Inside-out and Upside-down

          Earlier this week I was visiting with Marsha about worship planning and it led to a discussion about the future of what we know as Church.  The perceptions of Church and how we DO worship are always evolving.  Worship practices during Jesus’ time were different from practices 1,000 years later, which were different from Martin Luther’s traditions in the 1500’s, which are different from today.  There are differences between denominations and even within denominations. 

          Worship and perspectives of faith change by geography and time.  If we try to stop change we are in fact attempting to stop time which would freeze us in a moment of history.  That of course, isn’t possible.  And we are reminded that worship is just one aspect of practicing faith.   The Church (YOU) requires change in order to effectively communicate with the generations of the time if we are to continue Christ’s mission. 

Notice, it is not the church building, practice, or tradition that has power, but Jesus Christ through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.  Our purpose is not to maintain a style or tradition of the past, but to connect Christ’s message through us to current and future generations.  You and I are always changing and growing.  How we think today is probably different from 5 years ago.

          So when Jesus arrives at the Temple in John 2, he brought a new and radical understanding of Church.  The definition of church and faith was turned inside-out and upside-down, just like the tables that he overturned.  It no longer had to do with a building reserved for Jews, but with Jesus’ body, the temple and presence of God was found in him and it was open for EVERYONE. 

In John chapter 4, Jesus emphasizes this strange idea to the woman at the well when he says, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

During the times of Jesus and for centuries before, to worship God meant to bring sacrifices to the altar that would cover the sins of each individual Jew.  Outside of the Jewish tradition, worship would have been recognized as pagan idolatry.  For the Jews, there was mandatory atonement for specific sins.  According to the laws given by God in the Book of Leviticus, certain animals were meant to be sacrificed based on the social status of the sinner as well as the severity of the sin.  Those sacrifices had to be the best...the Grand Champions of bulls, goats, lambs, doves, and grains; without blemish. 

          So when Jesus comes to the temple, he is not walking into a situation unlike other Passover events.  Thousands of people from all over the region made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and the money changers in the temple, exchanged foreign currency so that these people could purchase their necessary sin offerings with local forms of money.

          In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Temple story occurred just before Palm Sunday and caused the church leaders’ desire to kill Jesus.  But in the Gospel of John, Jesus visits the temple early in his ministry and it is the raising of Lazarus from the dead (much later) that causes Church leaders to seek his death.

          So John’s version of the temple story brings a different perspective.  Jesus is less interested in condemning the money changers for their role and is instead redefining the word ‘temple’.  For generations, the people had considered the Temple of Jerusalem their Church.  And now Jesus was confusing them, in language that they could not understand at the time, by stating that 1) HE was the new ‘temple’.  His BODY was the presence of God and people would no longer need to go to a building in order to be in God’s presence; 2) HE would be their sin sacrifice.  Meaning after his death and resurrection, sins would be forgiven without the need of animal sacrifice; and 3) EVERYONE was allowed in the new ‘Temple’ of Jesus body...and Jews and Gentiles alike would be the new Church.

          What had been taken for granted as the ‘norm’ of faith for thousands of years was turned upside down and inside out.  It’s a good reminder to us today.  God’s plans and his mission are bigger than our understanding.  To be faithful followers, it is not our role to control and maintain the practices of the past.  While there is room for tradition, it is not the practices that we trust and worship, but rather a radical God who loves to surprise by making things new.  Amen