I want you to imagine in your mind’s eye that when you arrived at church this morning, you walked up the path and were confronted with a crowd of men, women and children lining the path with those hostess trays around there neck, selling cross necklaces or lapel badges in the shape of a fish. All trying to catch your attention to get you to purchase items before you went into church.
You manage to fight your way up the path and as you come to the door someone asks for a payment for an Order of Service in order to get in .. you’re not sure if this is a legitimate fee or whether someone is trying to make a quick buck!! You ignore them and find that the Orders of Service are free inside. There is a table just inside the door where you can buy communion wafers to have blessed and take home for a relative or neighbour .. there are various flavours and sizes. There are a number of other tables at the back of the church which are rather loud and intrusive with people laughing and shouting!
This is the world of the Jewish Temple into which Jesus was born and finally reacted to in this mornings passage. It is a world that resulted from the Old Testament law we read in Exodus today which turned worship into a whole hosts of commands about how you must live your life if you are to be able to enter the holy places of worship in our lives! And Jesus violently objected to this affront to the sacred place of worship in our world.
I wonder what it is that makes us, as humans, feel deep down inside, and to be honest whether we are religious or not, that there should be places that are sacred and holy in our world? What is it that makes us nod in agreement with this passage in it’s message that there should be places where the distractions of life are left outside and where a respect for silence and devotion and contemplation are observed? What is it that makes us react when such places are desecrated??
It’s an interesting question because the answer gives us something of an argument for a common belief in all people in the need for holiness in the world!! What I mean by holiness is that part of our lives and our world should have a different purpose than the mundane!! The definition for holiness is something, or importantly a part of something, which is set apart for sacred use .. not to be used to achieve the everyday purposes of life! That it is in these holy places that the mundane finds its meaning. Are the holy places in your life still sacred and free from distraction?
I want to highlight the idea that holiness can be attributed to part or an aspect of something because perhaps we tend to think of holiness as being attributed to something or someone other than ourselves .. so churches are holy, monks are holy, nuns are holy, people who go to church are holy (accept us which is why we feel we don’t really belong but rather that we are tricking people when we come to church into thinking we are holy). The number of people who tell me they are not like other people in church is so large that I think it is true to say our shared lack of holiness is what means we belong. Just as in the world there is sacred and profane so in our lives there is the holy and the mundane!!
The point is that we all feel certain things should be holy and would fight to keep this so .. we turn the tables as Jesus did and want to drive out things that desecrate the places of sanctity and peace .. but we always assume it is because we are not really part of them that they are holy .. but what if within each of us there is a part that is to be holy alongside the part that is messy and every day so to speak!! What if we are all both holy and unholy because that is how we are made .. that neither are bad in themselves but that the holy makes the unholy acceptable and meaningful. So the unholy is not something perverse or warped but simply that which is used for mundane purposes .. like each of us in our day to day lives .. but that mundane, unholy life can be used for good in our world in the same way as the holy can. Perhaps that’s all a bit complicated!
There are parts of our lives just as there are parts of our world which should be preserved and treasured and from which we should drive out all distractions and secular concerns because they are holy. Most of our life is of course mundane, given over to survival and the nitty gritty of life, but at the very heart of your existence is a holy place, a sacred core, which we should attend to with the same vigour and anger and passion as Jesus did the Temple. That we should seek to drive out the mundane from so we can respect it and rest in it so that it can direct and sustain and energise the every ay events of our lives.
This is what the season of Lent is about. Acknowledging those pedlars and sellers of distractions that line the path to your soul and which so often prevent you from approaching that inner core of your life because it all seems too much like hard work. Like Jesus in the wilderness we need to fight the voices of distraction and temptation so that we can preserve the holiness of our very souls. Does the image we considered of the voices and the crowds on the path to the place of worship ring true of your inner life this morning?? If so do not give up on the journey but press on knowing that our Creator wants us to have places of solace and sanctuary from such distractions.
We are called to preserve both our physical and spiritual sanctuaries this morning and in this season. Let us be consumed with the zeal Jesus had to drive our what does not belong in the Temple of God … and let us remember that the true temple he has spoken of is our bodies and not just our churches. The church is simply the sacrament, the outward sign, of the holy place that is within each of us. We as humans are walking sacraments, signs of something deeper, something unseen as it were, which is going on in our universe.
If we want to spring clean our souls this Lent let us recall the words at the end of our Gospel passage this morning …
For Jesus knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.