"The Crazy Thing that Christians Believe" - Lent 3B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
March 4, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 2:13-22

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: March 4, 2018 – Lent 3B

John 2:13-22


The Crazy Thing that Christians Believe


              In the Upper Midwest, there’s a thing called “Minnesota Nice”. Minnesota Nice has little to do with actual kindness, in my opinion (though the people there can be very kind), and much more to do with keeping up the status quo and an appearance of civility. People tend to be extraordinarily conflict-averse. They would rather die than let you know that they have an expectation of you, or that they have a problem with you. Whenever you ask someone how things are going, the response is often, “Not so bad,” which can mean anything from ecstasy to despair! Minnesota Nice is about maintaining an appearance of “niceness”, a “we all get along” posture, while sweeping every problem and threat under the rug.


              Now, that doesn’t sound like us at all, does it! Truth be told, Minnesota Nice doesn’t just apply to people from Minnesota! It applies to most of us. We don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t want to make waves. Everything’s just fine, isn’t it? Sure, there are a number of things that we don’t like about what’s going on, but who wants to raise a fuss? No one wants to be “that guy” or “that gal” who’s always making trouble. After all, Christians are supposed to be “nice”, aren’t they? Wasn’t Jesus the perfect embodiment of “niceness”? Didn’t he tell us to turn the other cheek? To walk the second mile with someone who forces us to go the first? To just generally be a “good person”?


              Jesus doesn’t seem like a nice guy in our Gospel reading today! Jesus goes into the most sacred site of his faith, the Temple, the “navel of the world” according to Judaism. He goes into this holiest of sites and starts wrecking everything. Tables fly. Coins spill on the floor. Bleating animals and nonplussed merchants flee as Jesus wields a “whip of cords” (this is the only time, by the way, that Jesus explicitly engages in violence – and it isn’t to kill, but to drive out as part of a prophetic word). You can imagine the fury of the religious leaders. How dare Jesus do this! How dare this rabble rouser, this hick from Galilee, come in here like he owns the place! Without animals for sale, how can pilgrims hope to offer the proper sacrifices according to God’s law set down in Leviticus? Without money changers, pilgrims would have to use coins that are “graven images” – a violation of the first commandment against no other gods – to pay for those animals. Doesn’t Jesus understand that this is “just the way things are done here”? He has a lot to learn about how business is done in this town!


              When his co-religionists ask him for a sign to prove his authority for doing these things, he responds with a cryptic phrase – a phrase that will only make sense post-Easter. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In other words, Jesus refuses to justify himself. He will offer no miracle as proof, except the one that will take place after the powers have had enough and execute him on a cross. The only proof that Jesus will offer these people will be his own resurrection from the dead – an event, which in John, takes places some three years later (in John, the cleansing of the Temple takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, rather than at the end as in Matthew, Mark, and Luke).


              The merchants and religious leaders perhaps thought that they were providing a service for the people by offering moneychangers and animals for sale. However, Jesus sees that they are far more concerned with the bottom line than with proper worship of God. Instead of facilitating proper worship with God, they are obscuring it. Instead of keeping the First Commandment, they are actively breaking it by putting money in the central place.


              There are a number of things that Christians believe that look crazy outside of the church. We believe that the crucified and risen Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. We believe that in him rests the salvation of the world. We believe that he is present among us still in Word, Sacrament, and in each other as members of the Body of Christ. But perhaps the craziest and most contrary thing to our popular culture is this: Jesus wasn’t “nice”.


              If niceness is about maintaining the status quo at all costs and keeping up an appearance of agreeableness and harmony while avoiding all conflict, Jesus has nothing to do with niceness. No. Jesus is kind, not nice. Kindness is a whole different animal than niceness. Kindness has to do with honesty. Kindness has to do with respect of oneself and of others. Kindness has to do with the truth. Kindness refuses to let people take advantage of other people. Where niceness is about avoidance, kindness is courageous. Where niceness is often about fear, kindness is about love – for God, for others, for self.


              Jesus’ actions – yes, even using a whip of cords – were rooted in love. They were rooted in a love for God’s dwelling place – both the Temple and in Jesus himself. They were rooted in a love for human beings and in a desire for no one to raise unnecessary barriers between God and God’s beloved people.


              And it is because of Jesus’ kindness that we are among the people of God today. Because of his kindness, Jesus came to confront the powers that would hold us in captivity to sin and death – and won. The Temple of Jesus’ body was destroyed, but in three days it rose again. And that Temple is now not confined to a single place or a particular location, but is within and among God’s people all over the world. Wherever the Body of Christ is, there is the dwelling place of God. Even though Christ’s Body, made up of finite, sinful human beings, can embody great unkindness – even cruelty at times – the presence of Christ’s kindness within his people will ultimately triumph over all powers that would seek to tame it, to use it for their own ends.


              What’s the call for us, the people of Zion Lutheran Church, today? Maybe to follow the example of our Lord and act, not out of niceness, but kindness. I’m not saying take a whip and use it on certain people (though who among us hasn’t thought about that)! I’m saying to act out of the love of Christ. Where we see injustice, work to bring justice rooted in the love and mercy of God. Where we see no welcome of the stranger, to open our doors and hearts. Where we see unnecessary barriers between God and the people – and these usually come in the form of gatekeeping statements like “you can’t be a Christian unless you do ‘x’” – work to overcome them. In embodying the presence of God in Christ, we are called to his way of kindness.


              Let us pray.


              Lord Jesus, take away our fears. Give us the courage to embody your presence and act boldly in love in our world. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.