Friday, March 20, 2009


     Destroy this temple and in three days time, I will raise it up. -- Jesus' promised sign for those Jews who want to know by what authority He was overturning the market and banker tables. Most of us who have grown up in the church recognize that Jesus is speaking not of the Temple complex, as his listeners seem to think, but of His own body. How should the Jews have known that Jesus had the authority to drive the businessmen and animals out of the temple? By the fact that He was raised from the dead on the third day! Unfortunately for them, they have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear.

     For us, as 21st century Christians, such an image of Jesus seems strange. We like to think of him as some sort of glorified hippie with blond hair and blue eyes. We always think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace. We do not like images of Him wielding a whip of cords, tossing over tables and their contents, and yelling at people for defiling His Father's house. Yet that is precisely the image that John paints of our beloved Lord.

     John also paints another image, but one that is often lost in translation. In this short passage of John, the writer switches words on us a bit. Everywhere before and everywhere after, John speaks of the temple as the heiron. But in our sentence featured this week, He refers to the Temple as the naos. What is the significance?

     In one sense, we can understand the significance easily. You and I might think of a large church, with a set of offices, parish halls, classrooms and the like as a church complex. That might be better suited to understanding heiron. The actual place in worship would have been the naos, the sanctuary. In the Temple that Jesus visited, the naos would have been more closely associate with the Holy of Holies.

     This is all well and good, and we can understand a bit of the distinctions, but do they matter?Are not word studies generally a waste of time?    I would suggest that it matters in at least two senses. On the one hand, Jesus is providing us with sanctuary. We all thing of sanctuaries as a place of rest, a place of freedom. Even in 21st Century America, if someone claims sanctuary at a church, our authorities respect the claim. By His work on the cross and His resurrection, you and I and all other believers are guaranteed that we will never have to face the wrath of God. The peace, the love, the warmth that we all want in relation to our heavenly Father is made possible only through the atoning work of Christ. Because of Christ, we can experience true safety, true freedom, true peace.  And in our scene from this week, Jesus is jealous of the sanctuary that should be present in His Father's house.  His anger at the invasion of the world -- the bankers, the vendors -- is perhaps better understood and less likely to surprise us when we think in these terms.

     But there is a second sense to John's use of naos. You and I, by virtue of our faith and baptism, become members of His body. As such, you and I are called to be a place of sanctuary in a crazy, suffering, dark world. You and I, as members of His body, are to carry forth into the world that peace that passes all understanding. We are called not just to profess, but to live our lives as if we believe He was who He said He was and as if He has been raised from the dead. We don't fear economic crises because we know our Father will provide, we do not fear diseases because we know our Father will cure us all one day, we do not live in fear-filled relationships because we know our Father calls us to love and be loved, and we do not fear death because we know He has conquered death. And we confront the daily assaults of life secure in that knowledge, secure in that faith, secure in that peace.  Last week we were reminded to deny ourselves, to pick up our crosses, and to follow Him if we wish to be one of His disciples.  Those actions, that utter surrender to His authority in all our lives, allows us to become a place of calm in storms, to be confident in places of chaos, to be faithful in the the midst of events which, as our Collect says today, beset our bodies.

     I have reminded us many times over the last three years that it is a weighty thing to be a disciple of Christ. When we assent to His Lordship, we are called to die to self and cede control of entire lives to Him. How we laugh, how we play, how we interact, how we mourn, how we fight--it all reflects on Him!  We are always honoring or dishonoring Him.  You and I are meant to reflect the sanctuary which He offers the world. You and I are meant to embody the very peace that He promises to all who believe in Him. In a world ravaged by crisis after crisis, can there be any better witness, can there be any better sermon in anyone's life, at this time?  Yes, we will fail from time to time.  We might panic when others panic, we might worry while others are worrying, we might behave selfishly in moments of weakness when we forget who we serve.  While our sins are not to be celebrated, they also serve to remind you, me, and all those who witness us that Christ is the only true sanctuary of the world.  And, if in the midst of these sins or perceived failures we were to repent, who knows how God would use our humility to draw others to Him and to His peace?

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