What Sign Can You Show Us?
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 4, 2018 – Third Sunday in Lent
We always want to know. We don’t want to guess. We don’t want to believe anything except what we want to believe.
We want to be right. So when we come across something new, if it is outside the parameters of what we have already have concluded, we ask for proof. What sign can you show?
We are right, unless there is some good reason for us to change our minds. We only surrender to an abstract notion of an ultimate good…some refer to it as Natural Law…when we have no other choice.
It’s like Winston Churchill said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all the alternatives.”
Today, Jesus walks into the Temple in Jerusalem and sets Presumption itself on its head. There are moneychangers. The powerful are the judges of what God deems acceptable and what he does not.
The Law requires everyone who is able to come to Jerusalem once a year…at the time the Passover is celebrated…and to make an offering to God…a gift to the Temple priests…to authenticate their obedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Their gift is their testimony of their everlasting gratitude to God who created all things, who brought Israel out of bondage to Pharaoh and into the freedom of the Promised Land…the land God promised to Abraham.
The Law requires the offering to be without blemish. If you are rich it is an unblemished lamb. They remember the days of the exodus and by sacrificing an unblemished animal you show your faithfulness to God who delivered you into Life.
There is no reason to save the best stock for later if you are about to depart from where you are and go to the place God is going to show you…as he showed Abraham. You ate…you offer…the best
The people in power have been given the authority…by reason of their station in life…to decree what is blemished and what is an unblemished sheep.
They think they have the power, but Jesus tells them today that only God has power. It is power that has them.
Power comes from God and rests upon God’s chosen instrument only so long as they wield it faithfully… as we prayed earlier to day, “thy will be done”, and as Jesus prayed in the Garden, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
Power is given even to the lowly if they are faithful and power is taken, even from the strongmen of the age if they are not.
Jesus is the best example of this in the history of the world…giving all to God and receiving all from God. Because of this, he and God were one…as revealed by his obedience to God’s will and his resurrection from death itself.
That, my friends, is power with a capital “POW”.
But worldly power corrupts the flesh and absolute power corrupts absolutely….and the Powers that be in Jerusalem have begun to find any animal brought to the Temple to be sacrificed to be blemished.
Fortunately, they just happen to have unblemished animals for sale, although they are substantially more expensive than what you can get at the local discount store…kind of like the gift shop at the airport.
And it wouldn’t do to make an offering in the coin that was in general circulation in the city… Roman coin, pagan coin…but fortunately…the Powers that Be are very accommodating on this front as well.
They have Jewish coins with Herod’s image on them that they will change for the Roman denarii bearing Caesar’s likeness…for a small fee…or not so small fee. And they have a monopoly on that trade as well…because they are the priests…because of their position.
But they are serving themselves and not God or God’s people. They are taking as much as they can get from those who have far less than they have. It is about them, not God.
Jesus is outraged by this abuse of power by people who walk around posing as God’s appointed representatives on earth. We can see throughout history, in fact, that those who abuse power lose power.
The American Revolution was inspired by abuses of power by the Crown of England, King George III. The American Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century was sparked by oppression of African Americans by their white neighbors who thought they were better because of the color of their skin.
We have seen the Soviet Union fall because of its overreach of power around the world…its attempt to dominate with sheer power…and the English were driven out of India by a man of color who happened to be a lawyer but who used truth and righteousness as a potent weapon against those who believed they held all the cards and all the guns and all the offices and therefor had all the power.
So there is formal authority that a person holds by virtue of an office that permits them to command coercion over lawbreakers…and there is informal power that a person can hold…or be held by… because of the justice of their cause.
The Romans, the Priests and the Pharisees held formal authority, and Jesus had informal authority. Which one had the appearance of power, and which one had real power?
Not even death itself could overcome the real power of Jesus. Death only gave God an opportunity to prove God’s overwhelming power, in this world and the next.
We overcome all powers by surrendering to the power of God. So when Jesus is asked by what authority it is right for him to chase the moneychangers out of the Temple he tells them that if they will only tear down the Temple he will raise it up again in three days.
We understand these words one the other side of the events that will unfold in Jerusalem that week, but it confuses the Temple priests and all who witness his outrage are perplexed at the way he assaults the dignity of their office.
The American motto, In God we Trust, is our secular testimony to the truth of Jesus’ words that day. On Easter Sunday morning he will triumph over all worldly authority.
He will be proclaimed by God as the King of kings…because of his submission to death…even death on a cross…even in the face of the scripture that says that one who is hung upon a tree is accursed by God.
Ironic that it was a Roman centurion…not just a gentile, but a pagan who was bound to worship a mortal – Caesar – as a God…who said as he beheld the sight: “Truly. this man was the Son of God.”
The truth comes out of the mouth of babes. It took a small child to proclaim that the emperor had no clothes. A Roman centurion saw the majesty of Jesus for what it was
And when King George III was told that Washington, the leader of the American cause, was likely to refuse to become king of his former colonies…even he saw the truth of where real power lies. He replied, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
We gain power by submitting to a higher power. We create order in the midst of chaos by giving up our physical power over those who are weaker than we are.
The Greatest Generation proved this, becoming the great superpower of the world when they saved the world for…not America, but democracy…the one form of government that breathes life into the concept that all people are created equal…the one order and holds that governments have power over citizens only so long as the citizens consent to it.
Paul has a delicious way of looking at this when he says that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
In a book the Rowdy Bunch read recently, The Powers That Be, Walter Wink writes that Jesus did not overcome evil with force. He did not defeat violence with violence.
God was working through violence to expose violence for what it is and to reveal the divine nature as nonviolent. God is revealed, not as demanding violence, but as taking the part of the sacrificed.
Jesus’ body is broken and his blood is poured out for those who truly love God by the one God loved.
Indeed, it is in submitting to the Ten Commandments in the wilderness that God’s people, Israel, become strong enough to overcome all who would oppress them.
It is not in taking what their neighbor had that the people become free. It is in not taking whatever they want that what they have becomes safe.
Charles Banderob was a small ‘d’ democrat and in the days when the Huntley Project was being electrified. The debate was how far the power companies should have to run the line down the road.
Should they only have to run it so far as it was profitable, or should they have to go to the last farmhouse? Charlie put it about as well as I have heard anyone put it. “If my neighbor is not safe, then I am not safe either.”
It is only by not violating the sovereignty of the individual next to us that we save ourselves from the violence of the strongest person in the country. And if you are the strongest person in the country today, there will come a day when you are not.
Then your only salvation will be the example you have set by honoring God as greater than yourself. The only salvation of any form of government is the consent of the governed. Just ask King George, or Saddam Hussein, or Tojo (the commanding general of the Japanese Imperial Army), or King Herod.
America did not win the hearts and minds of the world in 1945 with the atomic bomb. It won its place in the pantheon of great nations with the Marshall Plan that saved its vanquished enemies from starvation.
I have seen a bit of this truth emerging here in our little church and in the United Methodist Church in the past week as we began our Thursday suppers and prepared to send whatever we could to our Native American friends on the Blackfeet Reservation…not because we expect them to pay us back or even to like us…but because it was the right thing to do and we could do it…and because we chose to do it…and because it made our world better.
Be good and you will be happy, Brother Van used to say, and I felt a surge of joy and eternal power at our District gathering in Kalispell yesterday and we talked about what needed to be done and how we might be able to be a part of that.
I think Jesus might be pleased that we were showing the world a bit of what he had shown us…that we had shared his love with those who were alone and afraid and didn’t know where to turn.
He had shown us a sign so very long ago and I hope to God that we had found the grace to show that same sign to a lost and hurting world so very long after. He lives, and because he does, we can live also.
And the more we give, the more we have to give. So let’s give more and let’s get more and let’s give more now…and all our days, so that God in Jesus Christ might be glorified and true power might come to earth as it is in heaven. May it be our sign of our faith in him, and our testimony to all the world. Amen.