The third Sunday of Lent – March 7th 2021

This weeks Roots activity sheet for children is available here

Welcome

Good morning – wherever you are, welcome to our online service today.

All around us there are signs of preparation, hope and new life.  The bulbs are poking through the ground and there are early signs of new life on some the trees as they prepare for Spring and we look forward to warmer and longer days.  The recent roadmap announcement and rollout of the vaccine programme gives us hope that we can prepare to be with family and friends again.

But for Christians, this season of Lent is primarily a time of preparation and reflection as we look forward to the celebration of Easter.  So let us start our service today with a prayer of preparation.

Opening prayer
Holy God, as we meet together today,
we ask that you renew our love for you.
Open our eyes to see fresh things,
open our ears to hear with more clarity,
open our minds to recognise new ideas –
that we may be willing to grow and change
and to become more like your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Confession
Father, we are only too well aware
that we are not the people you meant us to be.
We are not living the kind of life that you created us to live,
and our words and thoughts and deeds
are not bringing you the glory they were designed to do.
Forgive us Father,
for the way that through our plans and dreams and choices we damage your world,
we hurt each other
and we create a barrier between ourselves and you.
We ask that you will not only forgive us
but that by the power of your Holy Spirit
You will cleanse and renew us
For Christ’s sake

Amen

© David Clowes, 500 Prayers for All Occasions, 2003, Kingsway Communications

 

Worship

Praise

Word

Sometimes it can help to imagine yourself in a situation, to see in your mind’s eye the setting of a story or, in this case, an event in the life of Jesus.  So you may want to think about the sights and sounds of the temple, the huge crowds, the heat of the day, the smell of the animals etc.   Below is a link to a dramatisation of our reading from John 2 which you may like to play, either with the sound down as your read the Word of God, or to watch separately.

https://www.bible.com/videos/25299-cleaning-the-temple

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “ Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

John 2
13-22 (NRSV)

The clearing of the temple in the Synoptic Gospels comes at the beginning of Holy Week, on the Monday.  And yet John places it at the start of his gospel.  Today we are going to look at three things:

  1. What was John trying to say by putting this event at the start of his gospel?
  2. What message was Jesus giving by clearing the temple?

and

  1. What was Jesus saying when he talked about My Father’s house and building the temple in three days?

But first of all, let’s set the scene.  Whether this took place at the Passover of Holy Week, as most scholars believe, or whether John refers to a separate event that happened three years earlier is, to a certain extent, irrelevant.  The situation was the same.  Jerusalem was a boiling cauldron of religious fervour and political unrest.

Until the destruction of the temple in AD70 it used to be a requirement for Jews to visit Jerusalem three times a year for festivals, the most important of which was Passover.  It is estimated that the population of the city swelled from around 50,000 people to up to 180,000 – all of whom had to be fed, watered and housed somewhere.  And most of these people also came with the single idea of sacrificing in accordance with their tradition.

In addition, knowing just what a tinder box this could be, the Romans increased their presence in the city by bringing in additional soldiers from Caesarea Maritima.  The pressure on the city and for those who ran the temple were immense.

So, let’s go back to our first question – why did John place this event at the beginning of his gospel?

In John, the temple scene makes a claim for Jesus’ authority right at the beginning of his ministry.  It was an authority ultimately based in his identity as God’s Son.  This theme of Jesus’ divinity can be found throughout John’s gospel.  The story immediately prior to this is the wedding in Cana – another example of what John saw as heaven coming down to earth – echoing his opening gospel statement of the ‘Word made flesh’.

In many ways the Synoptic gospels emphasise more of the history of Jesus’ life and ministry but John emphasises the theology behind his life. John doesn’t always follow the same timeline of events and stories as the other gospels and it would be more in character for John rather than the other gospel writers to move the story out of sequence.  However, we should be aware that in Mark, Luke and Matthew, Jesus only visits Jerusalem once, whereas in John he makes several journeys.  So, whilst we cannot be 100% certain, it seems likely that John moved this event to the start of  his gospel, or conflated two separate events, to establish important themes at the outset of his writing.

Moving on to the second question, what message was Jesus giving by clearing the temple?

This event is often used as an example of Jesus showing human emotion – of getting angry and responding to something that he believed to be wrong.  So did Jesus simply get to the end of his tether and lose his temper or, as one commentator said, have a hissy fit, or was there more to it?  In Mark’s gospel it says that Jesus visited the temple and went back the following day.  In John’s he took the time to make a whip from cords.  So in neither version was this anger a knee jerk reaction but something that was measured and deliberate.

The temple being a hive of activity was nothing new – it’s not like we would expect at one of our huge cathedrals for example.  At Passover in particular it would have been heaving.  Many pilgrims would have sold their animals and then bought the money with them to buy unblemished animals to sacrifice rather than risk taking them to Jerusalem– it was normal standard practice.  And if you could not afford an animal then you would buy a dove but sacrifice was part of the Passover ritual.  And you had to buy that sacrifice in the accepted coinage – hence the money changers.

So Jesus could not have been objecting to the actual transactions that happened in order for the Jews to meet their ritual obligations.   And as a law abiding Jew this practice would have been something he was probably already used to. He could hardly have reached the age of 30 without doing so. So what was it he was objecting to?

An interesting fact I came across whilst preparing this was that traditionally the larger animals, particularly the lambs and goats, had been kept in the Kidron valley just outside Jerusalem.  But Caiphas who was the High Priest, in a direct slight to the Sanhedrin, had recently allowed these to be brought into the Court of the Gentiles making an already busy, noisy, dangerous and overwhelmingly smelly place, even worse.  It is interesting to note that in none of the four versions does anyone other than the priests object to Jesus’ actions so maybe other people also found this offensive.

So could Jesus have been objecting partly to the fact the Court of the Gentiles, to whom Jesus had also come as Saviour and with whom he spent time, was now nothing more than an overcrowded, exploitative market place? He does actually declare “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market! “ Could it be partly that the levels of commerce and extortive prices meant that the required rituals had become a lucrative money earning process totally undermining the purpose of the sacrifice.  Or could it be that Jesus was appalled that the temple, the place that the Jews saw as central to their cultural identity and their faith, as that is where God resided, was being defiled in such a concerted way.  It was probably a mixture of all three.  The system was being abused, people exploited and disrespect shown to God. Jesus responds passionately and ruthlessly drives the traders from the Temple.

So let’s move to our last question.  What was Jesus saying when he talked about My Father’s house and building the temple in three days?

The phrase “My house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers – is almost word for word the same in the Synoptic gospels when recounting this story.  It is only in the John version that the phrase ‘My father’s house’ is used and it is the first time that Jesus identifies God as his Father.  Again, John is highlighting the divinity of Jesus.  Interestingly the religious leaders did not pick up on this and yet it would have been considered quite heretical.

They were more concerned with a practical question.  It wasn’t a protest about what had happened but how was Jesus going to prove his authority to take such an action.  And Jesus’ response led to another question – how on earth could Jesus claim to rebuild the temple, which had already taken 46 years to build and was not yet complete, in only three days.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it?  As we saw in our reading it was only with the benefit of hindsight that the disciples themselves understood that Jesus had been talking about himself when he talked about rebuilding the temple but neither they, nor the Jews (which in this case means the religious leaders) understood it at the time.  In this reading Jesus is suggesting that if they were to tear down the temple he could rebuild it in three days – in the other gospels one of the charges against Jesus was that he had actually threatened to destroy the temple. 

The religious leaders did not grasp that Jesus was talking about himself and his resurrection – you can hardly blame them.  Indeed it was only after the resurrection that the disciples put two and two together.  Not only that the temple, the place where God lived, was personified in Jesus and everyone could access the Holy Place, not just the High Priest, but that sacrifice was no longer needed as Jesus had paid the ultimate price..

So in this reading we see not the meek, mild and sickly sweet Jesus that is sometimes portrayed.  Instead we see the disruptive Jesus:

  • John emphasises that Jesus is God incarnate and that God will no longer reside in a temple building but is present in the person of Jesus who has come to replace the temple as the place of atonement.
  • Jesus challenges the practices of the time, disrupts the normal religious routines and challenges what it means to worship God
  • Jesus points to his death and resurrection, the most disruptive act in history

As you think about these things, you may like to consider the questions posed in the Response section below.

Jesus disrupts situations, perceptions and people and invariably leads to change.

  • For us as individuals what practices, rituals and thoughts does Jesus need to overturn and drive out?
  • Just how disruptive has Jesus been in our lives?
  • Can it be argued that we only prefer change on our terms?

The last 12 months has seen one of the biggest disruptions to all our lives in recent years.  As we move out of lockdown, what would you want the new normal to look like?

Witness

Prayers of Intercession

Lord of the universe,
we pray for our world broken by persecution, warfare and strife.
We commend to you the Uighur people in China,
the people of Myanmar, the people of Yemen.

You desire harmony within and between nations;
you yearn for everyone to know security and safety.

Lord of the world and the church:
bring healing and peace.

Lord of the poor and the rich,
we pray for those who live and labour in developing countries
paid less than the amount they need to survive.
We commend to your tender love those who are exploited,
children who are paid pennies, those who work in sweatshops.

You desire justice for all people;
you yearn for all people to be treated fairly and equitably.

Lord of the world and the church:
bring healing and peace.

Lord of the doctor and the patient,
we pray for our world at this time of pandemic.
We commend to you those who are suffering as a result of Covid-19;
those who are working to combat the Brazilian mutation;
those who are frightened and stressed out.

You desire wholeness and health for all people;
you yearn for an end to the pandemic.

Lord of the world and the church:
bring healing and peace.

Lord of the chapel and the cathedral,
we pray for all places of worship throughout the world.
We commend to you caretakers and cleaners, treasurers and guides.

You desire holiness in your children
and in the places in which they worship.

Lord of the world and the church:
bring healing and peace. 

Lord of all in need,
we bring to you the prayers of our hearts.
We commend to you those about whom we are especially concerned.

You desire that your children care for one another.

Lord of the world and the church:
bring healing and peace.

In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

Copyright 2002-2021, ROOTS for Churches Ltd. All rights reserved. 

Close

Closing Prayer

May our words and thoughts be always acceptable to you,
may our deeds and actions be always worthy of you,
and may our lives show forth your love in the world.
Amen.

As we end our service today you may like to use this song as a final prayer.  A prayer that we draw closer to Jesus, that we learn to know Him and love Him more.

The Grace

So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirt
be with us all
this day and for evermore

Amen

Community

The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.

The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.

“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”

The Wardens of All Saints Totley have been producing regular newsletters with helpful links, thoughts and resources. The latest of these is here.

We have also started to add resources for the younger members of our church, to add to this virtual service. They can be found here, and here.

Reminder

If you have any feedback on this service or any other ideas, suggestions or contributions, for future services please do send these to comments@allsaintstotley.church