Dismantled Temples

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John 2:19

The church on the Town Common. The Cathedral in the City Square. The chapel in the country village
The shrine sitting on a distant mountaintop. The house of prayer nestled between the pawn shop and laundromat.

Built by human hands, each structure emerges with a unique story to tell. Some are fairly recent. Others span centuries. These are our houses of worship, sanctuaries, and parish houses; monasteries, retreat centers, and mission outposts; chantries, tabernacles, and basilicas.

Fresh from changing water into wine on the third day in Cana of Galilee, Jesus strides into one of the holiest places in the ancient near-east world and begins turning over tables. Making a whip of cords, he drives out the sheep and the cattle and the people who had been selling them. Doves escape from overturned cages, hard currency flung onto the temple floor, and the exchange of money/goods utterly disrupted.

Angered, temple officials and marketers demand evidence. “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

Nonplused, Jesus replies, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

The Nicene Creed declares, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…and in one Lord Jesus Christ, [whom] for us and our salvation…was crucified under Pontious Pilate; … suffered and was buried.

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures…”

Years ago when memorizing the Nicene Creed – I questioned the effort expended over the recitation of this ancient confession. Laboring line after line to commit the language to memory, it wasn’t until years later that I appreciated its fuller historical context – and why its development in the first place. Faced with the heresies of its day – and those that invariably followed – the early church responded, providing a framework and orthodoxy of the Christian faith. Knowing the tendency of mortals to limit the efficacy of God-in-Christ’s Sovereignty, a confessional context was wholly necessary, then as now.

Once, an enigmatic prophet strode into one of the holiest places in the ancient near-east world, turning over tables and practices that undermined the Sovereignty and Holiness of God. And we, we who fear that our institutions, our houses of worship and our hope in the future – are being reduced to the moral equivalent of rubble, would do well to return to the promises of scripture and this ancient confession, that soars in God’s victorious affirmation:

[and on] “The third day our Lord rose again, according to the promises of Scripture.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

“What Have You to Do With Us?” Mark 1:23-24

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and [the man] cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  Mark 1:23-24

   Have you ever wondered how long the man with the “unclean spirit” had been coming to the synagogue in Capernaum? Could his presence that day have signaled the first time he had crossed over its threshold and joined other members of the congregation? Or had this tormented man been showing up for as long as anyone could remember?

There is the understandable tendency to keep the onus of being in the thrall of a chaotic or unclean spirit – as being the problem of this lone individual – when reflecting on the significance of this passage.    After all, only one man cried out – even if it was in the presence of a gathered congregation.   For that matter, who would want to be labelled as completely unhinged be it in Jesus’ time or our own?  Such that this man’s anguished cry, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” remains the problem of this one man and thereby has nothing to do with the congregation or the rest of us.

But what if this tormented man had been a ‘fixture’ in that community for years?    A nuisance, perhaps.   Something to be tolerated.   But utterly alone.  What then?

What if we were to read this account differently?   Rather than have a crazed man cry out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth,” suppose we were the ones asking the question?

“Jesus, what have you to do with us?”

We who are in over our heads?

We who try to be faithful but flounder in the wake of it?

We who are commanded to love our enemies but are consumed by anger?

When we’re really honest with ourselves, is this passage only about this one man?

Or is it a story about us?   We who need to hear the definitive word of God spoken.   We who have given up hope.   We who are numbed beyond recognition.

“Jesus,” we whisper, “what have you to do with us?”

And in that moment – Jesus does not turn away – but turns to us, speaking the definitive and healing Word.

 

Musings on Mark I:14-15

“Now after John (the Baptist) was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near…”   Mark 1:14-15 

Take note of the timing of this scripture.   It wasn’t until after John the Baptist was arrested that Jesus proclaimed the good news of God. 

It was after a righteous man was arrested

after John the Baptist was imprisoned and condemned,

…that Jesus heralded the good news of God.  

Am I the only one who has difficulty seeing the connection here?

How could the imprisonment of an upstanding man be the basis for announcing that the time is fulfilled?   How could this terrible incident be evidence that the kingdom of God is near?   How could the event of an innocent man being incarcerated – be an occasion for good news?

The broader narrative does draw the parallel between Jesus being driven into the wilderness for forty days following his baptism, as preparation for public life and ministry.    That all three synoptic gospels record this wilderness account offers that crucial connection between Jesus’ experience at baptism and his entrance onto the public stage. That he was in the company of wild beasts, hungered and thirsted, summoned and interpreted afresh the Word of God in the face of temptation and deprivation, provided not only necessary preparation but was evidence of Jesus’ unique identity and fidelity for ministry.

Yet what if the event of Jesus’ entrance into public ministry

AND John’s arrest was not a coincidence?

  What if the association of these two seemingly incompatible events was and is a way of seeing evidence of God’s realm – but in a manner previously thought not possible?   What if injustice –be it retaliation for speaking truth to power, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, deportation, the exploitation and misuse of natural resources, forfeiting healthcare for the most vulnerable, voter suppression and increasing the coffers of the wealthy at the expense of the poor – when met with faithful and persistent resistancesignifies the emergence of God’s kingdom?    What if seeing and naming injustice for what it is  – is not an occasion for powerlessness in the face of oppression but instead is a divine summons, heralding that the time has come to head to Galilee?

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