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Sermon and Liturgy For Lent 03 - Year B
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19:7-14 and John 2:13-22
"Clearing The Temple"

READING:  Exodus 20:1-17;  Psalm 19:7-14 and John 2:13-22
SERMON :  "Clearing The Temple"

b-le03se 359000
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   Sources, if any, are as indicated in the text.

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; 
   then I will keep them to the end.
P  Give me understanding, 
   and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
L  Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
P  Turn my heart toward your word and not towards selfish gain.

* INTROIT: O Love, How Deep  (verse 1 - VU 348)

God of Love, source of all order and meaning, we gather to give praise and
thanksgiving to you for your love - a love perfectly revealed in Jesus and
seen in the law and in all the prophets.  We thank you, Father, for your
grace and for the loving guidance you have given us.  Lord, you know how we
need your presence to be complete, how we need your living word to direct
our feet in the path of righteousness, how we need your Spirit to help us
each day to live by the law of love.  In this time of worship help us to
discover the fullness of your will for our lives - and help us to rejoice
in that will and to lift our voices in praise and in honour of you.  We ask
these things in Jesus' name, trusting in his mercy by which we have been
born anew to living hope.  Amen.

- Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Sharing Joys and Concerns           

* HYMN: Holy Spirit, Hear Us                                       - VU 377

L  Most Holy and Merciful God, 
   you who inhabit every heart that is open to you, 
   you who dwell in the praises of your people, 
   hear our prayer.
P  Forgive us, O Lord, if we have in any way defiled your holy places.  
   Pardon us for the slander and malice that has discoloured your creation
   and heal us of the resentments and envies that have stained your world.
   ............... (silent prayer) ..............
L  Forgive us too, most loving Father, for how we have distorted your law 
   and misunderstood your gracious will for us.
P  Forgive us Lord 
   for how we have so often concentrated 
   on the written word of Holy Scripture 
   and have failed to heed the call of the word 
   which lives within us.
L  We confess, O God, 
   that we too often stress duty and obligation 
   and too infrequently mention the joy, the wonder, and the peace 
   of living in the way you have shown us.  
P  Forgive us, O Lord.  
   Help us to pause and listen for the guidance of your Holy Spirit.  
   Show us our error and fill us with your grace and your power.
              ............... (silent prayer) ..............
L  O Lord, hear our prayer.
P  Touch us and make us whole.  Amen

Hear the record of God's grace and mercy - There is no condemnation for
those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ
Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and of death.  

Thanks be to God  Amen.

JUNIOR CHOIR: Praised Be The Lord

CHILDREN'S TIME: The Medicine of God
Theme     Things which seem bad can be very good
Object    Buckley's Cough Syrup and/or Aspirin
Source    Self

Show medicine.  Ask kids if they know what it is?  How it tastes.  (Let
them smell the Buckleys)  Ask kids if they would like to drink it - or chew
up the aspirin?  No - tastes awful. 

Now - ask if they have ever been sick?  The medicines helped....

That is a bit like the law of God   sometimes not doing things we want to
do doesn't taste right to us   we really like being angry - we really want
to hit others - we really want to take other people's stuff - and the law
of God says we can't.   But if we follow the law of God - we will have
healthy whole lives - we will not get the sickness of sin.

   LET US PRAY - Dear Lord God - we thank you for medicine - and we
   thank you for doctors - we thank you they keep us well - we thank
   you too o God - for your law and for your love - they show us what
   is good, - Help us God to obey you - and to love you and our
   neighbours.  Amen

* HYMN:  Come, Children, Join To Sing                              - VU 345

   (NIV)  And God spoke all these words: {2} "I am the LORD your God, who
   brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. {3} "You shall
   have no other gods before me. {4} "You shall not make for yourself an
   idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or
   in the waters below. {5} You shall not bow down to them or worship
   them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the
   children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation
   of those who hate me, {6} but showing love to a thousand generations of
   those who love me and keep my commandments. {7} "You shall not misuse
   the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone
   guiltless who misuses his name. {8} "Remember the Sabbath day by
   keeping it holy. {9} Six days you shall labour and do all your work,
   {10} but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you
   shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your
   manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your
   gates. {11} For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth,
   the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
   Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. {12}
   "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the
   land the LORD your God is giving you. {13} "You shall not murder. {14}
   "You shall not commit adultery. {15} "You shall not steal. {16} "You
   shall not give false testimony against your neighbour. {17} "You shall
   not covet your neighbour's house. You shall not covet your neighbour's
   wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything
   that belongs to your neighbour."

L  This is the word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 19 (Voices United 740-41 and Refrain)

GOSPEL READING: John 2:13-22
   (NIV)  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up
   to Jerusalem. {14} In the temple courts he found men selling cattle,
   sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. {15} So
   he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both
   sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and
   overturned their tables. {16} To those who sold doves he said, "Get
   these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"
   {17} His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house
   will consume me." {18} Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous
   sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" {19}
   Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in
   three days." {20} The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to
   build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" {21}
   But the temple he had spoken of was his body. {22} After he was raised
   from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they
   believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

L  This is the Gospel of our risen Lord
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

* HYMN:  "Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God"                        - VU 356

SERMON:  Clearing The Temple

   Bless Thou, the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts
   that they be of profit to us and acceptable to Thee, our rock and
   our redeemer.  Amen

The story of Jesus cleansing the temple with a whip reminds me of the old
eastern story about a snake that lived on a path on the way to a famous
temple in India. 

   Many people would walk along the path to worship, and the snake
   would often bite people with his poisonous bite. 

   One time a swami was on his way to the temple and the snake jumped
   out to bite him, but before the snake could bite him the swami put
   the snake into a trance and ordered him to stop biting people. 
   "It is not right to bite people with your poisonous bite," the swami
   told him. "From now on, you shall not bite anyone." 
   A few months later the swami was passing that way again, and he
   notice the snake lying in the grass beside the path. The snake was
   all cut and bruised and was in an awful state.
   "Whatever has happened to you, my friend?" the swami asked.  "Since
   you have put your spell on me," the snake explained,  "I have been
   unable to defend myself. Give me back my bite."

   "You foolish snake," the swami answered. "I told you not to bite
   anyone.  But I never said that you couldn't hiss!" 
In today's gospel reading we see an angry Jesus,
   and it is rather refreshing,
       since we are so used to thinking of Jesus as gentle,
          as being meek and mild as the old hymn describes him.

If Jesus did not bite in this passage - he surely hissed,
   and the question we should ask about this passage is why?
       Why did Jesus get so angry?
          What was happened there in the temple to provoke this
              rather startling reaction of Jesus?

It will help us to answer this question if we remember the purpose of

The purpose of Temples around the world no matter what faith or
   creed has erected them, is to provide a means and a place 
          where people may come into contact with God,
              and experience his grace and his love, 

Temples are places where people go 
   to give thanks to God for all that he has done
       and to ask for forgiveness for their sins;
          they are places where they go to hear God's word,
              and receive guidance for their lives.

The Temple in Jerusalem was no different,
   it was built to be a place where the faithful could go
       to encounter God.

It was built for their sake as a special place for them to go
   to hear his word and to experience his grace and forgiveness
       and to reflect upon his love and goodness.

The temple represented God's presence,
   his availability to all who sought him,
       his love for all who called upon him.

Yet something happened to this good place,
   something happened to turn it into a place where it became
       difficult to hear God and experience his goodness.

You will recall that the temple was a place where,
   in accordance with the law of God,
       people offered sacrifices.

Sacrifice was, and is, an important component of the life of faith.
   Sacrifice reveals the depth of our sincerity,
       it shows that we put God and what he asks of us ahead
          of our own prosperity, indeed ahead of our own needs.

The law of Moses stated what kinds of sacrifices should be made
   at the temple - and as we know - before Christ some of those
       sacrifices, but by no means all of them,
          involved the killing of animals

Parts of the flesh of the animals sacrificed would be offered wholly to
God, other parts would be given to the priests to support them and to
provide resources for the poor and needy of the community.

Often religious duty required that you bring a young male sheep,
   or a kid, or a pair of pigeons to the temple, 
       where it would then be sacrificed by the priests for you.

In the old rural days this had been fairly easy to do - 
   people had sheep or goats or pigeons right at home on the farm.
But in Jesus' day, as in ours, city people didn't keep those kind
   of animals hanging around the apartment.
       So when you went to the Temple to make your sacrifice,
          the Temple authorities made it easy for you by having
              sacrificial animals for sale right there on the
                  premises -- the only catch being that you had to
                     use temple coins to make the purchase.

If you didn't have temple currency available to make the purchase,
   well -  to help you, you could change your Roman money into
       Temple money right there in the Temple's outer courtyard;
          just another small service the Temple authorities
              provided to make things easier for you.

The Temple of Herod was your up-to-date full-service Temple!
For your salvation, of course.
For your easy access to God.
Take one look at the money markets in today's world and it doesn't
   take much imagination to visualize what ended up happening in
       the temple courtyard at the time of Jesus.

The gospel reading today tells us Jesus walks into this environment, 
this up-to-date full-service Temple,
   and he sees the people selling the cattle and the sheep
        and the birds,
   he sees the money-changers at their counters with their
       constantly changing rates of exchange.
   he hears the noise, the shouting, the bargaining, the
       bragging, the bleating and the cooing,
   and he smells the sweat and the dung of the nervous animals;

He sees and hears and smells all these things that are there for the sake 
of the salvation of God's people, and he becomes tremendously angry!

And he takes some cord, probably his belt, and he lashes out with it,
   he flails at the merchants and money changers,
       tossing over their tables and flinging their coins to the ground.
   He opens the cages and set the birds free,
       he runs about, chasing the cattle and the sheep and all
       their owners from the courtyard,
   all the while shouting:

       Stop this!
       What have you done!
       Get these things out of here!
       You have turned my fathers house into a market place,
       you've made it a den of thieves,
       Get out, get out!........

You know, it sometimes takes a fresh eye to see just what we have done to
the Holy Things of God, to those things that are meant to help us meet God.

My friends, everything Jesus rejected in the temple was put there - at
first - with the best intentions,
   it was put there to help people who came to the temple to seek God's
   will for their lives and to thank him for his love.

Yet it was wrong.  

What had started as a good thing, had become an evil thing,
The temple had become a place that exploited the need for salvation, 
rather than a place that furthered it.

And I wonder...
I wonder if there are still today some things that provoke Jesus to that
kind of anger?

I wonder if there are some things that have to be driven out of our lives
and out of the lives of our churches and our communities, because instead
of bringing us closer to God they prevent us from meeting him?

       The story is told about an old man who lay very ill.  A
       friend came to see him, and after talking for a while, asked
       him, "In your long life, have you any regrets?"  The old
       man's mind was away back in his childhood.  "When I was a
       boy," he said, "I often used to play with my school friends
       out by the roadside.  One day, after my chums had gone away,
       I found at the corner of the road an old rickety signpost.  I
       twisted it in its socket, so that its pointer arms pointed in
       the wrong direction.  Just today, for some reason or other,
       I've been wondering how many travellers I sent that day on
       the wrong road"

How many people today are being sent on the wrong road?
   - not by a child playing a foolish game, but by adults,
       Christian adults, either misunderstanding,
          or misrepresenting, the Christian faith?

Another Story - this about a football team from a Christian college going
to an important game.

       A reporter boarded the aeroplane and asked for the football
       coach.  "I understand," he said to the coach, "that you carry
       a chaplain to pray for the success of the team, would you
       mind introducing him to me?"  "That would be a pleasure,"
       said the coach, "Which one do you want to meet, the offensive
       or the defensive chaplain?"

The story would be even funnier if wasn't such a sad story.

It is sad because it typifies what so many people do to our faith.
They turn it into some kind of formula for success,
into a kind of ritual whereby salvation is guaranteed.

We see all around us the commercialization of religion,
the exploiters who cash in on our needs for forgiveness and a loving word -
those who ask for money so that God will bless them.

This is a prostitution of the faith - 
the easiest one to detect and the easiest to criticize,
and I could keep you here for hours 
talking about the modern merchants in the temple:
   - The 40 million dollar man in his prayer tower in the middle of the
   university named after him, a university built by funds raised from
   old ladies for the work of God.

   - Or the playful man, who turned a religious ministry into an
   amusement park where one can take a water slide for Jesus and buy
   the latest holy music sung by his daughter, his wife, his mother-in-
   law, his aunt, his uncle, his family.

The temple merchants are easy to see;
They misrepresent our faith and steer people down the wrong road

Harder to see is the desecration of the temple of God through  false
teachings and false example - 
   the teachings that make our God the goddess of success instead of
   Yahweh, the God who sides with the weak and suffers with the oppressed.

We see this desecration whenever faith is equated to winning, to getting
ahead, or to personal satisfaction.

There are so many people who come to church,
not to listen for God's guidance, not to thank God,
but because they think that if they come,
   somehow it will ensure them of God's blessings, that it will protect
   them, and guarantee that on the day of judgement they will be on the
   right side - standing with the sheep instead of with the goats.

They keep the law of God,
   not because it represents God's guidance for our lives,
       but because they think that if they obey, they will win something.

And while there is an element of truth to the idea that God prospers those
who follow his law - there is also a great sadness to the fact that some
folk keep the law only for what it will gain them.

What do we need to have cleansed from our lives?
What ideas and practices need to go if we are to truly meet God in the
temples of our own bodies  and in our temples of stone, brick and wood?
We all have an amazing tendency to take stuff that is good
and make it more important and more necessary than it really is, 
or possibly can be.

What have we taken that is good, and made into our god?  Tturning it from a
thing that brings us closer to salvation, to a thing that impedes it?

Have we reduced our faith to business and success on one hand,
   and law and ritual on the other,
so that there ends up being nothing different - 
   nothing unique, nothing holy about it? 

Has our faith become like everything else,
some kind of commercial transaction?

So many people are misled -  seeing faith as do's and don'ts, as a matter
of "how big a sacrifice can or should I make to take care of everything?"  

But what we give the church, or the evangelists, 
or what we do to obey God 
does not take care of everything.

Nor does following the ten commandments,
or even praying in a certain way
take care of everything.

It is the cross that takes care of everything.
It is the love of God - his love for us and ours for him.

The cross of Jesus saves us,
   - not our rituals.
The resurrection beyond that cross redeems us,
   - not our inadequate obedience.

That is the point of the dialogue that occurs between Jesus and the
authorities after his rampage: when they ask him what sign he will perform
to justify his behaviour and he replies: 

   "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

No-one understood his words then, but later, after the resurrection, the
disciples remembered them, and understood.

They understood that Jesus was the temple,
that in him they met God and talked to God,
and experienced God's love and forgiveness.

They remembered how he touched people and spoke to them,
   how he fed the hungry and gave sight to the blind,
   how he put truth and justice in their right places,
   and gave peace and joy to those who came near him.

They remember these things, and they remembered his words, and they looked
at his death and resurrection, and they knew that Jesus was the Way, and
the Truth, and the Life.

What in our lives prevents us from knowing Him?

The power and presence of God is not found in this book,
nor in the rituals and observances of our churches
but in an encounter with the living Christ,
   an encounter we can only have through faith and trust and openness to
   the Spirit of the one who is revealed in these pages and spoken of in
   this place.

Let us pray for Christ to clear our hearts as he cleared the temple
and ask that he may guide us in God's way.

L  The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
P  The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, 
   making wise the simple.
L  The commands of the Lord are radiant, 
   giving light to the eyes.
P  The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
L  The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.
P  By them is your servant warned; 
   in keeping them there is great reward.
L  We give you thanks O God for your love and for the law you give us to
   guide us in your ways.  Help us to live as you have shown us.  Lord
   hear our prayer.
P  And in your love answer.

We pray, O God, help us to discern those things in our lives that stand in
the way of more perfectly fulfilling your will for us..  Help us, your
church, to show to the world the wisdom and the glory of living in
obedience to you.... Lord hear our prayer...

O God, you have set us free in Jesus to live by the law of the spirit and
of life - but not all people know or accept the word we proclaim.  Move in
the hearts of those around us who resist your will and keep safe those who
testify to them.  Bless all those who have taken up the ministry you have
called them to and bring new light and new hope to those around them.  Lord
hear our prayer....

Lord, we know that you work for the good for those who believe.  We pray
now for those who do not believe: we pray for our neighbours who think that
goodness is a matter of what they want to do; for our corporations and
businesses that judge morality by what brings them greater profit, for our
lawmakers and our politicians who create legislation according to what is
popular instead of what is right.... heal them and heal us O God of any
trace of this sickness....  Lord hear our prayer...

And as we now prepare to go forth, O Lord, help us remember before you and
minister to all those whom you favour.  Bless those who mourn, those who
are humble and poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, and all those who cry out unto you for truth and for
justice.  We especially remember before you those we have named in our time
of sharing....

Hear O God our prayer through Jesus Christ O Lord, who taught us to come
before you, saying, Our Father.....

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of

   Your law, O God, challenges our priorities and turns us away from
   the darkness of greed and selfishness towards the light and peace of
   your presence.  We pray you, accept these gifts given in obedience
   to your word and guide us so that all our words and all our actions
   serve to bring your justice, your joy, and your love to the world
   around us.  Amen.

* HYMN:  "Spirit Of The Living God"                                - VU 376

* COMMISSIONING (unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth
   into the world - to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the Body
   of Christ.

Go in peace - love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- And may the love of God's holy law and devotion to God's holy will fill
your hearts; 
- may the living presence of Christ cleanse you from all unrighteousness,
- and may the Spirit of God uphold you and show you the way you should go 
both now and always.  

* THREE FOLD AMEN & CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"            - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2000 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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