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What is at the heart of worship?

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Third Sunday of Epiphany – January 21, 2018

John 2:13-25 and Psalm 127:1-2

Murphy’s Law—you all remember it, don’t you? It simply states,”If anything can go wrong, it will.” There are quite a few variations of that law, such as, “Buttered toast, when falling to the floor, will always fall face down.” But have you heard about the time the toast fell to the floor, and to the amazement of the family, it landed buttered side up. Well apparently the scientists were called in to analyze it. Did this really refute Murphy’s Law, which would say that “buttered toast, will always fall buttered side down”?

The scientists secured the kitchen, told everybody not to touch anything. They took pictures and brought in their instruments, weighed and analysed everything. Then they created a computer model, tested it. And eventually the conclusion was reached that Murphy’s Law was indeed intact. The woman had simply buttered the toast on the wrong side.

You see, we love laws. Laws give us the assurance of an orderly universe, where there is consistency and order. When there is consistency and order, then there is predictability. If the bread always falls with the buttered side down, then we know what to expect from life, and we aren’t going to get our hopes up. Life is much more comfortable for us when there are no surprises.

There’s another law. It’s not as well known as Murphy’s Law. It’s a law of logic, called the Law of the Excluded Middle. Aristotle invented it, and students of logic have memorised it for thousands of years. It says, “A cannot be both A and B at the same time.” That is to say, something cannot be hot and cold at the same time. It can’t be true and false at the same time. It can’t be left and right simultaneously. It cannot be right and wrong at the same time. And you can’t be enslaved and free at the same time.

The Law of the Excluded Middle, “A cannot be both A and B at the same time.” The only problem is, sometimes it can be. You and I are often two things at the same time. We are in fact a bit of good and a bit of bad. We can be both proud and humble. We are both sinner and saint. We are both enslaved and free.

The surprising thing in our scripture reading from John chapter two, lies in what Jesus was saying about the temple that He cleanses: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Logically the Jews reply: “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it in three days?” When the writer of the fourth gospel then deftly continues, “But He (Jesus) was speaking of the temple of his body.” This is when everything gets turned inside out. There’s a topsy turvy twist to John’s narrative. Is this a temple, or is it a physical human body that’s being discussed? John is telling it in a way that points to both at the same time as a way of bringing out a truth on a deeper level.

The story of cleansing the temple contradicts our understanding of who Jesus is. This is not the Good Shepherd, who gathers up all the lambs in his bosom and takes them home. Not in this story.

I can remember my Junior youth days at church what a problem this story was for the teacher.  It was a delight for free thinking sixteen year olds in that class, who loved to point out that this couldn’t be the same Jesus who told us to “turn the other cheek.” Here He is, chasing people around the Temple with a whip.

So what do we say about this story? What do we do with it? We could ignore it, pretend it isn’t there. We could rationalise it.

One way to handle this story of the temple cleansing might well be to ask, “What if Jesus showed up here?” What if Jesus showed up at Dayspring Church in Edmonton? I think He would look around, and say, “Nice place. Real neat and a good size. You can get a lot of sheep in here.” Then I don’t know, would He say, “Destroy this temple.”

“But Jesus., we’ve built this over the last forty-nine years.”

But would He consider that or would He say “Destroy this church and I will raise it up.”

The church according to the John’s account cannot contain God. When God acted to save the world, God didn’t do it in a church or a temple. He did it on a cross, at a place outside the city where they execute criminals, and in a graveyard where people weep. The church cannot contain God. All the church can do is point to God. So if what goes on in here points to God, then it’s okay. If not, get rid of it.

What if while Jesus was at Dayspring Church He filled out some form of attendance card? Would He check “Member” or “Visitor”? Is Jesus a Presbyterian? What if Jesus checked “Visitor” or “Member of another denomination”?

Sometimes we get feedback we don’t want to hear. I wonder what Jesus would write on the back of a visitor card if we asked for comments about the minister? It might be awkward. Jesus might say to the clergy, “Shape up!”

And what might Jesus say to all of us, to the congregation? Have you ever thought about that? Maybe that is why John put this story in the gospel, so we would ask ourselves these tough questions. It can transfer into our homes as well. I have one last story about a French pastor who was appointed to a new parish in a little village. He started out by calling on people in their homes. He called on one couple but only the wife was home. When the husband returned that night, she told him of the visit from the minister.  The husband asked, “What did he want?”

She said, “He asked, ‘Does Christ live here?'”

The man said, “I hope that you told him that we are respectable, God-fearing people.”

She said, “He didn’t ask that. He simply asked, ‘Does Christ live here?’”

“We attend church every Sunday. I hope you pointed out to him that we go to church every Sunday.”

“He didn’t ask that. All he asked was, ‘Does Christ live here?’”

The cleansing of the temple story gets right to the heart of worship and prayer. It begs the question, ‘what would it be like if Christ showed up in our church or in our home.’ Would He find what He is looking for? Would Jesus find what He ultimately wants us to cultivate in us?  Do A and B have to be mutually exclusive or can we somehow be both A and B on our faith journey?


Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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