3 March, Temple

In today’s Gospel Story (John 2:13-25) Jesus went to the temple and “found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there”. He got upset, threw over the money changers tables and drove them all out of the temple, saying, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Originally the temple was a place for people to come to be in the presence of Yahweh, but by the time Jesus came among us, the temple institution system, instead of welcoming the people into God’s presence, had put itself between the people and Yahweh, saying “if you want to get to Yahweh you have to go through us, and we will tell you the only way to do it”. It had come up with a system of requirements to please their god, eg sacrifices, taxes, offerings, etc, which required people to buy the animals for sacrifices from temple approved contractors, and this had become a pretty good money making business for the temple system. Jesus criticized this practice and drove the merchants out.

When our idea of God is a Person out there somewhere watching us, there is room for abuse. Many religious traditions today have adopted similar ways of getting between the people and God. Whereas Jesus reached out to everybody, these traditions claiming to act in Jesus’ name, with their self-appointed enforcers, have become self-servingly creative in keeping the “undesirables” out. They have varying rules for who can get in, each claiming theirs is the only true way to God. How many of these have anything to do with God and are more about keeping folks in line, maintaining order and control within the system? How many good folks believe that keeping the rules of a given religious tradition is more important than being open to the call of the Gospel in their own life? How many have suffered because they felt the Spirit was calling them in a direction that a religious institution did not approve of? How many people who, like all of us, are created in God’s image, are labeled as “intrinsically disordered” simply because of how they see themselves or who they love?

Pope Francis said this past week, “God has his own math which is different from ours”. God sees things differently from the way we see things. He looks at and loves, while we look at and judge, categorize, etc. Francis is calling us to be a church that listens to everybody to get an appreciation for what life is everywhere, to have more questions than pat answers, to become more aware of the Spirit happening in unexpected places and situations, to realize no religion has all the answers for everybody about everything. He reminds us the Gospel does not change, but our understanding of the Gospel and how it calls us to live is always a work in progress. Some see this as a threat to how they understand God. Francis says todos, todos, todos, —all, all, all, are welcome in the church, that in the church there is room for “everyone, everyone, everyone.” So many would convert the church into a customs office” where only the “just,” “good,” and “properly married” can enter while leaving everyone else outside.” Am I willing to really listen? Am I open to learning in areas beyond where I feel comfortable, safe, and in control? Are there forbidden areas where I am afraid to go because Abba might call me to something I don’t want, or maybe even fear? Am I focused on having my own way and making it all about me? 

What I can, and must, do is look at myself and ask if I am doing any of what I criticize the institution for doing. In the Psalm we pray, “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life”, and in the Gospel Verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life”. Am I living this or just talking it? The Gospel is about how Abba is calling me to be, not about what others should do so I feel more comfortable. I certainly have more questions than answers. The answers I had and was comfortable with were, in retrospect, really about my comfort, and had little bearing on how others were trying to make the best out of life that can be difficult. Hopefully I’m still learning somehow — wandering and wondering.

Francis reminds us that the role of the church is to help people be aware of God happening in their lives, and not try to control access to God. Am I trying to do either of these? So many people have been taught, as I was, that God is far away somewhere watching us, and we have to please this God at all costs or we will be miserable. We have to go through the church to get to this God. But when our own experience lets us know God not as out there, but as intimately involved in and with us in everything, we begin to see things differently, which is a threat to some. Each of us as we are exists in God, and God is intimately personal to each of us as we are here and now. In our tradition all our practices and beliefs would lead us to God if we take the chance and go where these point us, in other words go beyond the letter of what they say to the reality where they would lead us. Real Presence becomes a dynamic and living experience, not just a thought or a key object. Abba is involved in every part of the life journey of each of us, not as a manipulator but as a companion. This happens in ways we learn only from our experience, which for many of us can be painful but that leads, when we let it, to great joy and peace. Nothing has to change for this to happen, except our openness and willingness to be led, and perhaps having to face others who don’t like where our journey is taking us.

God loves us as we are, where we are. Where we are here and now is the only place we can be for the next step on our journey. This goes for me too. I have a lot of letting go to do. Not sure how or what. Everybody in my life has the right and the need to be there because in the providence of Abba we need each other. Now, where to go with this, I have no idea. Wandering, wondering, doubting is part of a living faith.  Just sayin  .  .  .