At the 1pm service today I preached on the topic of spring cleaning. Not the sort you do with a duster and mop, but the spring cleaning of our lives. The readings are psalme 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22. To learn more, read on …
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
I wonder if you remember the first day you opened a Facebook account. I remember it clearly. Facebook seemed to be the thing everyone was talking about and I wanted to understand what was going on. So I signed up and was faced with basically a pretty blank page. Not being a technical whiz-kid, but still a fairly thorough person, I worked out how to add various details about myself and then got stuck. I remember asking one of the people who had recommended it, just what I was supposed to do now.
A couple of years down the line I have applications listed, I belong to groups, have a rapidly filling inbox of messages and I have about 90 friends. You can visit my sea garden, check what I’m reading, challenge me to Sudoku, see what I am doing at the moment, and send me messages, among many other things. That plain page is getting rather cluttered. With so many additions it’s quite hard to keep up with what is there, not made any easier by the constant changes in the way the Facebook team display things.
I’m not as badly off as one Facebook friend who recently invited me to become his friend using a different name. When I checked why, he told me that he now has 3900 friends and so misses the updates from many of them, hence the need to begin another account for just a selection of friends. I’ve noticed others have posted that they are tidying their Facebook page. They warn people that they might get dropped off their friends list in the process. It seems it’s possible to accumulate just too many friends when using social networking sites.
Much the same seems to have happened to my SL inventory. I could never understand why the various hints you get when logging on included how to manage your inventory. Mine seemed fine but that was before I acquired lots of gifts from people such as a holly badge and a bull whip, to name but two. I have several outfits which I can use to change my appearance. However, having just got back to how I should look, I’m rather wary of tinkering with that at the moment. The number of notecards is huge despite regular editing of the list. With so many items it can be very difficult to find what I’m looking for and the list is certainly messy.
Accumulating things makes keeping tidy a great deal more difficult. Accumulation can happen on a grand scale as well as on websites such as Facebook and Second Life. In the Gospel story we see the negative results of this. The story is set at the time of the Passover, so around March/April. Jesus went into the temple as he must have done many times before. It would have been extremely busy because many people travelled to Jerusalem from all over Israel to celebrate the Passover.
The temple was a huge structure that had been undergoing extension and enhancement for around 46 years at this time. It would be another 36 years before it was finished. It was made of a series of courts opening off one another, each with more restricted access than the one before. The first was the Court of Gentiles. Opening from that was the Court of Women; no non-Jew could go that far. Next came the Court of Israel where the Jewish men were allowed to go. Then inside this was the Court of the Priests where the altar for the sacrifices was located. There was a very tall building, the Holy Place, and within that was the Holy of Holies which was divided from the Holy Place by a curtain. Only priests could go into these special places. In the case of the Holy of Holies, only the High Priest could go in once a year to offer incense on Yom Kippur.
There were rows of columns around the Court of the Gentiles and this is where the action of the Gospel story takes place. In these areas money-changers and merchants were doing business. The money-changers converted currencies into the Tyrian coinage required for the temple tax. They used exorbitant exchange rates but the people had no choice. The people were also required to make an animal sacrifice for their sins. If they had travelled a long way, it was not possible to bring their own animals. Even if they did, any slight imperfection would result in them being rejected by the priests. There was effectively a captive market for perfect sheep, cattle and doves and the price in the temple courts was very high for these animals. I suppose for the merchants, Passover must have been much the same as Christmas for shopkeepers now, when the bulk of the year’s money is made in a very short time.
The temple was intended for the worship of God. At this time it would have been full of thousands of pilgrims but there would have been little chance of worshipping for the many who could go no further than the Court of Gentiles. They were surrounded by what was effectively a market place. Just as on our social networks, there had been an accumulation of things, which made the temple difficult to use and unpleasant to be in.
Many people are afraid of anger and expressing it, preferring to suppress it. Here we see Jesus being very angry indeed. We can learn something about how to handle anger from the way he acted. If you notice in the Gospel, we are told that Jesus made a whip from cords to drive out the animals. This meant that Jesus had thought about what he was going to do and had prepared himself. He had planned his action and needed a whip to help control the animals.
Jesus gave his reason for throwing over the tables and driving out the animals. He wasn’t angry on his own behalf, but because God’s intention for the temple had been overturned by the way the temple authorities had decided to act. He was concerned about the way that the chance for worship had been taken away from the people. He could see that they were also being exploited. There is no doubt this was very real and strong anger and it was probably quite frightening to observe, but it was not out of control, it was not fuelled by a fit of pique. This was righteous anger not uncontrolled rage.
Anger is a very powerful emotion and generates a lot of energy. You just have to imagine this story to see the sheer energy in Jesus at this time. It is right to use our anger against injustice and wrong practices. In fact maybe we should be angry more often at such things instead of turning a blind eye and pretending it’s none of our business. A wrong use of anger is that which reacts to trivial personal annoyances.
This story is often entitled ‘The cleansing of the temple’ and I suppose it was Jesus’ spring clean of the place, restoring order and removing accumulated clutter. It’s an exciting and action packed story, one where the blue-eyed, white robed, slightly weedy image of Jesus we sometimes pick up gives way to a much more kingly and powerful picture of the Messiah. What does the story have to tell us about our lives today?
St Paul tells us that ‘all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’. We have to assume that there is something here for us to learn.
Let’s listen to St Paul again in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.’
I’d like you to just give that a moment to sink in.
Let me say it again: ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.’
I wonder, had you been to the temple in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, if you would have been angry to see it being abused. Would you be angry to see Epiphany Island used to sell items at inflated prices, or your RL church taken over by loan sharks and conmen who were out to make as much money as possible from the people visiting?
I think we should be angry over the clutter and unwholesome things that have gathered in our lives, as we are God’s temple. We need a spring clean, a time of cleansing just as Jesus gave to the temple in Jerusalem. The church year provides us with two opportunities for this. One is the season of Lent which we are just about half way through. It covers a period of 40 days not including the Sundays. The other season is Advent. In modern usage it lasts for the four Sundays before Christmas and the days inbetween but the Celtic version is 40 days if you include the Sundays, and starts on November 16th. These are times for us to consider our lives and clean out what is not wholesome and helpful.
If we are Christians we really ought to take this seriously. St Paul says again in 1 Corinthians 6:19 ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?’ You may think that what you do is nobody’s business but yours. Paul makes it plain that we are not our own person; we are answerable to God for what we do with our bodies and every aspect of ourselves.
How do you treat your body? Do you get enough exercise, within your limitations? Do you eat as well as you can? Do you try to get enough rest? What about your alcohol intake, your use of tobacco, your use of simple things like paracetamol? What is your work/life balance like?
What do you spend your time thinking about? Are you a ready audience for the latest gossip? Are you good at embellishing it and passing it on? Do you look at other people and judge them?
How do you spend your time? Are the activities you are involved with in keeping with what we learn in the Bible? Do you actually spend time reading the Bible so that you know that? Do you spend time in prayer?
What bad habits have you got into? Would you be happy for everyone to see the things that you do? Maybe we need to be especially careful in our time in Second Life. There are so many opportunities to explore all kinds of experience, many of which we may not even consider in RL. Maybe you think that what your avatar does or says has no effect on you as a person. I might have believed that once but now I don’t. I’ll give you a simple example. My avatar recently acquired black hands and face. For a few days I didn’t seem able to change it. When all’s said and done, it’s just a few pixels that look different, nothing serious, right? Wrong! I felt embarrassed because my avatar looked odd and I was restless until I could sort it out. The relief when I was back to ‘myself’ was palpable. If I can be affected by such a minor incident with my avatar, I can certainly be affected by more serious events.
Did you notice in the psalm that the psalmist cries out: ‘O cleanse me from my hidden faults!’ The dangerous faults are the ones that no one sees, that we even try to hide from ourselves. Second Life, chat rooms and the internet in general, give us opportunities for practising hidden sins in far greater quantity than in RL. The addiction rates for internet porn, for instance, even among Christian men is huge. Women too are affected by this. Dare you ask God this Lent to show you those and help you to rid your life of them?
Maybe you go the other extreme and beat yourself up too much, missing the most amazing message of the Bible. We don’t have to earn God’s favour. It is a free gift. We call it grace – undeserved favour. Maybe instead of this you have collected the idea from elsewhere that you have to get the balance of good in your life up a bit before God will answer your prayers. That is most certainly clutter which needs throwing out of your life.
Sometimes the cleansing we need to do is actually too difficult for us to do alone. I remember that in a RL church we used to have a couple of days when we got together to give the church building a really good clean. The first job was always the high level cleaning. For that, there was always a team working together for safety. It may be that there are some things in your life where you need to work with someone else to sort the problem out, to put new habits in place. Finding an accountability partner or a spiritual director may be the answer to this.
If we are really serious about this time of cleansing, we can rely on God to help us. The passage of the New Testament read today tells us that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men’. The temple authorities thought is was a wise idea to bring people into the temple to sell animals and change money. Jesus thought differently and showed it. If we decide to get involved in something, it would be wise to ask if it’s a good idea or a God idea, and then take the time to listen for the answer. Let’s follow Paul’s advice and ‘not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’