God of love, alone we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. When we are discouraged by our weakness, strengthen us to follow Christ, our pattern and our hope, Amen
When I was a kid we went to my paternal grandmother’s home for Sunday lunch. My dad (an Anglican priest) had a whole series of services on Sunday morning, and after they all finished we’d get in the car and head for my grandmother’s home. When we got there my mum would assist with the lunch and us kids would amuse ourselves. One of the options was to be pick up the phone to see if there was someone else on the party line my grandmother shared with her neighbour. There was a little bar in the middle of the phone under where the handset rested (this was a rotary phone) you younger ones may have to google that. If you pressed the bar you would hear a dial tone, but mostly we wanted to see if anyone else was talking.
My grandmother’s sister also had a phone and was very deaf. In those days there was no voice mail and if you phoned the call would go on and on. To speak to my great aunt you had to wait because of her lack of hearing. In addition to there being no voicemail, there was also no call display; so my great aunt always assumed her sister (my grandmother was calling). If she missed a call she would simply pick up the phone, call her sister and say ‘Did you call Madge?’
Later my maternal grandmother also got a phone. Every few days she would call us and say ‘You haven’t phoned me’. In other words, now I have a phone you should call me to make sure I’m alright. It seemed the phone only worked from one way, from us to her.
This week our gospel passage comes from the Fourth Gospel. The ‘temple incident’ as it is termed by one commentator (Lewis); in the first three gospel accounts comes after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (prior to his passion and crucifixion). However, in John’s account, it is the second ‘event’ in the gospel following Jesus’ first sign, the turning of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana.
In the time of Jesus, the main currency was Roman with the head of Caesar where today we find the Queen. However in the temple, the religious authorities refused to allow people to pay for sacrifices (two turtle-doves or two young pigeons for a birth) in Roman coins, and therefore people had to exchange them for coins used only at the temple. There was a levy for this and those exchanging currency took a cut. This was one of the challenges that Jesus faced when he entered the temple precincts.
For the first three gospels, the ‘temple incident’ becomes the last act before the authorities decide to arrest Jesus. In the fourth gospel, it is the ‘raising of Lazarus that provides that impetus. At the wedding (in John) Jesus provides abundance in terms of plenty of good wine to go round. When Lazarus is raised in Bethany, Jesus does the same’ literally bringing life out of death. So Jerusalem is always the place where some important things, but not all-important things happen.
The fourth gospel also signals, at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, the conflict between Jesus and the authorities. Confrontation is the keyword here, confrontation that will escalate over time. Again this links to the lives of those, for whom the author of the fourth gospel wrote, people who believed in Jesus in the face of opposition. Here we see Jesus is from God, Jesus is with God, and Jesus is God.
In the fourth gospel, Jesus travels three times to Jerusalem during his adult life; therefore we understand his ministry to have lasted three years. It also focuses on the meaning of the Passover (the reason Jesus goes to the city) and the centrality of the city of Jerusalem itself.
When Jesus goes into the temple things are as would be expected at a festival (Passover being the most central one in the Jewish faith). For sacrifices, money, animals and grains were required: this is nothing extraordinary. Jesus’ concern is that the temple has become just a marketplace. As all temple business had to be conducted in Jewish currency; the levy exploited poor Jewish worshippers and lined the pockets of religious leaders. So Jesus wanted to see the whole system dismantled.
The author of the fourth gospel places this incident at this juncture, because he sees worship as a very crucial theme, and also because he sees that, in Jesus the purposes of God find fulfillment. John understands Jesus, whose life will end before he rises from the dead, as the new temple, the house of prayer for all nations. Jesus is where God and human nature come together and the church becomes the new people of God including Gentiles as well as Jews.
The challenge here wasn’t just the taxing of fellow Jews; it was also the reliance on the externals of faith (for want of a better expression) rather than the internals. In other words sacrifices, be they birds, grains or incense did not necessarily affect the life and actions of the person.
To put it in our context, when we attend worship as we do this morning, and appear to be worshipping God, there have to be actions behind our words. We can say the right things but do our actions equate? Do we love God? We can only love God if we also love each other. Do we care about the poor? We can only say this if we support the poor either at home or abroad. Do we care for each other? Yes if we take an interest in the lives of our neighbours as well as those whom we meet in worship. Do we play our part? Any church is dependent on the skills, time, energy and resources of individuals. Everything we do as individuals contributes to the common good. We share the responsibilities, use our skills, and offer our time. That is what makes our community thrive and grow.
This morning we are going to commission our new Council, voted into office at Vestry last week. These people are representatives of the community, who literally take council and make decisions for the congregation, on behalf of us all.
As we do this we ask God to bless all our Council Members, including our two translators, Albert and Talal, who sit on Council as representatives of the Chaldean and Arabic-speaking members of our church. That we may serve God and the community as a whole as we move forward in our common life in the year ahead. Each playing our part, whether members of Council or not to offer ourselves in the service of God and the service of others.