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8th March 2015 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Sunday Lent 3
1 Cor. 1. 18-25
John 2. 13-22

When was the last time you were angry I wonder? And, more importantly, what did you do about it?

The Jesus we meet today is as far from the Victorian picture-book, 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild', as it is possible to get.... but for all that I think today's Jesus can seem real to us in a way that often he is not. Today's Jesus allows his human side to come to the fore well and truly! But maybe it is his divine nature too that we get a glimpse of? The wrath of God is well and truly on display...

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be in the Temple that day?

We need to remember that the Temple itself - the holy of holies - was relatively tiny.... a small chamber that housed the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat and to which only the High Priest went in - and then only on one day of the year.... it was thought to be that dangerous a place. A place where one might encounter God in all his might.... Not many human beings were up to that.

But outside the Holy of Holies were the various courts and the various altars on which the religious sacrifices were constantly being offered. And in the outermost courts were the pens of the animals themselves and the money-changers facilitating the exchange of the idolatrous Roman coinage for the 'pure' Temple shekels.

I was reminded this week of the origins of the Temple. It all began out as a threshing floor in the time of King David. And it belonged not to an Israelite, but to a Jebusite called Araunah. In 2 Samuel 24 you can read how David decides to set up an altar to God in an effort to divert the ravages of plague on his people. A plague that is a result of David incurring God's righteous anger.
Araunah owns a threshing floor situated on a high point in the place that will grow into modern Jerusalem. This is where the harvest sheaves are spread and then winnowed or threshed - either by oxen or with a wooden flail - and the chaff, the rubbish, is got rid of - blown away, while the valuable grain remains. David comes as a victorious war lord and Araunah is all for giving him the site as a gift (!) but David, (who isn't averse to helping himself to other men's wives when he wants to!) insists that he must pay a fair price if his altar and his sacrifices are to have any effect. Legend also has it that this high place was the very spot many years previously, where Isaac was once offered as a sacrifice to God by Abraham, and where God provided an alternative sacrifice in the shape of a ram. But sacrifice is always costly...

So the bargain is struck; a fair price is paid, the altar is built and the pestilence leaves the Israelites. And a few years later, this is where Solomon constructs the first and maybe the greatest Temple.

So now here you are; standing on this holy place, where generations have prayed and made their sacrifices. The place is packed as it is festival time. The animals are bleating and lowing - sensing in terror their imminent death. The floor is slick with blood and worse. The smell must have been pretty strong too - remember this is no modern abattoir and the climate is hot.

Then suddenly there is shouting and the charismatic preacher from the North Country is arguing with the Temple authorities, flailing about him with a whip, setting the animals loose to charge, panicked through the narrow streets leading from the Temple, up-ending tables and sending the coins and the scales used for weighing them flying. We are back to a threshing floor where the rubbish is being separated from what is essentially good... And another costly sacrifice is about to appear - although we may not recognise it

David's insistence on fairness has been corrupted over the years. Now this is a place of exploitation and cheating. Pilgrims - whether rich or poor - some of them travelling hundreds of miles to visit Jerusalem, cannot all bring their own animals for sacrifice. So there is a good trade in suitable beasts, raised on the hills just outside of town and brought in daily to the Temple surrounds. And if people are charged over the odds for them - well, that is only to be expected isn't it? How many of you have visited Disneyland or Disneyworld? Did you expect to pay the same there for a coke as you do in Sainsbury's or the Co-Op? Of course not!
Only you can't use ordinary money to buy your lamb or bull or (if you are not that wealthy) a pair of pigeons. Because that money has the image of Caesar on it and is therefore non-Kosher as far as the Temple priests and the scribes are concerned. No, you must change your money for special Temple coinage, and guess who controls the exchange rate?! So as a Pilgrim desperate to gain favour and status from visiting this special, holy place - the place where you believe you can be closer to God than anywhere else - the place where Abraham and David and Solomon have stood before you... you are prey to all kinds of exploitation.

No wonder Jesus was angry, when he realised what was going on.

A place that should symbolise fair dealing and God's mercy to his people, had become subverted and corrupted.

So he boiled over - the Red Mist descended and he took action of the most radical and outrageous kind.

And how are you going to react? Do you agree with him? Do you think he should have left well enough alone? After all, everything was running peacefully and smoothly before he started! Can you sense his anger? Does it frighten you? Can you anticipate the trouble that he may be stirring up? And not just for himself, but for his followers too?...

But we are not in first century Palestine - just as well perhaps (I don't fancy having to slaughter any animals on our altar here this morning!). But that is not to say that there is not plenty of injustice and corruption in our own world. And we should be getting angry about that! We should be thinking about what action we can take to draw attention to the unfairness that afflicts many people today. How can they be expected to lead decent, fulfilled lives? Maybe radical action is called for?

Well I am not seeking to stir up a riot - don't worry - but, in this election year, we should be asking some very serious questions of ALL our politicians all of those who want our votes in a few weeks. Seeking the wellbeing and common good - not just for ourselves and our own families, but for those who are least able to argue and fight for themselves.... Surely whatever particular political shade you embrace, that is the Christian response? Holy righteous anger - both dangerous and inspiring! Amen.