This is surely one of those weeks when the lessons not only compliment one another, they deepen and expand our understanding of their meaning. For in the one we hear Jesus saying there is a new, another way, which will find its truest form in his death and resurrection. And in the other we are reminded that this is the wisdom, the power of God.
I begin with Jesus’ words in the Gospel here near the beginning of John where we hear that you and I cannot buy or bargain or trade our way into the presence of God…and to try to do so, we hear today, is downright offensive.
And even more than this, we are brought to understand now that God, is in fact, not even necessarily to be found in the temple at Jerusalem, not in the nave on North 3rd Street, no, not in our favorite, most beloved, always reliable holy ‘places.’ Rather, God is always only to be found in Jesus. And only in Jesus:
- The One who, we hear, mere verses before in John’s Gospel, is the very Word made flesh.
- Who submitted to John’s baptism,
- Who called others to come along,
- Who has just accomplished the first of his signs, turning water into fine wine in abundance so that the wedding festivities might continue…
- Who was not bound by any building anytime anywhere.
- And whose coming, and living and dying and rising again blew wide open the old expectations of where God would reliably meet us.
And yet, the ‘person’ of Jesus as the locus of where God is, is so much more elusive than a ‘place,’ isn’t he? Harder to control, impossible to pin down. Rather, this One tends to shows up unexpectedly and in sometimes surprising ways and places, according to Paul’s explanation in Corinthians. Making God’s presence known, not only in that one Sunday morning hour where I can receive him or leave him behind. But out here in the world. In my home, my back yard, my neighborhood, at the drive through, in the cereal aisle, as I sit at my desk or kneel at a bedside. As we try to stay present through yet another hour of Zoom or try to wrangle out the words, the images, to point unseen listeners to this One who turned aside all the old ways of encountering all that is Holy, urging us to receive instead this truth that God is up to a new thing:
That in Jesus, God is up to something altogether new in such a way that what is destroyed will be rebuilt, what has died, will, in three days, live again. And if our eyes, our hearts are somehow open, I expect we will be blessed to see it, to see Jesus over and over again.
And so it is I have witnessed this in these past days more than once.
And no, not in the rather ordinary ways and places named above, although they may have seemed just that at first glance.
I have met Jesus here, demonstrating the very power of God in unexpected ways:
- In the quick response of a staff member. Even knowing his burden was already heavy, because it was important and because I knew he could, I asked him to pull together some music onto a cd. I was not able to say why or for whom, although I expect after these many years he could read the urgent tone underlying my text. Either way, within 24 hours he had gathered a few others and had done just that, dropping this precious gift at my back door so that I could deliver it to one who would be so grateful. Again, he had no way of knowing why, but still he stepped into and through his own ‘too muchness’ of this hard time and gave a little more of himself away. And isn’t Jesus present in that…isn’t this the very power of God in the willingness of one to give away another part of himself, even knowing he hadn’t much to spare?
- In this. In the dying one whose long time friend leaned in and helped her sing the refrain of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” I will not ever forget walking in on the last day Virginia was able to speak on this earth that she was singing of God’s love and protection and grace. No easy gift was shared that day as her caregiver, too, stepped through her own grief and exhaustion and gave just a little bit more away. And wasn’t Jesus present in that… isn’t this the very power of God?
- And in this. In the word that a beloved friend has gone on hospice care. It was not unexpected, but still, too soon for family and friends who cherish her. I flashed back to a gathering of friends when we were in our senior year of seminary. She was pregnant. I was sitting next to her when the baby kicked. She grabbed my hand and drew it close so I could feel it, too. Today that baby, now a grown woman, tends her mother in her last days. And isn’t Jesus so very present in that…Isn’t this the power of God every time it happens?
Because this is how it is.
Surely, we are blessed to encounter God in all kinds of places.
In temples and churches, one hopes.
On mountaintops and in deep purple prairie sunsets, with which we have been gifted in abundance of late here in Northern Illinois.
Most powerfully of all, though, we encounter God in Jesus in all those places where destruction is bearing down, where death threatens to have the last word, but where glimmers of resurrection hope can already be seen.
- Which is what Jesus spoke of so powerfully after clearing the temple of the ‘old ways’ of encountering God.
- Which Paul writes of so eloquently in his first letter to the church at Corinth.
- Which you and I, when we are so blessed, are privileged to witness right here and right now.
I, for one, am resting my deepest, truest hope here in this unusual time when such destruction still threatens much of what we hold dear and where death seems somehow more present than ever before. I am resting my deepest, truest hope on this: that Jesus is here in the middle of it all, already making true the promise of the resurrection. Showing God’s power in unexpected places, in often hard to fathom ways.
To be sure, these days, I have been so blessed to witness just that through the sacrificial love of those who have been called to follow him.
- How do you hear the meaning of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple today? Are you hearing it as I do now as Jesus clearing the way for God to do a whole new thing?
- Where have you witnessed the wisdom, the power of God at work of late?
- How do these passages speak in this particular time when many are weary and where death still threatens to have the last word? How do we embody resurrection hope here in the middle of Lent?