Lent 3 - Jesus love for all
St Mary’s Church, Thorpe
Third Sunday of Lent Year B – Sermon Notes
Introduction and Call to Worship
As Jesus cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem, so will the Lord examine our heart intentions as we us challenged to live for his kingdom values.
First Reading Exodus 20:1-7
In his first three commandments, God explains how the Israelites must treat him to earn his blessing: worship him alone, make no idols and do not misuse his name.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Paul reminds us that the worldly-wise reject God and the powerful think they do not need God, so God is happy to save the weak because they need him, and the foolish because they do not question his methods.
Gospel John 2:13-22
After cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem of its crooked dealers in currency and sacrificial animals, Jesus refers to his own body as an indestructible temple.
HOMILY “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)
Throughout history humanity has constructed monuments to whatever we held sacred. Some of these structures have survived the ravages of war and weather; we may think of Stonehenge, Greek and Roman Temples, the Pyramids of Egypt, or closer to home the ruins of Leptis Magna, the Temple of Augustus at Virginia Water lake.
More recent in history, this beautiful medieval Church along with many Parish Churches and great Cathedrals speak of God’s presence and peace. St Mary’s has stood as a testament to faith for over one thousand years. Here in this place of prayer we are reminded of God’s enduring faithfulness, generation to generation as the Psalmist writes, “One generation shall laud your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4) As we recalled at our Lent groups last Wednesday, this church points to the awesomeness of God, and at the same time the relationship each of us is called to through Jesus Christ.
We also know that all things built with human hands are transient. Inspirational buildings have no permanence, even if we do try to preserve them. Think of the Cathedrals destroyed in the 2nd World War, Coventry and Dresden, or the fire at Notre Dame in Paris, or the earthquake that devastated Christ Church Cathedral in New Zealand. Sadly, human beings can also destroy such places due to misguided ideology or extreme religion. We may recall the barbaric Islamic state and their dreadful rampage including the destruction of the Temple of Bell at Palmyra or the great Assyrian city of Nimrod. I wonder what was in their hearts when they set about such carnage?
When the Israelites settled, they too built a place of worship, a great Temple at the heart of Jerusalem. This was a truly magnificent place, dedicated to worship. It reminded God’s people of their special relationship with Him, although it too faced destruction on several occasions. Over time traditions and rules took precedence over the Spirit of the place. Animals were offered in sacrifice with livestock sold in the outer court and money changers provided the Temple currency because the Jewish law required that every man should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary, a Jewish coin called the “half a shekel” and Roman coinage wasn’t allowed inside. (see Exodus 30:11–16). The Temple was a convenient place to exchange the Roman coin for the half shekel and the moneychangers demanded a small sum for the transaction. Because so many thousands of people came up to the great feasts, changing money was a very profitable business, with fraud and oppression of the poor rife. Their heart intentions were not for the building up of God’s kingdom and Jesus sees this and is angry.
At the centre of the Temple, in the holiest place, were the great commandments of God. A contrast between the activity of the outer and inner lies at the heart of this Gospel passage. Jesus is angered by the heart intentions of those using the Temple for their own profit and the oppression of others. “Take these things out of here!” He angrily shouts, making a whip of chords, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2: 16)
Our Lord is angry to find the abuse of people by the shady dealings of the traders and money changers, just as the misuse of the Temple itself. In this moment, a foundation is laid in John’s Gospel, an emphasis on heart intention. So, what comes from within us? Are our priorities love, justice, honesty, faithfulness? What are your heart intentions? Jesus pattern for faith is life-giving and liberating, not bound up by rules that give easy opportunity for exploitation or marginalization – his offer of love is not by any means extreme religion. Remember the controversial Gospel we read on Ash Wednesday, (John 8: 1-11) when the religious elite present a woman before Him who had allegedly been caught in the very act of committing adultery. They do this to trick Jesus, but rather than condemning her to certain death by stoning, He challenges everyone to examine their hearts, and those without sin to pick up the first stone. Nobody does so because they cannot – they know their own hearts and so they skulk away. Of course, Jesus already knew what was in their hearts, their plotting and scheming. He knows they want him dead too, and so his talk of the temple being destroyed is a metaphor for His own body, God’s dwelling on earth, and how He would be crucified. But our Lord also knew His earthly body would be gloriously raised to life again, just 3 days after His death, for nothing is impossible with God who creates and recreates; unlike things built by human hands, however beautiful.
The truth is that life is transient, and our life’s journey takes us through the experiences of death and new life. We share the same potential for hate, fear and a lust for power that possessed the people who crucified Jesus and we too must wrestle with our inner most thoughts and feelings – our heart intentions. Jesus is angry that the Temple, a place of prayer, should be used to judge and exploit, for it should be all about life and reconciliation, indeed the hope of heaven. Our hearts are a temple too, made by God and to be Christ-like means examining our heart intentions and prioritizing all that seeks to build up God’s kingdom, all that is just, good, and holy. This is not easy, it is counter cultural and requires a death to self, as St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans: “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:8)
Here at St Mary’s Jesus is present among us in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, His very presence experienced in our hearts through the liturgy and song, an important marker of our catholic mission, a gift. This building inspires, but the activity is within us, as our Lord pours his love into the world through the cross and calls us to re-examine our hearts. He desires that we live for justice, compassion, reconciliation, hope, love, joy, and peace.
These are God’s kingdom values, and we the people of God, are the indestructible temple of prayer and worship and the home of His indwelling Spirit. In the sanctuary of our temple, our hearts, God lives and will never die. We are the living stones of God’s Church, housing the commandment to love and taking that love to others.
So, take time to ponder the Gospel this week anew. And be brave and ask of yourself, “what are my heart intentions?” Amen. Fr Damian Harrison-Miles, March 2021.