“Follow Jesus in Devotion”
John 2:13-22 (2:17) – March 4, 2018
A few people are really devoted to their house. You know the people I mean. Ones who are extremely meticulous about every little thing, inside and out. And, heaven forbid if someone makes a mess, either in the living room, downstairs in the finished basement, or outside on the patio. Everything has to be “just so,” a real showplace. These folks simply go overboard.
A few people feel like this about their house of worship. Meticulous about the upkeep, they won’t hear a word against the place! And, what goes on inside the building does not mean too much. Everything about the building, the landscaping, and the furnishings is super-important. Talk about going overboard!
This reminds me of the First Commandment, where the Lord tells us not to put anyone or anything first, ahead of God. It seems that some folks might be doing that with their houses or churches or other houses of worship.
Our Scripture reading shows us a situation early on in Jesus’s ministry. where Jesus and several disciples go up to Jerusalem to worship. They make the pilgrimage to worship at the Temple, and—Jesus finds a number of people in and around the Temple who are not focused on God, at all. Instead, some of these people are focused on making money for themselves, and definitely not serving God. Buying and selling of animals for Temple sacrifices, and exchanging regular money for special “Temple money,” the only kind of money suitable for offering to God.
Is it any wonder that Jesus got so upset when He came onto the Temple premises and found this three-ring circus going on in a place that was supposed to be a house of prayer? How could Jesus not get upset? Even, downright angry? Of course He would throw out those people—and their animals and money-changing supplies—who did not belong inside the Temple.
Let’s back up a bit. I want to explain more clearly what the money-changers were doing. Suppose we needed a special kind of money to buy food from the grocery store. Our regular American money—like this—did not work. We all had to go to a special money-changer who was outside of the store to change the regular money for special grocery-store-money. I forgot to tell you. For every ten dollars each of us would give to the money changers, they would keep one dollar, or maybe two, and only give us eight or nine dollars in return. Just imagine how much money they would be making at the end of a single day, not to mention one week, or one month.
Amazing profits! Profits for the money-changers, and I suspect the grocery store would take their cut, too. Except in the case of our Gospel reading today, it was the keepers of the Temple who were taking their cut. And, the money-changers and vendors selling animals and birds would be making a great deal of money, too.
Let’s listen again to what Jesus did: “15 So Jesus made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; He overturned the tables of the money-changers and scattered their coins; 16 and He ordered those who sold the pigeons, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that the scripture says, “My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire.”
I know “cleansing of the temple” is the common title for this Gospel reading; that is not really what is going on here. “’Cleansing’ implies something has been cleaned up or changed or reformed. But, in John’s version of the story, Jesus doesn’t appear interested in cleaning up the market system that operated at the Temple, but in doing away with its idolatrous economic infrastructure altogether.” 
I will say it plainly. Graft! Corruption! The whole Temple offering and finance operation was crooked and corrupt. Jesus put a stop to it! He really tried to do away with all the idolatrous economic infrastructure—but, I suspect, all the corrupt buying and selling and economic practices all came back eventually, despite Jesus and His anger and devotion to God.
I would like to stress that Jesus did not just get angry for no reason. No! Jesus did not just “lose it” and act out in way he would later regret. He knew exactly what He was doing and He knew that it would make powerful people very, very angry with Him. However, Jesus still did it. Can we understand Jesus’ actions not so much as wildly angry and out of control, but brave and courageous? 
When I choose hymns for the worship services here, I almost always go for hymns with some relation to the Scripture passages or the topic of the morning service. I chose our opening hymn to illustrate this part of the Gospel reading. When we sing the words “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,” this was exactly what I was thinking of. We can ask God for wisdom, courage and bravery to rise up against systems and structures that are not right, not Godly, and not moral.
We can see that our Lord Jesus was devoted to the house of God. Jesus got angry and threw the offending people and all their stuff out of the Temple. Let us call this perverse attitude what it is. Idolatry. For some few or some group of people to put crass profit before the holiness and worship in God’s house is Idolatry, which is the same thing that the First Commandment explicitly tells us about. Don’t do it!
Across the Atlantic Ocean in the United Kingdom, these two weeks are called Fairtrade Fortnight. Some churches, other houses of worship, and other nonprofit agencies highlight Fair Trade. Fair Trade means fair pay and working conditions for farmers and producers. Fair Trade products are made in safe and healthy working conditions, where farmers and producers receive a fair price and have a voice in how their workplace is run.
This is from a suggested script for a children’s message for the third Sunday of Lent in the Church of Scotland. “Ask the young people if anyone recognises this picture (hold up the Fairtrade logo)? This symbol is as a result of anger.
“People were angry when they realised that the tea and coffee that they were drinking had not been bought at a fair price. That means the farmer who grew the tea, or the workers who picked and sold the coffee beans had been short-changed, and had not been paid enough money to send their children to school or to get enough for their familes to have a good life. And this anger made them take action. Christian Aid and Traidcraft, amongst many others, set up the Fairtrade foundation to ensure that the buying and selling of goods could be done in a different and more just way. Even to this day there are supermarkets who are still trying to short-change hard working communities and farmers.” 
I think we are doing what Jesus would do when we support Fair Trade practices, and stop graft, corruption and immoral practices. I think Jesus would want us to keep on taking action to make sure that everyone has enough to flourish and to glorify God by being fully alive.
What an important thing for all of us to strive to do: follow Jesus in devotion. Stop graft and corruption, and encourage everyone to flourish and to glorify God. Amen!
“Jesus and the International Currency Exchange Traders in the Temple,” Stan Duncan, 2015.
Worshiping with Children, Lent 3B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.
 http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/47661/4_March_Wendy_Young_3_in_Lent_formatted.pdf The Mission and Discipleship Council would like to thank Wendy Young, of Christian Aid, for her thoughts on the third Sunday in Lent.