AA group meet here; I would love to have them back again. We are hoping to clear the woods enough to put in a prayer path through them, for the whole community to use. We work to find ways to take Jesus to the community inside and outside of the buildings.
We are not the only ones who do this. A couple of weeks ago, members of one of the churches in the area were standing at the corners of Deltona and Citrus Springs Blvd. They had signs displaying the church name near each group of members. Since it’s a 4-way stop it was easy for them to offer a bottle of water to the people in each vehicle. No strings attached – just a bottle of water offered by some other Christians in the area.
Yesterday, as I sat in my recliner working on this message, the doorbell rang. It was two women from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They introduced themselves, invited me to an event about Jesus, and left a flyer about the event. I said thank you, accepted the flyer, and the women left.
These are simple, essentially non-intrusive ways to take Jesus to the people. There was no preaching, no insistence I agree to anything. It was simply a bottle of water on one case, and an invitation in another. I was free to accept them or not. They did get my attention, and if I weren’t already involved in a church, I might have followed up on their invitations.
Other invitations have been more intentional. I have told before the story of how I became involved in church. I went to worship once in a while, maybe six or eight times a year. Three different women on three different occasions invited me to a circle meeting. The invitation that worked was the one that explained what happened and what was in it for me if I went. “We’re a group of young mothers that get together to talk about issues that concern us. We have a babysitter so we can enjoy our time together. And, I’ll pick you up.”
This invitation reached out to me, essentially from the community since I rarely went to worship, and pulled me in. Once I entered the circle, I knew I had found a place to be and grow.
Jesus – God-with-skin-on – resides here in our buildings when we come to worship and pray and study and play, and travels with us wherever we go, because Jesus is with us through the Holy Spirit.
Where will you take Jesus this week? To whom will you introduce him? It doesn’t take much, you know.
Will you take him home, so you can pray with him each day, perhaps with a cup of coffee and a donut?
Will you take him to the grocery store, where you can help a young mother put the groceries on the belt while she manages the toddler?
Will you offer to pay for a tooth filling for a poor person?
Will you be more intentional about sharing Jesus and invite someone to worship or study or play here?
Will you pray that God will show you the person Jesus wants to meet with next?

Please pray with me. Jesus, you are our movable temple, our resurrected Lord. Help us take you with us, wherever we go. We invite you to reach out to others through us, through our actions, and our words, and our very lives which are also your holy temple. Amen