March 7, 2021
The Passover was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The leaders of the temple then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The temple leaders then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
The same Spirit and zeal on the move in our reading this morning, is among all of you. I have the pleasure of watching it move through this community and set us to action in our world. This community is full of people who challenge and push our world to meet human needs. On Fridays, I see the volunteers at the Assistance Center of Towson Churches, responding to this Spirit, as they provide groceries for so many of you to deliver to our Neighbors in Woodbourne-McCabe. Each week we’ve been delivering food to around fifty households each week since last April. It all began when Miss Phyllis, the president of the Woodbourne-McCabe Neighborhood Association, someone who is so attuned to the tables that need to be thrown over, shared that food access was becoming a problem for her community, especially for those who are disabled and have mobility limits. I saw the Spirit move through Leslie Erickson, when she connected us with ACTC to meet the need, and when Linda Lotz, their director, immediately said yes. This isn’t how they usually did food distribution, but they could see the need. So, we handed out flyers, with the help of Anna Foster-Connors, the daughter of Kate from the Center, and Andrew, pastor of Brown Memorial. There was a need, and the systems in place didn’t meet it. Leslie and Linda, and our friends from The Center, and all of you, were ready to make something new. And pretty quickly, once ACTC stepped up to partner with us for food delivery, other organizations started offering delivery as well. It just took a push, and a sense of possibility, to meet the needs of our neighbors. And so, each week we call folks up in the neighborhood, and they get to talk with our own Carol, Joe, Linda, and Jane, to set up deliveries, and then so many of you help with getting groceries picked up and delivered.
You all are a people well acquainted with the Spirit we see Jesus filled with in this morning’s scripture reading. In Jesus time, people came to the temple from all over, for Passover and Yom Kippur, and all kinds of moments in their lives, and the harvest festivals of the Hebrew people. We can sometimes forget that sacrifice at the Temple wasn’t just about giving to God; when you would ask the Priests to sacrifice an animal, for most sacrifices, your family would eat that meat together. Some of it would also go to the Priests so they could eat as well, and you could also share a portion with those who were in need. The Spirit invited people to engage in mutual aid, and there was generosity on the move. For a long time at the temple, it was a Bring Your Own Animal kind of operation, but over time, many folks were working in cities, engaged in other ways of making a living than farming. There were also people traveling long distances to the Temple, and it wasn’t always safe or possible to bring a lamb, Cow, or birds with you; that’s a long and hard journey. So, farmers and Shepherds set up markets around the Temple to sell animals and grain for sacrifices. Then there is the struggle of the offerings of cash. These gifts were given for the maintenance of Worship at the Temple, but the Romans had this troublesome habit of putting images of human rulers, depicted as god’s, on their coins. This caused a problem with the prohibition against graven images and worshipping other gods. Instead of giving these forms of cash, people wanted Jewish coins to make their offerings. So, money changers came. And all of this was helpful, allowed the people to worship and thrive, fast together and break their fasts together with feasts, to provide for the common life of the people from all over who worshipped the living God.
The systems worked. For a while. Except, Jesus, growing up in the northern part of Palestine, probably saw that some people got a better exchange rate on their coins. There was grumbling about the cost of animals, especially charged to folks who were from outside of Jerusalem. And lots of folks, didn’t have a lot of cash; instead, many more bartered for food, meat, labor, making it harder for them to be a part of what was happening at the Temple.
As people, we try to care and live together, but there are always folks who slip through the cracks. It seems like, whatever the age or culture, wealth has a tendency to get concentrated, power to be hoarded. It’s not surprising; life can be scary, unpredictable. There always seems to be someone with more power, who we want to be ready if they start to eye us up. The temple authorities know this all too well, with a Roman occupying force in their midst. They’re trying to just get by. Those working in the market, the demand is high at the Temple, and slowly the prices creep up.
But Jesus isn’t usually too interested in the excuses of those with power and money. There are people who are hungry, now. There are folks who are being taken advantage of, now. And so, he steals the money from the money changers, throwing it to the crowds, overturning the tables. Instead of celebration and worship, the Temple is a market, and that seems to be missing the point. When Jesus drives the animals out, there are folks who find them. If a poor family gets a lamb, who’s to say that didn’t come from their farm? There is a redistribution of wealth, of food, a giving back to the people of God, the good gifts of God. And at the end of the reading, the author tells us, that when Jesus shares that when this temple, his body, is torn down, in three days the Temple of God’s presence among us, Jesus himself, will be raised back up. Even when Religious leaders, the forces of economics, the political powers try to silence the Spirit at work, there is resistance. The new life of the Spirit won’t be contained.
I love this radical, Robin Hood Jesus, who lets himself be fully human, and get angry, funneling that passion to right wrongs. It’s a reminder that sometimes, the Spirit of God motivates us to break systems that oppress, so people can flourish.
I have been seeing that powerfully the past few weeks with the vaccine distribution. To say that Maryland’s vaccine distribution system has had some struggles is an understatement. The racial disparities around vaccinations have been vast in this state. It isn’t happening because people of color don’t want to get vaccinated. It’s been quite the opposite; folks haven’t been able to secure appointments to get the vaccine. The system itself is confusing, with folks needing to go to multiple websites, or call multiple numbers at different times. But the Spirit of God has been on the move. Folks have been learning how the system works, and then, after getting vaccine appointments for their loved ones and themselves, they have been taking what they’ve learned and organizing to help others. Specifically folks are organizing to help seniors who are eligible who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Latinx, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants, those in the disability community, and non-English speakers. Last week, our friends at The Center got together a group of Pastors and Elders to talk about how we can help our neighbors get appointments. McKenna and I working on how to train folks to search for appointments for others. We will be calling folks in the Woodbourne-McCabe Neighborhood, and working with a network to secure appointments. The tables are being turned over, and this amazing gift is being let loose to those who most need it.
Beloved, there are going to be times when, in our striving for human flourishing and survival, we create systems that leave people out. And we can blame those who are in charge, or we can act, hoping that seeing a better way, those in charge will act. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we can’t rely on government and those in power to save us. Instead, our Womanist Theologians teach us that there is hope in our organizing and our collective action, to make sure the good gifts of God, get to the people of God.
You give me hope, each of you. In a time of incredible uncertainty, your generosity with your food, your funds, your labor and love, reminds me of the Spirit’s presence among us. Your advocacy and action alongside the hungry, for creation, it reminds me that the Spirit is always with and among us. May we do our part, to share what we have, to subvert systems that oppress and exclude. Jesus is right alongside you in this work, and it is a gift to see his Words coming to life through you.