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Lent 3B Sermon
John 2: 13-22
4, 2018


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Where does God meet you? The answer to that question differs depending upon who you ask. Some people talk about God meeting them in the beauty of nature. Just look over the vastness of the Grand Canyon or a beautiful beach and it is easy to feel closer to God. Others might claim that God meets them in music. I have known people to have encounters with the holy while listening to everything from Mozart to Pink Floyd! Music sometimes speaks to the soul in ways that take people into a deeper place than they might otherwise be.

Some might claim that God meets them in the gatherings that they enjoy most – meeting friends for dinner, going to a family reunion, or even coming to church for worship and fellowship. This makes sense, since Jesus did promise that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, there he is among them. Still others are met by God when they are in the presence of new life. Seeing and holding little Emerick Ray DiPietro a week ago reminded me of what it was to hold our kids for the first time, and the awesome power of God to create life in this world. For still others, God meets them at their weakest points of life, where there is pain and suffering and there seems to be no hope. That is the definition of the theology of the cross – something that Paul certainly based his teaching on as he told the Corinthian Christians that we proclaim Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles – but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God! To believe that God does not meet us in these places is to deny the power of God to redeem the suffering that we endure in the world.

I think that all of these are valid places where God meets us, because Jesus has promised us that God meets us in him – in Jesus. In our Gospel lesson this morning from John 2, Jesus has travelled down to Jerusalem from Cana in Galilee in the north where he has performed the first of his signs, turning water into wine. Now he is in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with many other pilgrims who have made similar trips. He notices the people who are selling the animals for sacrifice in the temple itself as well as those changing money. Now, this was a necessary reality. Many people travelled to Jerusalem from miles away for Passover, and they were expected to make sacrifices and give offerings. But travelling with animals was difficult, and the Temple did not accept the Roman coins that they used for everyday commerce. So, these merchants provided a service for the pilgrims – selling them animals and changing out their coins. Jesus says nothing about them cheating people in this passage. He does say that they have turned his Father’s house into a marketplace. Why does he get so angry or zealous over this? What’s the big deal?
Well, before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD, the Temple was the answer to the question, “where does God met people?” They brought their sacrifices there to present to God. God brought his blessings there for the people. Children were presented and prayers rose up like incense. God and humanity met there, and it was always believed that as long as the temple stood, God would meet God’s people regularly.

The problem is, by the time John’s Gospel was written in about 100 AD, the Temple had already been gone for about 30 years! For those people who believed it to be THE place for God and humanity to meet, there was no hope left. It was gone, and (as a matter of fact) it has not been rebuilt to this day. There is no temple! Or is there? Listen to Jesus’ words: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up!” Now to the Jewish leaders who heard them, these words made no sense. They believed he was talking about the Temple being built by Herod, made of stones. But Jesus was talking about himself. He has become the temple - the place where God and humanity meet. He is the one that was destroyed and was raised again after three days!
This is the foundational story in the entire Gospel of John. It is one of the few episodes of Jesus’ life that is recounted in all four of the Gospels, but in the other three it happens at the end of Jesus’ life, after Palm Sunday – kind of like the straw that broke the Pharisees’ backs and pushed them over the edge to have him crucified. But in John’s Gospel it is at the very beginning, at his first appearance in Jerusalem. It sets the tone and builds the foundation for his life and ministry. He is the temple – Jesus is the one in whom God meets all humanity. All of the stories of John’s Gospel, then, can be read and heard in light of this reality.

When we come to worship here, we expect to encounter God in Jesus Christ. This space has been set aside for worship because we value that part of our week. In our music, prayers, fellowship, words read from scripture and proclaimed, and especially in the bread and the wine, Jesus Christ comes to us in many ways. We encounter Jesus through all of the senses – in what we hear and speak, through touch when we pass the peace of Christ to our neighbors, and in what we smell and taste when we take the bread and wine. It is good to be together for this worship time at least once each week.
But this isn’t the proverbial temple; this isn’t the one and only place where God meets us, since in Jesus we have the true temple. Celtic spirituality talks about the “thin places” – those places where it is easy to recognize God’s presence. Many of those encounters that I mentioned earlier fall into this category – nature, music, reunions, etc. As I read Jesus’ words of promise – that his body is the real temple which cannot be destroyed – I understand that every place has the capacity to be one of those “thin places” because God’s presence in Jesus has been set loose in the world, no longer confined to a Temple of bricks and wood, but always available in all circumstance to the world, especially as we remember Paul’s words to us that we are the body of Christ in the world today.

We have a promise that God is available to us 24/7, no matter where we are geographically, emotionally or spiritually: at church, at school, at home, on a spiritual mountaintop or in a desert; in the company of loved ones or desperately alone; in times of joy or in sadness, while doing important work or running errands. And believing that promise transforms our time of worship here into something new: From a place that we try to draw people to in order to experience God once a week, into a place we invite people because having experienced God in this one hour, we can leave here better able to recognize God during the other 167 hours of the week. It’s not always easy to see God amid all that you encounter in life this week, and that’s okay because we will gather again next week to be met by God, hear God’s promises, sing God’s story and be rooted in faith and commissioned once again for life in God’s creation. This is not the Temple, the only spot where God meets us – worship at its best is where we discover the various and sundry thin places where God’s presence permeates our lives and world with the promise of grace, compassion and courage. May you be met by Jesus here today, so that when you leave this building for the regular stuff of your life, you will recognize Jesus in your midst, and thus meet God every day; Amen.