Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cleaning And Purging

The Third Sunday of Lent
The Ides of March, 2009

Today's Word:
Exodus 20:1-17 (The Ten Commandments)
Psalm 19:8 (Lord, you have the words of everlasting life)
1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (To all who are called, Christ is the power and the wisdom of God)
John 2:13-25; or Matt 21:12-17 or Mark 11:15-17 or Luke 19:45-48 (Jesus clears the Temple; "Zeal for your house will consume me!")

Exodus 17:3-7 (God provides water to the Israelites at Massah and Meribah in the desert)
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9 (If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts)
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 (We 'boast' in hope of the glory of God, and hope does not disappoint)
John 4:5-42 (Jesus speaks of 'living' water to a Samaritan woman at a well; she has a conversion experience)

Roll on up, for my price is down.
Come on in for the best in town.
Take your pick of the finest wine.
Lay your bets on this bird of mine.

Roll on up, for my price is down.
Come on in for the best in town.
Take your pick of the finest wine.
Lay your bets on this bird of mine.

What you see is what you get
No one's been disappointed yet
Come on in, give us a try
There is nothing you can't buy

Name your price, I got everything.
Come and buy, It's going fast.
Borrow cash on the finest terms.
Hurry now while stocks still last.

JESUS: My temple should be a house of prayer,
But you have made it a den of thieves.
Get out! Get out!

--The Temple (excerpt) from Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice

Jesus may have gone to his crucifixion meek and gentle as a lamb. He may also have been a man of peace and a great storyteller. Here, however, we have one of the only times in all of the Gospels where Jesus 'loses his cool.'

It is not certain when in time this took place. John places this event early in his narrative; saying only that the Jewish feast of Passover was approaching. As Jesus' death also took place on the cusp of Passover, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber place this scene in Jesus Christ Superstar after Jesus enters Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday (aka "Crabgrass" Sunday, according to my son); this is indicated in the other gospels. In that context, it could be construed that this public act of Jesus is a turning point; from that time on it becomes easier for those plotting against Jesus to make false accusations against him, ones that stick.

It strikes me as odd that the thing over which Jesus was angered never really left the Church.

In 1st Century Palestine, pilgrims came from all over the known territory to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Due to the complexity of the Law, a lot of goods and services needed to be available. Currency exchanges, markets for the animals that might be needed for sacrifices, were a necessary thing. What was it that angered Jesus so?

It might possibly have been that those who ran these operations were not charging fair prices. For example, if you've ever had to buy an item at a convenience store or at an airport terminal shop, you pay a substantially higher markup on that item. Wal-Mart they're not. A good portion of that was pure profit.

It may also have been possible that the Temple authorities were taking a cut of the proceeds. While that might be accepted in today's secular society, at that time and in that place it was very much taboo.

It's also possible that this was where the action was in Jerusalem, and so many people tried to eak out a living in a relatively small area that it made it very difficult for the pilgrims to make it to the area they were trying to ultimately reach - the places where they would pray and offer their sacrifices, in accordance with the Law.

Today, while we don't have banks and supply stores in the vestibules of our churches, we still have bake sales, youth group sales, even the occasional 'baptismal' car wash in the parking lot. And in some of our most beloved churches, places of artistic as well as spiritual beauty, there is a growing museum-like atmosphere. All of us let it get that way.

I could rationalize this to the nth degree:

-The bake sales and such ultimately support the needs of the congregation or community at-large.

-"Tourists" are not discouraged to stop to pray; and from my experience, many of them do.

-Rehearsing for the service in the worship space/sanctuary is necessary. It is a distraction, but cannot be avoided.

-Prayer and reflection can be done anywhere, and is encouraged. How do you bring Christ into the world if you don't pray/praise outside of church services? Besides, in the heat of an anxious moment, don't we pray wherever we are?

It strikes me that one of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, summarized best as the separation of church and state (which allows for the freedom of religious practice, from the First Amendment of the US Constitution), has unfortunate backlash. We are given the mindset that separation between God and us is acceptable. Sacred scripture doesn't exactly support this, but it likewise doesn't keep it from happening.

There are some who see this and respond to the occasion; the old Baltimore Catechism #1 (Catholic) teaches that God is all-present, meaning:
"When we say that God is all-present we mean that He is everywhere."

A couple more that were brought to my attention in just the last nine hours:
"There is absolutely nothing that can truly separate man from God because God is indeed a part of every man, woman and child. It is a Divine Spark that is held in every living thing, and echoed in a different but harmonic fashion in every inanimate object that exists. The Divine Spark IS God, in a smaller condensed parcel." (written/shared yesterday by someone very near and dear to my heart)

"The Creator designed the earth to be self supporting --everything is interconnected and all things were created to be of service to each other. ... Religion is not separate from any part of our lives. Everything is spiritual and we are to view all matters in this way. Family is spiritual, work is spiritual, helping others is spiritual, our bodies are spiritual, our talk is spiritual, our thoughts are spiritual. We need to practice seeing all things as spiritual."
(Native American spirituality expressed by writers at the White Bison ( website)

And lastly, just moments ago:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Paul of Tarsus, Romans 8:35, 38-39 - New International Version)

So, it would seem we're all guilty to some degree of allowing ourselves to be separated from God, who is everywhere. Shame on us! I will keep working on that. Purging something that's molded my behavior from Day 1 won't be easy; I'll need reminders to focus on that. I don't want to find myself purged or expelled from the presence of God. I'll have lots of company. I must continue to strive to find God's compassionate presence in all things, including those I don't appreciate as much; or in the unpleasant memories of my past.

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