What Makes God Angry



John 2:13-22


It was difficult for me to write a sermon this week.
My heart was in Pennsylvania, with Theresa (our former Parish Associate and beloved friend), who is facing down a lot of pain and anger that arose when hurtful parts of her past were dug up and spread around. 
I flew there Monday night to be with her Tuesday, as she faced the seminary community where she is president, and did the most courageous and vulnerable thing I have ever seen a leader do. She shared her very self with them by telling them her story – the parts that felt personal and fragile, the parts that have been misunderstood and misused, the parts that she regrets that have caused pain to others, and the parts that have made her a little bit more who she most longs to be.  
And I saw briefly, a glimpse of what it looks like to belong so fully to God and to yourself that you can belong completely to others and invite others into their own belonging.  I felt a bubble of hope rise within me for that community, that they could get through the pain this has dredged up together to the other side, where trust and joy dwell when we are with and for each other.

But pain is powerful, and we use it as protection.  And not everyone is ready to set it down. And outside that room, on social media, I’ve watched a nightmare unfold, as, in the wake of people’s pain and anger and amidst partial truths, she is being labeled, attacked and demonized.

When I go online and see something about my friend that dehumanizes her, or makes her out to be so radically other than she is, I feel a ball start to form in my gut, a molten rage that pushes up into my chest and heats my face. My hands actually get tingly, my head starts to spin a little, and I want to lash out and defend her.
In fact, on Friday I did. On an unsuspecting friend who shared something she’d read, I unleashed a series of firehose-esque messages intending to set the record straight.
Then I sheepishly apologized for my enormous, emotional word dump.

So, when I came to this text this week, I connected with it at the gut, visceral level first.

I imagined Jesus walking into the temple that day, the temple, which was the special place where humans and God meet one another.
I imagined this man, this God-with-us, divine embodied human walking in there and taking in the chaos.  Letting it hit his senses: the moneychangers and the sacrifice sellers, the smells and the clamor, the animals bleeting, and the vendors shouting, and the crowds navigating this noisy bazaar atmosphere in the temple’s outer court.

I imagined Jesus taking it all in, and the hot, churning ball forming in his gut, the tingling hands and the anger rising up his chest and heating his face.  I picture him grabbing some rope and finding a wall to squat against, and with sharp clarity of purpose, pouring all his concentration into the task, braiding a whip out of cords.

Then, rising from his corner, intent on setting the record straight, he takes a deep breath and plunges into the center of the chaos, swinging his whip at the cattle, shouting, and chasing the bewildered animals out of the temple. 
Turning back he lunges at tables, flipping them over, scattering money everywhere as though it is useless. He points at the doves and roars to the sellers, “Get these things out of here! Stop making my father’s house a marketplace!”

And something inside of me wants to get to my feet and cheer.

Let me back up and give some context to the scene. 
This act Jesus did took place in the Court of the Gentiles, where thousands of Pilgrims came from all over and converged. This area was as far as non-Jews were allowed to enter the temple, as close as they could get to worship the God of Israel. It was their place to pray.  
The next section inward was for Jews only, called the Court of the Women, where all Jewish people could go, but the farthest in that women were allowed. 
Then came The Court of the Israelites, for only Jewish men, and inside that, the Court of the Priests for Levites, and inside that, the Holy of Holies, where God most resides, and where almost no human is allowed to go. 
I imagine each section quieter and calmer than the last, each one closer to the Divine, each one with fewer people in it.

The marketplace situation was business as usual in the temple, because people had to change their money for temple currency, and to buy sacrifices to offer to God in this place where human beings and the Divine meet each other.

Because way back, when God was giving instructions for how to live as God’s people, when God was directing them about how God and humans interact, God’s directions said,

Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 
But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together. As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.
 Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.
(Deuteronomy 14) 


Point being, all this -  saving up 10% of all your land and herds and vineyards produce and bringing it to God and feasting on it with God -  is meant to remind you every year that you belong to God.  And don’t forget, (in fact, every three years, you’d better use your saved up 10th to really practice and remember this, by throwing a feast in your own town with it for all those in need): you also belong to each other.

But over time, the helpful accommodation God built in for those far away - that lets them sell their 10th of produce and harvest for money, and then buy lovely things when they arrive on the other end to feast with God - this tool that was meant to create easier access between God and humanity, had become a gatekeeping instrument, a barrier, hurdles to jump through. Whether you lived near or far, it was expected of you to trade your money for temple money, and likely you'd need to trade your subpar sacrifices for approved temple sacrifices. And a whole business had built up around it; commerce and corruption, the outside world brought in to the place where God and human meet. 

And just as all things do when we trade the way of God for the way of fear, it had become a system of restrictions and labels, defining who was more worthy, and deciding who had more access. In the name of approaching God, they had succeeded in creating a maze of requirements and expectations to get close to God, that limited that access to a very narrow chosen few.

Now, the real reality is that God loves the world God made so much, and so longs to be in joy-filled relationship and deep connection with us all, that God became one of us, came here to share life with us, and take on death and all that separates us from God so that no barrier could ever again exist that would keep us apart.  Because we belong to God.  And in this person of Jesus Christ, God and human meet, completely, fully, absolutely. 

And so, walking into the temple that day and taking it all in, fresh off his water into wine miracle revealing a God of abundance, relationship and joy, Jesus was exceedingly angry.

The truth of who God is and who we are had been warped, amended, covered over – buried under layer after layer of caveats: some belong, in part, but not all, and not quite. 
You belong if… you don’t belong unless… you only belong when…

Instead of the very being of God meeting real human beings in this place, it had become a game of how to please God, how to be a good Jew, (or a good Christian, or a good American, or a good parent, or a good ally, or a good fill in the particular measurement you’re working on at the moment...)
Instead of our very humanity coming into the presence of the One who claims us in love, it becomes how to prove yourself to God or others, how to meet expectations, how earn your worth or justify your existence or solidify your place. 
These are the messages swirling in the dust and the dung amidst the noise and the vendors and the people trying to pray to God the best they know how in the middle of it all.

And they all had accepted this as fact.  All of them.  Complicit in the system. They had accepted the how as the way it is.  They had let go of their who, and God’s who too, and accepted their roles, their proper place, their particular requirements to reach as close as they could to God, believing, perhaps, that they were lucky to get even that far, and not expecting anything more, because in the way of fear and scarcity there is only so much to go around, so if some get accepted others can’t be, (but at least we can take comfort that we’re farther in than they are).

It is no surprise whatsoever, then, that when Jesus cries out his last breath and dies on the cross, the huge, heavy temple curtain that divides off the Holy of Holies where God most resides and where almost no human was allowed to go, is torn in two from top to bottom.  His little temple demonstration with the whip this day was a mere taste of what was to come.

Because Jesus will tear down apart every barrier we erect that divides us from God and each other. He will drive out every distraction, and requirement, and label, and demand we place on ourselves and others that presumes to dictate who is worthy or unworthy to approach our maker, that dares to set terms for how to be included or excluded as God’s beloved people.

"What sign can you give us for doing this?," they ask Jesus, when he’s all finished making a huge mess of things.
What a great question. I love that question, because it means they’re willing to accept wild incidents, willing to let God surprise them; they’re open to being redirected.  

Jesus answers, Tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days. Only he uses the other word for “temple” not as in "sanctuary space," but as in “the place where God dwells.”  They scoff and think he is talking about the building they are standing in, ‘How are you going to do that?!” but he is talking about his very body.

I am, Jesus will go on to say a million times in John, I am the way and the truth, I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world, I am the resurrection and the life. In me is all belonging, in me is love, in me is your wholeness and your joy and your identity and your purpose.  I am the temple, the place where God and humans meet.

God with us is with us. Nothing can separate us from that love. 
But we will make it a chaotic marketplace of goods and hurdles to reach what is already and always ours – belonging to God and belonging to each other.
We will put up barriers, and wield belonging like a weapon, a prize, a ticket that requires purchase. 
We will define ourselves and each other by our mistakes and our regrets, our associations and our labels, our beliefs and our track records and our ratings.  
We will decide who gets to come into belonging, and how far.  
We will act like we can bestow belonging or deprive people of it.

This happens between us, like it is happening right now for Theresa.
But it also happens within us. In the very center of our deepest selves, where God longs to dwell with us, we’ve barred our full selves out, deemed ourselves unworthy to go there.  We’ve decided what parts of us God welcomes in and how far, and what parts have to stay out in the outer place of exchanging and earning, chaos and noise.

But listen up, you guys, we don’t get to decide how to include or exclude or earn or prove who belongs.  And if we try, this scene assures us that God will mess it up for us, because that stuff make God really angry.

Jesus is always opening cages and letting our qualifications fly off, Jesus is always storming in with a handwoven whip and chasing away our good deeds, past performance, and personal sacrifices.  Jesus is always throwing over our carefully counted measurements of worth, and tearing open the barriers that keep people out.  
Jesus is intent on setting the record straight. 
And that is comforting to me.

We meet Jesus who is with and for us when we are when we are with and for each other. That is it. That’s the temple. That’s the place were God and humans meet. 
That’s the calling.  
We are the Body of Christ. 
May we belong so fully to God and to ourselves that we can belong fully to others and invite others into belonging.  
May we be willing to let God surprise us, 
open to being redirected, 
and brave and vulnerable to live as our true who, 
seen, and known, and loved, and claimed by the great I AM.

Amen.

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