Third Sunday in Lent.
March 7, 2021 Exodus 20:1-17, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2;13-22
The same old no more!
This is the time of the year when most of us are getting a bit tired of the “same old”. Winter has been long and cold, the pandemic has been adding a layer of stress and uncertainty, and a disturbing reality is that we have a few more weeks to go before the weather lifts our spirits. The saying “the same old” implies that one is waiting for something better, but then one has to disappointingly admit that the wait was in vain!
I have given a few people advice that now is not the time to make big decisions. The reason for this asked, and sometimes unasked advice, is that the whole world is prisoners of a situation from which we all want to escape. We have been insulated and isolated, stressed out and stayed in, and unsettled and uneasy for a long time. Our worlds have become small and old! So, every new option, even some bad options, now may look better than the “same old.”
The careful reader of the Old Testament would notice that ancient Israel and her prophets, were constantly yearning for something better. They yearned for something new for they were tired of “the same old” of being slaves in Egypt. But when they were liberated, they quickly missed the “old”. When they were journeying in the wilderness, their four decades trek became old and they could not wait for settling in the new and Promised Land. But even here, they soon longed for something new, for life was hard, neighbors were annoying, and world powers were aggressive.
And so it went on for years, decades, and centuries.
The prophets challenged them when they were disobedient and unfaithful, they urged them to live as God’s people, they comforted them when they suffered, and they too promised that God was going to bring something brand-new! This hope of something new to replace the old was kept alive from one generation to the next even as their lives continued to show familiar emotions like frustration, fury, fear, sadness, and the occasional happiness.
And then, at God’s time, in the words of John, the Evangelist, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…” The new arrived! But then a very strange thing happened: when the new arrived, people opposed it. They clung onto the old, they were scared of the new!
The Word, that is Jesus, went to a wedding in Cana, where they ran out of wine. And as you know Jesus turned water into the very best wine. John, in typical John’s fashion is saying that the old is over, the new has arrived and it is joyful, good and abundant! Certainly, people would now embrace the new for it is so much better than the old?
The very next paragraph is the one we read this morning. Jesus is cleansing the temple. As you know the other Gospels have this at the end of their Gospels. John has it here for the same theological purpose as the wedding at Cana: Jesus is bringing an end to the “same old.” He, as the Word of God who became flesh, brings an end to the old way of worshiping God through sacrifices and rigid rituals at the temple. He is replacing it with his own sacrifice on the cross to bring new life.
I have heard many sermons on Jesus cleansing the temple. Most of them are eager to point out that Jesus was very irritated and angry. Some preachers seem to like an angry Jesus. Some even use Jesus’ anger as justification for our own anger and frustrations!
I think they miss the theological point of the Gospel. You see the author of this Gospel is very clear about the purpose of his book. In John 20:31 he writes: “But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Let me remind you that when we read John’s Gospel we need to be aware of what is below the surface. In other words, we need to see John’s theological purpose, for that is what matters. We have to caution against being distracted by the obvious of what John is saying. Do not be distracted by an angry Jesus and his whip, or him turning tables over. Do not be distracted by the animals, and the buyers and sellers.
John is in essence saying that Jesus is doing something like Spring cleaning. He is removing the religious clutter of the old era of worship at the temple with sacrifices. He is throwing out the idea of people coming to the temple to sacrifice animals in order to atone for their sins to become new! He is cleaning out empty rituals, he is throwing away those activities that seem very pious and religious on the surface but are in fact nothing more than meaningless gestures. He is getting rid of those things that people rely on to make them feel safe and secure. He is turning over the tables of a feel good religion that is about me instead of being about God!
He is releasing those sacrificial animals of my illusion that I can somehow broker my own redemption. Jesus, by the symbolic act of cleansing the temple is replacing the old, rigid, insufficient way with something brand-new! He is replacing it with a new way where his body is replacing the old physical building of the temple!
And this is where it gets interesting: The spiritual leaders did not want him to do so. They opposed his new way! They have become used to and comfortable with the “same-old”. They were accustomed to taking the law and clinically abide by the letter of the law without caring about the One who gave them the law. They went through the motions of their religion activities, but they did not care about the heart of the matter. They were in a rut and they liked it that way!
That is why John is saying Jesus needed a whip and aggressive action. Because the world still, just like the Jewish leaders, doesn’t want to change. It doesn’t want to get rid of the old. The old works, albeit for some better than others, the old is familiar, and we don’t have to change our set ways to go through the routine.
But here is the divine truth from John: The old way leads to death, and emptiness and alienation from God, from others and ourselves. The old way is like fumbling in the dark, metaphorically stumbling over the clutter. The old lacks gladness and meaning! The old is empty and devoid of joy.
Therefore, we need someone who will help us to get rid of these old things. We need someone who shows us a new way! Someone who is the new way. It is only when we realize that Jesus is God’s Messiah who can unclutter our lives, who can make it new, who fills it with joy and meaning, that we can live as completely free people. God’s light is right there ready to be switched on!
Deep down we are all longing for something new but we are looking for the new with old eyes. I think one could say that the world has become prisoners of their old ways and they are looking for something new but in the wrong places.
It is hard for us to imagine a really new life in the way John is seeing it. We think that freedom has to do with wearing or not wearing masks, eating out, going to movies, and doing what we want to do. We define our freedoms in terms of individual liberties, and in terms of how things were in the past. And then we are surprised that we don’t feel really free or new.
As long as we hold onto the metaphorical old we won’t be truly free!
John is clear: True biblical freedom comes through the work of Jesus. His body replaces temple worship. Jesus shows the new is present in him- He is the Lamb of God who will be slaughtered! This is why the church to this day placed such a great emphasis on Jesus as the Messiah or the Christ! He is the One, it is through him that God makes things new!
The world considers this theological truth as foolishness. For the world considers newness in terms of doing new things, traveling to new places, shopping for new clothes, cars, or other new things.
The Apostle Paul states that God’s wisdom is different, it is true wisdom. The message that he proclaims is the message of the cross. The message that Christ gave himself, that he was willing to be crucified and die for us, is foolishness for a selfish world. But for us, who have been made new in Christ, it is a powerful message from God. Herein lies true newness: God in Christ transformed us. God is able to make everything, people, structures, relationships, and yes, all creation brand-new!
When we journey towards Easter, John is reminding us that Jesus, the light of the world is shining into the dark and old world. John reminds us that Jesus is the one who transforms the old into something brand-new He helps us to get rid of all those old things that prevent us from being truly free, and at peace! He gives us the strength and courage to get rid of those things that prevent us from living lives the way God intended. He gives us life and that in abundance! Amen.