Worship at Saint Stephen for Sunday, March 7, 2021

Exodus 20:1-17

God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,
their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world,
where God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat. 
The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever;
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 
By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can detect one’s own offenses?
Cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable | in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but 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. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We are used to thinking of Jesus as meek and mild. We think of Jesus as a gentle – calming presence.

Think of the multitudes of pictures in Sunday school rooms all over the world of Jesus with a loving – patient smile on his face surrounded by adorable children. Other images that come to mind are of Jesus as our gentle Good Shepherd. Even in the pictures we see of Jesus being crucified – Jesus looks calm and serene.

Even baby Jesus was serene!

All of these images of Jesus are turned upside down and inside out by the Jesus we see in our Gospel reading for this week. This week we see a side of Jesus we very rarely see.   This week Jesus is yelling. This week Jesus has a whip in his hands and an angry look on his face. This is so very foreign to us.

Jesus doesn’t usually create chaos and upheaval. Jesus usually steps into a messy situation and makes things more peaceful. Jesus brings calm to chaos.

Jesus speaks just a few words and calms raging storms – he doesn’t start storms. Jesus heals horrible diseases. He doesn’t cause them. Jesus casts out demons and sets tormented people free. Jesus feeds the hungry. Jesus blesses and brings peace.

But this week Jesus is disturbing the peace. Jesus is making a gigantic mess in the Temple courtyard with his whip and shouting. Jesus is making things chaotic and messy.

Imagine for a moment what the Temple must have been like that day – as – suddenly – with the crack of a whip and a loud shout – Jesus got everyone’s attention. Whip in hand – Jesus creates chaos as he kicks the merchants out of the Temple.   Jesus opened cages setting the birds free. Jesus drove the cattle out of the Temple and scattered the sheep. Jesus dumps the money-changers’ tables – sending coins flying through the air and rolling across the ground. And all the while Jesus – is shouting – “Get out. Leave. Take your thieving ways and go. Get out of this holy place. Stop – just stop.”

What on earth was happening here? Why was Jesus acting like this? Certainly – Mary and Joseph had taught Jesus how to behave in God’s House.

None of us would dream of acting like this in church. After all – one of the very first lessons most of us learned was how to behave in church. We learned God’s House is special. Even little guys know when we are in a sanctuary – we are standing on sacred ground and we should act like it.

As the pastor I have a bird’s eye view of our congregation during worship. I see your reactions to your kids being kids. I see the pointed stares/glares when your beloved teens think they are subtly texting their friends during worship.

I see your reactions to offspring who start lounging in pews like they are Lazy-Boy recliners.

I see the firm knee pats – the elbows – the pursed lips – the raised eyebrows. I see the daggers you shoot at your loved ones with your eyes.

And I have done all of this myself from right up here. I can lead worship and the whole time be thinking – “Sit up you little deviant. Whose child do you think you are? Where do you think you are? How could he forget to behave in church just because his dad is home sick? Sit up! If I have to stop this sermon to get him off the floor . . .”

Thankfully – Mr. Box did not visit DURING worship! This visit happened mid-week.

It is the rare church-parent who would put up with shouting – or tossing tables – or using a whip in church. I mean seriously – A WHIP! If Jesus had been a McFarland son – he probably wouldn’t have been allowed to play with the disciples for at least a month after pulling a stunt like this one!

So what was Jesus up to? Why was Jesus so angry?

It will help us to answer these questions if we take the time to remember the purpose of the Temple. The Temple was a place to worship God. It was a sacred place that represented God’s presence in the world. People came to the Temple to be reconciled with God – and to find forgiveness.

But sadly – the first things people encountered in the Temple were abuse and theft. The sacrificial animals were over-priced. And when I say overpriced – I don’t mean the folks selling these animals were trying to make a small profit to feed their families. Rather – they were committing highway robbery.   The rates weren’t just unfair.   We are talking extortion here.   Think loan shark!

Faithful people were being cheated and abused in God’s name.   That’s why Jesus was so angry.

Imagine if – we charged you $500 to have your sins forgiven and another $200 for communion. You would be outraged too.

Jesus’ anger isn’t quite so surprising now.

Yes – Jesus was angry. His blood was boiling. He was cracking a whip and shouting as he drove the money changers from the Temple.   But – Jesus had every right to be angry. God’s House and God’s people were being abused. Jesus’ anger is what we call – righteous anger or outrage.

It is important for us to note that Jesus used his anger to help people.   Jesus used his anger to seek justice.   Jesus used his outrage to point out what was wrong and to bring about a positive change in the world.

Outrage can be a good thing sometimes. Anger can make the world a better place if channeled.   Think about how honest outrage at injustice can be channeled to make our world a better – more loving – more merciful place.

Think about the powerful changes brought about by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Since their founding over 30 years ago they have used their outrage and anger to change laws and save lives. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities have dropped dramatically. And, most folks in our society no longer think drunk driving is acceptable.

Think of the outrage that helped end abusive – cruel child labor practices in our own country.

Think of the outrage that finally brought segregation to an end in our own nation.

Think of the voices that were raised to declare women should have the right to vote.

Anger isn’t always wrong or bad. Sometimes anger is appropriate. Sometimes outrage makes sense.

When we witness injustice – we have been called by God to work toward ending it.

Working against injustice is an important way in which we can serve as witnesses to our Christian faith in this world. Together we can make the world a more loving – gracious – and merciful place. Amen.

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