2021-03-07 Lent 3
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Who remembers Consumer’s Distributing? It was up at the town n’ country mall. Do you remember that place? If you don’t, it was a different kind of shopping experience. It was basically a warehouse in that the products and stock weren’t put out on shelving for the public to gaze at and see. Rather they had catalogues - paper catalogues - that you would look through, then check off an order form of what you wanted. Then the employees would go into the back and get what you asked for. It was really convenient! I didn’t have to wander all over a massive store trying to find a microwave or a blender or a pair of socks. I just took my order up the counter and someone else got it for me. What’s not to love?! Consumers Distributing. They were like the Amazon of the 80s. Way ahead of the their time!
Convenience. We are a culture addicted to it in every way. Convenience stores. Drive thru fast food. Minute rice. If anything has a significant investment of time or engagement, we’d rather not be bothered. Having Google on a smartphone in your pocket has made the whole world nearly instantaneous. But how has that convenience changed us and affected us as a people? I’m afraid the results are quite staggering. And perhaps this was Jesus’ issue with the Temple in today’s Gospel reading - or perhaps more precisely put, Jesus’ issue with the people at the Temple.
The Temple was the big fancy building in Jerusalem where the Jews would offer the sacrifices. It wouldn’t be a very nice place for us in our day. We would recoil at the blood and guts and schmutz all over the place. The smells. The flies. Yuck. And yet at this place of holy worship and sacrifice, a market of convenience had sprung up. The House of Prayer had become the House of Walmart, catering to everyone’s whims. It didn’t expect much of the people. It maintained comfort levels. It made faith fun and easy! They had all the money changers right there so you could swap your unholy Roman coins to the Temple’s kosher coins - for a nominal fee. But it was all so very convenient! You could buy your sacrificial animals right there too. What a deal!
And perhaps this is why Jesus responds in the way He does. “In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:14-16). Jesus saw how the convenience and similar abuses were destroying the true purpose of worship at the Temple. In a white-hot zeal, our Lord puts an end to it.
This becomes an eye-opener for all the followers of Jesus. He isn’t calling us to convenience or a convenient faith. Rather, it is the exact opposite. He calls us to a faithful faith, a faith that is costly, time consuming and even cumbersome at times. He calls us to the cross. There we see the agony, the suffering and the shame that Jesus endured for us. It was anything but convenience! As our Lord laid down His life for us and our salvation, we see the cost. We see the investment. He shows us this same pattern that we as His followers are called to embody. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (JN 15:13).
St. Paul, he picks up our Lord’s mantle as well. When we think about his life and everything he endured, it was brutal. God wasn’t kidding when He said “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.”" St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (11:24-28). However you describe all that St. Paul endured, “convenience” isn’t even on the radar.
So what does this mean for us on our Lenten journey to the cross? The law of God shining like a mirror shows us our sins of valuing convenience above all else. I could get up early and read my bible today but, it’s much more convenient to stay cozy in bed for an extra half hour. I could get to know my neighbours in hopes of sharing the gospel with them but, ah, maybe I’ll just keep to myself. Pick up your cross. Deny yourself. Follow Me. But to do so is neither convenient nor quick. Life in our instant society has certainly produced attitudes of “convenience Christianity” but we must always be on our guard against them because our Lord tells us plainly “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (MT 7:14).
Many churches have realized that the Christian’s struggle today runs contrary to convenience. And so, the marketers have sought to make the Christian faith easier, more palatable and above all, convenient. “I can go to church on my iPad whenever I have time and get around to it, so much easier than coming to church Sunday morning.” “We need to be preaching politically correct messages that don’t offend anyone!” “Church is about swanky coffee bars and simple, how-to sermon nuggets!” “Don’t expect much of people.” “Maintain comfort levels.” “Entertain me, or else!”
Our Lord isn’t calling us to this convenience or comfort. He isn’t calling us to make His house into a circus or a marketplace or a cesspool of political correctness. Instead, He calls us to a faithful faith. He beckons us to return to Him and His house in repentance and trust. He calls us to confess our sins and abandon our “convenience above all else” attitudes. For our Lord’s Kingdom is a costly Kingdom. The cost of our salvation was blood. Not all the blood of the beasts at the temple, but rather that of the spotless Lamb of God. He stopped at nothing, not even death on the cross, for you. And Lent challenges us in how we shall respond to that amazing grace.
Jesus responds with zeal for His Father’s house. “Zeal for your house will consume me” the Scriptures say. This zeal distinguishes our Lord from everybody else hanging out at the Temple. This wild zeal that cleansed the Temple shows usGod’s interests in His people. He is zealous for us in His grace. He is zealous for us to know who He is and what He does for us and our salvation. He is zealous for His people to return to Him in repentance and faith. Zeal becomes our response too. Zeal for God’s Name. Zeal for God’s House. Zeal for our Lord’s gifts of Baptism and Holy Communion. Zeal for the Lenten virtue of prayer in this house of prayer. Zeal for the mission and outreach of the Gospel here at home and beyond. Zeal. It’s costly. It’s involved. It’s engaged.
When our Lord calls us to follow Him, picking up our own cross, and denying ourselves, He didn’t preface it with “If it’s convenient for you.” Or “when it’s convenient for you.” He isn’t looking for half-hearted, partially-committed disciples of convenience. Rather, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (LK 18:8). Will He find a zealous and faithful people waiting? Will He find a people passionate about His Word? Will He find a people of prayer? What will our Lord find? To God be the glory now and forever more. Amen!