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Turning The Tables

“Turning Tables”

March 3, 2024

John 2:13-22; 

Third Sunday of Lent

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

So I’ve got a little Lenten joke for you not based at all on anything real.

It was mid-March and a couple of friends are talking about Lenten fasting.  The one man tells his friend: I decided to give up procrastination for Lent this year. 

His friend responds:  That’s great. How’s it going for you?

The man says: Yeah, pretty good, you know, I’m still working on it.  

If that joke were less like real life it wouldn’t be nearly as funny.  Here we are in the middle of Lent and we’re talking about how we can use this season as a time to try new spiritual practices.  Try being the operative word.  And after a week of discussing fasting and the hard work of denying the things we depend on the most in order to renew our dependence on God, I gotta say, I’m still working on it, too.  It feels like good and important spiritual work, but it’s hard.  

This week we’re continuing our series exploring a color wheel of spiritual practices, but we’re pivoting a bit.  For the past two weeks we’ve focused on practices that were quite individual.  Waking up to God and Fasting are about shifting your own personal life to stretch and make more room for God.  And this is traditionally what Lent has been about: Personal growth.  Personal lengthening, stretching, as the days lengthen around us.  

The pivot this week is unconventional in Lent tradition.  This week, instead of looking inward to our hearts for growth and change, we look outward toward the public square.  And you thought conventional Lenten practices were hard?  When we turn outward we open ourselves up to a whole different world of temptation, procrastination and apathy. 

It’s hard, and perhaps harder, because the world is big and bringing love to the public square includes some inherent risk.  This is the nature of justice, our spiritual practice for this third week of Lent.  Cornell West famously defined justice as “what love looks like in public.”  It’s not complicated but it feels risky?  How do we bring love into the public?  How do we bring our Christian value of “Love your neighbor as yourself” into the broader world?  What does it look like?  And even more so, perhaps, where do we start?  

Most of you are probably familiar with the popular Christian saying: “What Would Jesus Do?” conveniently abbreviated WWJD so that you could wear it on a necklace or a bracelet as a reminder.  It was really popular in the 90s when I was in elementary school and I remember how it was almost even cool to decorate brightly colored bracelets with the iconic letters WWJD.  As honest as the question is, I really think this pop-Christian WWJD trend was mostly geared toward curbing adolescent mischief. 

And that’s why, with this in mind, it’s now time to show you one of my favorite memes on the subject. 

I like to pull this out and dust it off when we have the privilege of reading the John 2:13-22 account of one particular “What Jesus Did” moment.  

If anyone ever asks you “What Would Jesus Do?” remind them that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.  I’m pretty sure no one really meant that when they encouraged us to make sparkly WWJD bracelets.  

This is all ties together, I promise.  

When we see our discipleship as being only about our own personal relationship with Jesus, whether it’s through WWJD bracelets or Lenten disciplines that never take us outside of our heads, we miss the opportunity to see what Jesus himself was trying to show us in moments like this.  

Sometimes what love looks like in public is this.  Because sometimes when we actually get outside of our heads and the walls of our sanctuaries we see that the public square has gotten pretty … distracted… from love.  

When Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem, he was essentially coming into the public square of his day.  The Temple was the religious and cultural center of life.  Jesus was likely coming there, along with throngs of other worshippers, because it was Passover, a high holiday and ancient traditional gathering celebrating God’s salvation in their exodus from Egypt thousands of years prior.  And so for many centuries traditions around Passover had become formalized and ingrained, in ways any member of any Christian church is already familiar with.  We find ourselves doing certain traditions because it’s what we’ve always done and it’s what we believe we’re supposed to be doing.  And yet the practices themselves had eclipsed the spirit of the tradition itself.  

This is what Jesus walked into.  He’s come to worship but instead he’s confronted in the public square of his faith with traditions that put boundaries around who can worship.  First you had to get your money changed into Temple currency and then you had to buy an unblemished animal to sacrifice.  And no matter the price, you were stuck paying it.  All traditions and rituals that had been encouraged by the Temple leaders, and likely they thought they were doing the right thing.  But it’s amazing how Jesus with his fresh eyes and passion for the spirit of the faith, not the letter of the law, saw this scene.  

To Jesus, this was the opposite of love.  This cheapened God’s house because it put unnecessary hurdles around God’s love.  We don’t have to wonder What Would Jesus Do?  because we know what did Jesus did.  This is one of those rare stories about Jesus that makes it into every Gospel account.  Jesus got angry at the sight of injustice in the public square.   And he didn’t just pray about it.  He also took action.  He disrupted the status quo.  And, not only that, he gave his disruption as a sign of things to come.  The place where we gather to worship will never be a building whose access is controlled by a few and whose traditions become stumbling blocks.  The essence of our worship will be through our God who choose to take on flesh and live among us and with us.  A God incarnate in Jesus Christ who took his love into public by leveling the playing field.  

Jesus valued justice.  And not just the justice of a few, the justice of the whole.  The dignity and equality of all humans, women, children, refugees, those with sickness, those with shame, those with grief, those with nowhere else to turn.  

As Christians, we sell ourselves short when we reduce Jesus to only a personal savior for our own journey to eternal life.  Jesus didn’t just die for our sins, he lived to fight against the sins of society so that barriers could be broken down and tables built longer.  

We spent last week talking about Fasting and the role of intentional denial in a world of over-consumption.  We talked about how easily Fasting can slip into a pursuit of vain goals.  We can become so consumed with our own holiness, that we miss the point.  And that seems to be Jesus’ point today.  But he wasn’t the first to make it.

Centuries before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah said: 

‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?   Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,   and oppress all your workers.Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight   and to strike with a wicked fist.Such fasting as you do today   will not make your voice heard on high.Is such the fast that I choose,   a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,   and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?Will you call this a fast,   a day acceptable to the Lord?

Instead, the prophet Isaiah suggests there is a different approach to this holy life we could take.  

Is not this the fast that I choose:   to loose the bonds of injustice,   to undo the thongs of the yoke,to let the oppressed go free,   and to break every yoke?(Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,   and bring the homeless poor into your house;when you see the naked, to cover them,   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

We are called to spiritual disciplines that not only benefit ourselves, but overturn systems of power and dominance.  We are called to stand up to unloving and unjust practices.  We are called to find everyone who has been excluded by the powerful and bring them to tables that have been flipped so that we can instead eat a meal there together.  

Yulia Nevalnaya spoke out this past week about her husband, Alexei Navalny, who died in inhumane prison conditions at the hands of a Russian government more concerned about its own wealth and power than the health and freedom of its people.  In the face of enormous grief, Yulia shared that her husband Alexei had been a devoted Christian in the Orthodox Church, even when his church had disappointed him.  He followed the fast of his faith community regularly for Lent, even in prison.  We talked about that fast last week, a pretty stark vegan diet.  But that’s not where his fast ended.  Julia Navalnaya said Alexei’s political activism and fight for justice was inspired by his Christian values.  His passion for bringing love to the public square was fueled by the justice-seeking nature of Christ himself.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to see someone you love fight for justice until they have given all they have to give.  And yet, and yet is this not the foundation of our faith in Christ?  Who gave all he had to give, not just so that we might have personal salvation, but also that the world in its entirety might have hope against the injustice of tyranny.  He lived to build a movement of justice-seekers that would not die with him on the cross, but be raised up to meet the challenges of each new generation. Jesus knew what he started would not end with him.  

But, my friends, this is the hard part. Justice, like any spiritual practice, must be intentionally practiced.  It doesn’t happen on its own.  And yet it’s not always clear how to bring our love into the public square.   But the good news, we don’t have to go at this alone. 

I have a few practical steps for you to take. 

First, a guide to prompt you into new and different types of justice-oriented actions this week. Maybe these will spark some deeper action, and maybe they will simply stretch you to think outside of the traditional lines. 

Second, today we are taking a special offering called “Love your Neighbor.”  It can be difficult to know how to help turn the tables in conflicts that rage halfway across the world in places like Ukraine and Palestine/Israel.  Because we are a global denomination, our justice-seeking relief organization has their finger on the pulse of injustice, directing funds and support not just to the high-profile conflicts that fill our news reports, but to the ones that get very little coverage.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief is one of our best outlets for directing our financial gifts to places of injustice around the world.  In the last year they have provided grants for relocation support in Gaza and Israel and psychosocial treatment and trauma counseling to women and children, emergency food for thousands left hungry after the Tana River flooded in Kenya, infrastructure and medical support for rebuilding devastated cities in Ukraine, and so much more.  With your Love Your Neighbor special offering today, you go above and beyond your regular giving to put resources into the hands of those who most need it worldwide. If you would like to donate online, please visit and in the dropdown menu select “Disaster Relief”

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Anna

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