How is your worship?

Text: John 2:15,16
So Jesus made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins; and he ordered those who sold the pigeons, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

What is it that really burns you up?  What really stirs you up and gets you angry? Some people say that all anger is sinful.  It’s true a lot of anger may lead to saying and doing things that are harmful, there is also good anger.  Good anger comes as an expression of love and concern.

Today we hear of Jesus being angry.  The anger that Jesus felt that day grew out of his love for his Father and love for the people he saw in the temple and concern for what their worship had come to mean.  It is because of the intensity of his passion that we see Jesus so stirred up.

Jesus has just performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana where he turned water into wine.  In fact John doesn’t call it a miracle; he calls Jesus’ miracles ‘signs’.
They are signs that God is doing something new; a new age is dawning on this world.
They are signs that the Messiah has come and that God is about to reveal his glory and do some powerful things as he demonstrates his love.
They are signs that a new order has come to replace the old.
They signs that things will never be the same again.

Jesus’ first interaction with the public in John’s Gospel takes place in the temple.  He causes a furore and people question his messianic authority and ask for a sign.  The sign Jesus gives is a prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection.

Can you visualise the scene?  Jesus has entered the temple courtyard and it looks like a market place crowded with people selling and buying and money changing hands.  As Jesus watches all this he is outraged.  He makes a whip from some rope and drives out the animals from the courtyard, overturns the tables sending the coins of the money changers spilling on to the ground.  “Get these out of here,” he shouts. “This is place of prayer.  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market! ” 

By the way, we aren’t talking about Jesus driving out a couple of animals from the courtyard.  During the Passover thousands of lambs as well as oxen and pigeons were slaughtered in the temple. So you see the temple courtyard would have resembled a huge animal market.   And as Jesus cleared all of these out, it was the maddest and angriest anyone had ever seen Jesus.

But you see, the problem is not only that Jesus is really mad, but he is in the temple when he gets so angry.  And it’s the time of the Passover – the great celebration of the liberation of Israel from Egyptian slavery.  This is the highest, happiest feast of Israel’s year.

The temple was the place where the nation gathered to be close to God. The temple is that place where they remembered God; they came there to be with God. Everyone is happy to be here at Passover in the temple for this festival occasion.  What a contrast this is to the anger of Jesus, whip in hand, overturning tables and shouting, “Get out of here!”

A while ago we heard the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament reading.  On this occasion Jesus doesn’t get red hot about adultery, he doesn’t get mad because the people in the temple were stealing, he doesn’t get furious because of covetousness or lack of respect for parents.

He attacked their worship. He assaulted their religion.  He isn’t attacking the Pharisees for their legalism, or the scribes for their snobbishness.  He isn’t assaulting unbelievers, he is attacking believers.  Here he barges in and attacks the religious for their religion, for the way they have perverted the worship of God.

John quite deliberately places this story in chapter 2 of his gospel because a new thing is breaking into this world.  The temple with its sacrifices and superficial worship has had its day.  Jesus explains it this way to the Samaritan woman,
“Believe me, the time is coming when you won’t worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. … The time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-26).

We are in the Lenten season and this is a time of self-examination.  Jesus cleansing of the temple leads us to ask ourselves,
“Does our worship need cleansing and renewing?”
“What does this ‘sign’ say to us about how we worship and our attitude toward worship”.  This is a text that leads the religious to examine their religion.

We are supposed to come here to meet God, to spend time with God and be touched by God and healed by God.
We are supposed to come here to recall the great things God has done in our lives this past week and celebrate with thanksgiving how God has rescued us from slavery to sin and given us a new land, a home in heaven with him forever.
We are supposed to be here to let the God who loves us touch our lives in his Word and the Sacrament, assure us of his love and send us out into the world to make a difference.
We are supposed to come here with our fellow Christians and be strengthened and reassured in their presence that we are loved and supported and comforted.

But what often happens.  We get out of bed, get dressed, sit in our seat, sing the hymns and songs, fight to keep focussed during the sermon, struggle to concentrate when our legs are aching during the prayers, stand for the benediction, have morning tea … and go home.

When Jesus saw what people had done with the worship life in the Temple he was horrified.  It made Jesus mad, just so mad when he saw what had happened to worship in the temple and what terrible attitudes those worshippers had.  When Jesus looks into the temple of our hearts when we worship, is he also horrified about the way we approach worship?

When he looks into our hearts does he see our reluctance to be here, driven here by our consciences, barely participating in the service and glad it is all over when that last “Amen” is said?
Are we so busy that out of the 168 hours in a week we can’t willingly spare just one hour to come into the presence of God with our fellow believers and celebrate God’s love.

When we come here to this church, do we really worship and celebrate God’s goodness in our lives, or do we just go through the motions sitting, standing, singing, saying the words, and perhaps sleeping, if not physically then spiritually?

When we come here to worship are we aware of what we are doing – that we have come here in the presence of the all-powerful and ever-loving God whose name we call on at the beginning of the service?
When we come here to worship do we have a sense of the absolutely amazing grace of God who has made it possible for us sinners to have the privilege to come before him?
At the temple the worshippers lost sight of just this fact and became more engrossed in other things. Recently I read this about worship:
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews for God will one day take offence…”

There is an element of humour in this, but it is also the truth.  Too often we consider worship as just a yawn.  Just as Jesus took great offence about the way the people were worshipping at the temple, likewise he is also offended by the attitude we have to worship.
The Bible says, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).  We have to admit that “reverence and awe” have been replaced by a yawn.

Isn’t it true that sometimes we lose focus of why we come here?  We lose focus because we are distracted by our feelings about the music, the preacher, the people sitting around us, the person we don’t particularly like sitting a few rows in front of us, you know what I mean.  This is one of Satan’s oldest tricks to get our thoughts and focus away from God and on to things very mundane and extremely distracting.

It happens to me as much as to anyone else – there are times when I don’t like the music, or there’s a distraction, and I admit that sometimes I find certain things that people do in worship off putting but when I’m most annoyed I have to remind myself that we’re all different, we all have different tastes in music, we have different ways of worshipping e.g. some like drama while others like meditation,  but in spite of our differences, in love we join with our fellow brothers and sisters and worship and celebrate our God in the best way we know how.

Remember Paul’s picture of the church as a body.  Every part of the body works together, even in worship.  And besides, God comes to us in his word and Sacraments regardless of what kind of music we have, or what style of liturgy, or what level of understanding we have about what worship is all about.

Jesus cleaned out everything that didn’t belong in the temple.  He cleans out everything that doesn’t belong in our lives including our worship lives here in this church or wherever.

He gave his body and blood for all the insincerity in our worship,
the times we have been driven to worship by conscience but our hearts weren’t in it,
for all the times we have spoken the words and not meant them.
He has given us his body and blood for the times we have sat here and gone home untouched by the Spirit,
for all the times we have given something else a higher priority than coming into the presence of God.

We thank God that he is still cleansing his temple, the temple of our hearts today.  We are made clean by the blood of the Lamb and invited to come and stand in his presence with reverence and awe.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

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