Lent 3, 4.3.18
Text: John 2.13 – 25.
Rev Paul Cannon
Jesus clears the temple courts of the money changers and livestock traders.
In order to purchase the right sacrifice for the priest to make on your behalf, you had to pay in Temple money, so the people were forced to go to money changers in order to exchange their money into Temple money.
It was a deliberately designed rort to make money by charging for the exchange. It is believed that the livestock traders were also rorting the people by charging heavily for pre-examined stock which Levitcus required to be unblemished.
So the Temple authorities were making quite an income from the people.
Jesus, not meek and mild, makes a whip and drove all of them from the Temple courts, the animals and the people. He takes the coins of the money changers and in a deliberate act he scatters them. Then he overturns their tables. He tells the dove sellers to take their birds and go, so Jesus stops short of letting the birds out.
It must have been a moment of complete chaos as Jesus strides around flailing his whip and moving people and stock, tipping tables and scattering money around. A lot of energy and anger.
John notes that the disciples remembered that it was written “Zeal for your house will consume me.” It is not clear if John means they remembered as Jesus does this, or whether it is after Jesus’ resurrection that they remember. The reference they are quoting is Ps 69.9.
This is often misunderstood. Jesus is concerned for the zeal that is shown for the institution and the lack of zeal for God. Psalm 69 speaks to how we can be consumed for the very building, for doctrine and dogma, for rules, for status, for religion, but not in fact, for God. It raises the question of where our faith is really placed, or more particularly – in who?
In addition, the zeal for unimportant things is sucking the life out of Jesus, zeal for sacrifices and money changing is eating Jesus up. And, if you stop to think about it, the Temple did consume him, it killed him.
When Jesus clears the Temple he is clearly acting out a statement, challenging us to put aside our love for anything else but God.
This is a powerful moment in his ministry – and I note that John puts it at the beginning of his gospel, as if to say, watch out world, this is what Jesus wants.
The effect can be judged by the reaction of the religious leaders: “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” They want to know what gives him the right to tear down their religious structures.
And Jesus responds: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The religious leaders think that Jesus is referring to the Temple in Jerusalem, but we know that Jesus is referring to himself.
In Matthew 12.6 Jesus tells the Pharisees “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” He is referring to himself.
However, there’s a little twist in the wording that gives a particular slant to what Jesus means. If we accept that the word ‘destroy’ – λυσατε – means to loose (λυω), then Jesus is saying, if you destroy the temple that is my body, then at resurrection I will loose my Spirit which will change the need for religion and temples and sacrifices.
It is Paul who makes it clear for us in 1 Corinthians 3.16: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
The word that Jesus and Paul use for temple is ναος, which means sanctuary, the holiest and innermost part of the temple. So the word temple is redundant really, what Jesus and Paul are saying is that with the Spirit of God dwelling in us we are sanctuaries of the Spirit of God in the world today.
We are the living sanctuary of God, the holy of holies. We are the very face of Jesus to the world, a portable sanctuary of the Spirit. I this way Jesus has loosed the Spirit into the world in a special way.
Jesus wanted everyone to understand that the only really sacred space was really the place where God dwelt, and for the religious authorities it was Herod’s great Temple, but for Jesus it would be us. So, we are the new temple, the new sanctuary, bearers of the Spirit to the world, wherever we are.
There is some wonderful spiritual imagery in this passage. Destroying Herod’s Temple, as happened in 70 AD and which was never rebuilt. Jesus being consumed by the idolatry of the Temple. Jesus speaking of death and resurrection. Jesus using the image of the sanctuary as our bodies. Jesus loosing the Spirit, freeing the Spirit from religion, and gifting the Spirit into our lives.
This should help us make more sense of Matthew 15.11: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
If we are indeed the sanctuary of the Spirit, what will come out of us are the gifts of the Spirit.
I have at times been saddened by Christian behaviour. Years ago I studied with a man who smoked a pipe, the other students spent most of the break times trying to convert him, suggesting he wasn’t a Christian because he smoked. The same goes for tattoos, piercings, alcohol, fashion sense, swearing, sexuality, lifestyle choices and so on. That is Temple thinking, purely religious moralism, judging others, legalism, like dead stones.
What Jesus has given us is life, we carry a foretaste of eternity within us in the Spirit, so we have indeed been raised we have been lifted beyond petty religion and given opportunity to live a life Spirit filled.
We have been loosed into the world afresh to bear the Spirit – that’s why we’re called the body of Christ, the sanctuary of Christ, bearers of his Spirit to the world. As Paul says in Galatians: “It is no longer I that live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2.20)
Which raises for us a question. How are we living? Are we wasting our energy on religious temple living, draining the life out of ourselves? Or are we living as the sanctuary of the Spirit, bringing the energy of Jesus to the world where we are, bringing the gifts we have been given to share with all?
Perhaps this time of Lenten reflection is an opportunity to clear out the temple and refresh.
Lent 1, 21.1.21
Text: Mark 1.9 – 15.
Rev Paul Cannon
Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.
But what is wilderness? The common understanding is that wilderness is a natural space little touched by humans. It can be forest, tundra, desert, or scrubland.
The term wilderness was taken from the word wild, so wilderness is a place of wildness.
If you’ve camped out in the wilderness you will know that there are certain common feelings and experiences. The smells of nature, earth, eucalypts, wattles, gimlets. The quietness. The night sky. The horizon.
There are a set of qualities about the wilderness that we really enjoy but which also can be daunting. There is little or no phone coverage, few people and no shops. It can feel totally isolating, and some people cannot face the wilderness for that reason.
This is the wilderness, the wild place that Jesus enters.
The spirit forces him into this place, the place which John the Baptist has also been formed for his ministry.
And so God allows for Jesus dwell in the wilderness without any supports, where he is tested by Satan.
I wonder if you have been to that other wilderness? The interior wilderness?
It is a place inside ourselves that we are sometimes reluctant to go, but sometimes we are pushed there.
Like the natural wilderness, the interior wilderness is both a positive and negative experience, either way it is a place of deep learning.
You might know the place I’m talking about?
It’s the place where your prayer goes dry, worship feels difficult, your normal routines feel just little empty, and God seems to be silent.
The communities of the desert knew this experience, and amazingly, they even went into the physical desert in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries in order to engage intentionally with this experience.
St. Anthony, one of the first to go, and one of the first to live as a solitary, spoke of how the Christian community had become soft, comfortable, and had lost its edge. The idea was to journey into the desert and create a place and time to encounter God in deeper ways by facing self.
The desert communities are famous for rediscovering contemplative prayer which evolved into what we Christian meditation. They practiced intentional community, they worked to support themselves, they developed spiritual direction, and became sought after teachers of the gospel.
For those who went into the deserts of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Israel, and Saudi Arabia it was a very rich time of exploring their relationship with God, each other, finding renewed purpose and growing into a mature faith.
People travelled from all over Europe just to hear these men and women teach and help with questions of faith living. Their teachings are still as valid today as they were then.
The practice of personal prayer, meditation, regular reading, community accountability, spiritual direction, and taking time for retreat and quiet days comes from the inspiration of this period. It inspired monasticism in Europe.
As to whether it is negative or positive depends very much on how we look at it, and whether or not we engage God during it.
It is a place of deprivation, isolation, challenge and potential change. It is a place of temptation and testing. Have you ever noticed when you’re out bush that some of the first things you miss are the connection with others, and then all the things you would normally be doing aren’t possible.
Some of the spiritual greats talk about the long months and years of dryness and discomfort, but also of the great release when change has finally been enabled, when prayer has been given time to work.
But if we don’t engage it with God then how will we deal with ego, temptation, selfishness, individualism, dryness, comfortability, and immaturity of faith?
The inner wilderness can be equally withering, dry, miserable and worrying. Or, it can be seen as a door to God, a place to listen, a place to pray, a place to rediscover purpose, and a place to accept real change in ourselves.
The world we live in is a place that is fast paced, where everything can be bought quickly and controlled. But the inner wilderness cannot be so easily contained nor can it be bought.
The wilderness we enter within is not always a place where can order up what we want, we cannot manufacture our spirituality, or control it, it has to be an experience, it must be a living experience. That sort of wilderness is life-giving, and it is a deep and rich experience.
If you really want to grow in faith you have to make time with God, and you have to spend some time within yourself facing what is there. You have to engage challenge and change otherwise you just get stuck and that becomes comfortable but it doesn’t really go anywhere. You have to ask, what is it that holds me back, what is my temptation, what am I wrestling with? You’d be surprised – many people are completely unaware of these questions for their life.
If we run away from an inner wilderness it will never resolve, we have to be patient and allow God to bring to light that which is worth keeping and that which we must let go.
Remember that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, remember too that Jesus chose to stay until the work of the wilderness was finished. We don’t always choose to enter our wildernesses, we don’t volunteer for pain, loss, danger, but the wilderness happens, whether it comes to us in the guise of a hospital waiting room, a difficult relationship, a troubled child, grief, a crippling panic attack, the wilderness appears, uninvited, unwelcome at our doorstep.
Does this mean God wills bad things? Not at all. Does it mean that God can redeem even the most difficult and awkward, barren times of our lives? Yes, absolutely. Does it mean that our deserts can become holy even though they are sometimes dangerous and dispiriting? I think it does.
Lent is an opportunity to take time to refresh aspects of our faith walk. It is a time to acknowledge our wildernesses, to look evil in the face and to acknowledge its allure and place in our lives, to acknowledge who we are and what we struggle with, to acknowledge our humanness – our vulnerability, our hunger, that we are beloved. And, in the end, to turn, and turn, and turn to Christ, who knows our inner wildernesses.
Lent is a time to stay and face ourselves in the wildness, and discover what we need from God, and to know what God has already given to us in Jesus – his love!
Text: Mark 9.2 - 9
Rev Paul Cannon
This moment on the mountain must have been astounding for Peter, James and John. Fishermen from Judea who have chosen to leave their trade and follow this rabbi Jesus. And, as was his custom, Jesus wanted to go up a mountain to pray.
Why a mountain? Who knows, but we do know that Jesus sought to find places of quiet so he could withdraw for prayer, and my guess is there were less interactions with people up mountains, because it takes some effort to get up one. So perhaps the perfect quiet day place to be.
In the midst of Jesus praying, I note that Peter, James and John are simply observing, they are not praying but quietly standing by, when the astounding event of transfiguration takes place.
Transfiguration is not a common everyday word, but we understand figure and disfigure, so we understand the significance of transfigure. Something has happened physically to Jesus. He is described as transfigured and his clothes were also dazzling white as no earthly bleach could make them. So we learn that his body is dramatically changed be fore them. Matthew fills in one small detail, he tells us that Jesus’ face shone like the sun. Amazing!
This is not a disfiguring or a reconfiguring, this is a total transformation of Jesus in this moment.
Years ago in a parish I had the joy in knowing a man who suffered from psychotic episodes, he was part of a program that Lyn coordinated fro people with psychiatric disability. His name was Marcel, he was a giant of man. Marcel later took his life, but while he was around he was a delight. He was illiterate, confused, he was bullied and ridiculed in the community. But on Sunday morning when he came into the eucharist, usually late, he would saunter down to the front and join in. He couldn’t read but he had learned some of the songs and hymns and parts of the liturgy.
This man who was deeply burdened with his pain and rejection would be transfigured before us.
When we came to the Great Thanksgiving Marcel would light up, his face certainly shone like the sun. And he was alive and different before us. He would mimic my actions, and speak my words with ecstatic joy, it was a powerful thing to witness. And then it was over, but he was encouraged, and so was I and many others in that congregation.
Clearly this is about what is going on inside the person, in my view the Holy Spirit was alive and kicking in Marcel differently to how it worked in me. I can feel it, but it beamed out of him.
Jesus is transfigured from the inside and it therefore shows on the outside. What is it? It is very much about a moment of deep connection with God in such a way that the person is overcome, ecstatic, blown away and their senses react accordingly.
Of course there are those who don’t understand feelings, emotion and ecstatic response.
And there are those who sense its importance but don’t know how to respond.
Peter falls in to the latter group. He can see Jesus transfigured, he is awed by the presence of Moses and Elijah.
We learn that Peter, James and John are terrified, this is no ordinary experience, it is beyond them. And speaking for the group Peter speaks out of his awe and terror. Where do we go when we are uncertain or terrified or disgruntled? We go to what we know, what we consider safe and so we go to control.
Peter unwittingly wants to control the moment. He wants to memorialise the event. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and for Elijah.”
Peter wants to locate the moment and preserve it for posterity. I often wonder if Jesus had crushing headaches dealing Peter who was always missing the point. The reason Peter misses the point is his need to deal with his fear and the shock of the event. But also, Peter needs to deal with his need to control the moment. Jesus doesn’t need a memorial, nor does he need to be placed alongside Moses and Elijah as if they are somehow equal.
For Peter, if he controls the moment it makes it alright, smooth, predictable, and manageable.
If they make a shrine, they can return to it once a week or once a year, whatever, and pay their respects and remember the moment.
Of course there’s an old sermon pathway to critiquing churches through this story. And in some ways it is perfect, particularly in regard to our seeming need to have plaques on things. But fortunately we have stopped doing that.
I think this passage is far deeper than just that. It asks us some probing questions.
Before we laugh at or dismiss Peter, how like Peter are we? That old saying rings true, let go and let God, which simply asks that we let go of such control that even God cannot speak into our lives.
Note how Peter is lost in the past, and immediately wants to create another past moment. Jesus is not dismissive of the past but he is not vested in it, nor does he live in the future, he lives in the present moment. Peter cannot do that, not yet. Where are we?
Peter wants to get on with building and maintaining a shrine, is that the sum of spiritual experience?
Deeper still, Peter cannot fathom the meaning or experience of Transfiguration, but rather than engage with it he runs from it. I wonder how close God gets to us before we run away? How much the Spirit is working to transform us and we are resisting, because we dare not trust God to effect something in us. How many of us are fearful of being overcome in an ecstatic moment, the inability to let go and experience joy.
In this moment God finally intervenes. “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my son the Beloved; listen to him.”
God is in the present moment. And God is not interested in shrines or whatever is going on for Peter. God’s answer is that Peter should listen to Jesus. Not talk at Jesus, or tell Jesus, or direct him, simply Listen. This is, for me, the key to this passage. God’s response to our questions, our anxieties, our difficulties, even our need to control, or even our apathy, is Listen to Jesus. It is in listening we find direction and purpose, and we can open ourselves to being transformed.
Through Peter’s lesson, we have a call to open ourselves to the Spirit by listening carefully to what God wants for us. How open are you, how closely are you listening?
Epiphany 4, 31.1.21
Text: Mark 1.21 – 28
Rev Paul Cannon
Until now Mark has told us that Jesus was walking along the sea of Galilee. Then quite specifically Mark tells us that Jesus goes on to Capernaum. Capernaum was a sizeable community formed around the fishing the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus will make this his home base to work from.
And then on the Sabbath, Jesus goes to the synagogue, where he ends up teaching the people there.
Already we can note that Jesus is gaining credibility from the comment that he is “as one who spoke and taught with authority” which puts him alongside Moses and the prophets. Jesus is somebody, he carries an authority.
The people were astounded.
What Mark is trying to convey here is that, for a robust group of Jews who love to argue the fine points and to wrangle meaning, they have not been able to push back against Jesus but instead are enthralled with his teaching.
This is important because his status and authority lays the ground for what he does in this encounter with the man with an unclean spirit, and how it is understood by the people. For Mark, this is the critical moment of the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry – his authority, and as demonstrated over unclean spirits nonetheless.
Now what is also of real interest is the description of the man.
In the Greek we would read that the man Jesus encounters is a man possessed. The Greek tells us something particular about the possession of this man.
The Man was possessed IN an unclean spirit. He is a man in an unclean spirit!
In other words, the man was trapped in an unclean spirit, a little bit like being in a cage.
Jesus brings out in this encounter how we are not the possession, we are not the sickness, we are not the disease. We are certainly affected by it all, but we are not those things. We are separate from what we suffer from.
This was brought out in recent research about addiction.
The American Government along with other governments around the world began a War on Drugs back in the late 1970s. The thinking then was based on flawed scientific testing. Flawed because it was not thorough, it relied on a very narrow view. The thinking then believed that the drug was the problem.
Later it became another narrow view, that the person predisposed to addiction, but that has also been shown to be flawed or bad science. This theory said that the person was the problem.
New research is showing that neither the drug nor the person is the problem. The drug clearly affects a person where it becomes their cage, a possession if you like where the cage possesses you. But the problem is not the person.
Extensive research is showing that where people turn to drugs they are lacking in supportive family, community, and also lacking in purpose. The basic thing missing in many who turn to drugs is a loving family and loving community. Mind you that is a hard road to hoe, it is demanding and full of pitfalls, but it is shown to work.
The old way was to blame the drug and the person and prosecute them as criminals. But that spectacularly failed. Though I note that we still resort to blame and punishment in our system.
However, research is showing that when people on drugs are placed in loving environments they return to health. Through community they can escape their cage. And where they find a purpose they also heal.
Jesus is saying to this man, its not you its your cage that is the problem.
And so Jesus talks to the spirit. Not to the man but to the spirit who has caged this man. And he sets the man free of the cage of this spirit. Jesus also does this, as with other healings and exorcisms, in community. On this occasion Jesus exorcises the man in the synagogue among a crowd, a community.
Here is the man’s future, a community where he is already a member but who can embrace and support him in his new found freedom. And again I note, that Jesus never blames the person for their condition, Jesus always treats the symptoms and the root cause.
This story also tells us something about Jesus. Firstly he sees us through the eyes of love, through the eyes of his creating father who said of his own act of creation, “It is good.” He sees us and yet doesn’t see us as the problem.
In setting the man free of his cage, Jesus also demonstrates his power and authority. The spirit confronts Jesus. “What to you and me?” The English simplifies it to “What do you want with us?”
But the Greek puts it more like: “Don’t we know each other? What are you going to do son of God? Destroy us?” The spirit tries to engage Jesus as if they have common ground. But Jesus will have none of it and silences the spirit and then removes the spirit from the man.
The word used to silence, also means to honour. Which means that Jesus took the spirit seriously, he didn’t dismiss it, he didn’t treat it with contempt but with authority and power.
So much so that the people were amazed that he was able to command the spirit, and with authority. And as a result Jesus becomes famous, he is now well known across the region because people are amazed by his authority and power.
So the story is directly about two things, it is about an exorcism and it is about the ability of Jesus to perform the exorcism.
But the story is much more at a deeper level. It asks us to trust Jesus. Here he demonstrates his authority, showing that we can trust him. He can do as he teaches.
It uses the exorcism to show that there is nothing that, as St. Paul says in Romans, can separate us from the love of God, not even unclean spirits.
But most importantly, this story shows us how Jesus values people. He sees the person and doesn’t define anyone by what they suffer. For Jesus no one is defined by their problem or addiction, their illness or disease. Jesus simply sees people who need healing, releasing, freeing from whatever cage they are encased in.
Jesus also sees that people need more than just healing. He sees that people need to continue in their new-found health with purpose and within community. Purpose give hope and focus, community is about love and support.
So, this story is about God’s love for us, a love that we can trust as much as his authority and power, because that love is the motivation for God’s dealing with us as we have need.
The story is also asking us a question. What cage are we trapped in? And it offers us the way of escape, turn to Jesus and trust in him.
It also offers something to us, community the place of love and purpose, but only if we choose to make it so, together.
Give your cage to Jesus so that he can begin to help you find release, healing and purpose.