Jesus casts out the moneychangers from the temple. Public Domain.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
God speaks the "Ten Words" (as they are known in Judaism), beginning with an important identity statement: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."
Psalm Response: Psalm 19 (UMH 750).
A psalm declaring Creation's praise of God and our praise of God's instruction ("Torah"). If you will be singing the psalm, consider using Response 1 and Tone 5 in D minor. Or See UMH 736-737.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
Paul notes what must have been obvious — proclaiming a crucified man as Messiah and Savior can be a stretch for all people, Jewish or Gentile. But for those who "get it," it is a powerful, life-changing message that opens up a new understanding of God and the world.
Jesus makes Temple worship impossible at the busiest time of the year — the Passover sacrifice. He confronts those who had turned the Temple courtyard into a marketplace, and they ask him what sign of authority he has for doing this. He tells them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
The early church developed Lent as a season to prepare those to be baptized at Easter to respond to the questions they will be asked and the vows they will take.
This gospel theme this week is “Cleaning House.” As followers of Jesus, bound to him in the covenant of baptism, we are called to “confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace and serve him as Lord.” Jesus is the source of deliverance. Jesus is the standard. Jesus is the one we rely on. Jesus is the one whom we unreservedly follow and serve as Lord. He, not the market, must drive our lives and our desires.
Today calls for corporate awareness, confession, and repentance of the ways religion, as you practice it where you are and as you participate in its wider systems, becomes an instrument of “slave-ation” rather than “salvation.”
See “Planning Lent and Easter Worship for Discipleship (Year B)” for an overview of the biblical and baptismal covenant themes for each Sunday of this season.
Next Sunday is the date for collecting the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering. Among United Methodists, this offering is the primary way we underwrite the administrative support needed to run The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Support for this offering next Sunday fits well with the baptismal covenant verb we underscore next week: “Join.” Because we join our gifts in local congregations with the gifts of many other churches from across the entire United Methodist connection that UMCOR can continue to do what it does and for all donations to UMCOR projects to go directly to the cause for which they are given rather than being used to underwrite administrative costs.
April 2 Maundy Thursday
April 3 Good Friday
April 4 Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil
April 5 Easter Sunday/Easter Season Begins
April 19 Native American Ministries Sunday (DM Resources) and
Festival of God's Creation
April 25 World Malaria Day
This week’s texts are full of imagery and dynamism—the giving of the Law (Exodus), the majesty of the heavens declaring God’s praise (Psalm), and the passionate confrontation in the temple (John). The theme for today, centered as all the texts are on the gospel reading, is “Cleaning House.”
It’s no accident, nor is it ironic, that the Old Testament reading chosen for this day, paired with Jesus' “cleansing the temple” in the gospel, is the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments (Ten Words in Hebrew). Some, throughout Christian history, have tried to place Jesus over against the Ten Commandments and even, to some degree, the entirety of the Old Testament and the Jewish people. Some even point to Jesus making worship in the temple impossible at one of its busiest seasons (Passover) as a sign that Jesus was undoing the law.
But consider just how closely the gospel story tracks the details of the giving of the law from Exodus. In John, the “toppling of the temple” accompanies the word of Jesus; in Exodus, a veritable explosion of earthly and heavenly fireworks sets the backdrop for the giving of the Law (Exodus 19:16-25). In John, Jesus declares that when people try to destroy “this temple,” he will raise it in three days. In Exodus, the coming of the law is on the third day of an extensive process of preparation for the people and the priests (Exodus 19:10, 16). As Jesus, Son of God, enters the temple and takes charge from the priests and anyone else who thinks they’re in charge; so in Exodus, God makes clear, abundantly clear, that God is in charge of the giving of the law, and priests—indeed all the people —are decidedly marginalized. Finally, just as Jesus put a stop to sacrifices in the temple, on the day of the giving of the law, there were no sacrifices. The smoke that appeared came from the mountain itself, “because the Lord had descended upon it in fire.” That fire is described like that of a “kiln,” intensely hot, an image captured in the disciples’ remembrance in John of the verse, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Jesus himself in this text never says he was opposed to the law. He was certainly massively disrupting the worship life of the temple. But he was doing so not out of a desire to stop worship, but to stop something else: The temple being misused as a marketplace.
John’s timing on Jesus’ action here, as well as the reason for it, is different from what we see in the synoptic gospels. In Matthew, Mar,k and Luke, Jesus tells the money changers and all who will hear him to stop making the temple a hideout for thieves and oppressors. There, the message is about religion functioning as a cover for those who would use it to empower themselves and harm others in the name and to some degree with the protection of religion.
But in John’s Gospel, the message of Jesus as he cleanses the temple is targeted against turning the temple into a marketplace.
What does it mean to turn the temple into a marketplace? At one level, it means the perversion of the Ten Words. If the temple is fundamentally about financial transactions and trade, which is to say, primary about consumerism, the very first commandments are being seriously violated. The temple, which should point people to the unseen and un-image-able God, instead distracted people from God and redirected their attention, at the very outset, toward money and sacrificial items. Its layout, with exchange tables and sacrificial items at its very entrance, replaced the Creator with the creation, the true End of worship with some means we may use in offering it.
Nothing would do for Jesus but to make this come to a full stop to call attention to it. Nothing would do for him to make worship impossible until this judgment on what had happened was clearly declared.
His words and actions then still convict us now. Christians today face very similar dangers in how we may approach worship. Do we use our technologies, performances, and invitations (marketing!) of our services primarily as means to an end other than to give glory to God, hear from God, offer ourselves to God, receive from Christ’s table, and be sent from thereto follow where the Spirit drives us? Do we invest in all these things as tools in whatever style of worship, primarily as a means to get more people to show up? Does the church function as a kind of religious Ponzi scheme? Do we function as churches, whether we intend to or not, primarily as “purveyors of religious goods and services”? If so, have we not turned worship and the very character of our churches into a kind of marketplace instead of the house of God?
The Greek of verse 16 is perhaps more poignant when translated literally: “Do not make my Father’s house into a market house.”
Jesus does not here condemn market houses per se. Instead, he notes the nature of his Father’s house and a market house are very different things. And the former should never be mistaken for the latter.
In the Father’s house, what is exchanged is perfect love—the love of the Father for the Son, of the Son for the Father, of the Father and Son for the Spirit, of the Spirit for the Father and the Son, and of the Triune for all creation. In worship, we are invited into this house, the Father’s house, with all our imperfections, that our imperfect loves may be caught up in the perfect love of the Triune God and so brought to reflect more perfectly the divine love in which we were made and toward which God’s sanctifying love would take and remake us.
In a market house, what is exchanged are goods, money and services, on the surface, at least. Beneath this, what drives this exchange is desire. Some of that desire can be good—desire to live, desire to help others, desire to make it easier to get things of lesser importance done more efficiently so we can better focus on more important things. There can be a good role for the market house. But it must never be allowed to replace the Father’s house. If it is to remain good, or be only good, the market house must be transfigured by the Father’s house.
This is because much of the desire that drives the market house, and that drives us in it and drives us to it and makes it nearly impossible to imagine our lives without it, is at its base what the Greek Bible calls “pleonexia” and we often translate as greed—the desire or hunger for more, and more, and more. More power. More prestige. More food. More sex. More things. More money. More, and more, and more. And much of this desire for more, this pleonexia, gets driven by fear, fear placed in us by others in the market house that unless we keep getting more, we are less, we are unworthy, we are nothing.
Pleonexia is an enslaving force. And it operates at a level below our conscious awareness, and often below our conscious control. So if we are to escape its grasp on our lives, we need nothing less than a Savior, a deliverer, someone to call us out and cleanse the wounds we have received and given in the market house. We confess Jesus, who dwells in the Father’s house, as Savior.
In confessing our need of a Savior, we acknowledge the extent of our enslavement, and the broken, bruised, dysfunctional and scarred lives, riddled with the ravages of the market house and other destructive houses. We put our full trust, damaged as our capacity to trust may be, in his grace. And breaking our allegiance to the ways of the market house, we promise to serve him as Lord and as those being brought by him into the Father’s house.
God gave the people Israel the law as a means to be their Savior, to deliver them from captivity to sin as God had delivered them from captivity to Egypt. God gave the whole world Jesus to demonstrate how even our holiest places have become enslaved by the market house, and to make it possible for us to live and learn to have our loves restored in the Father’s house, the very life of love in the Triune God.
In Your Planning Team
This gospel this week brings difficult but necessary questions for your worship planning team and other leaders in your congregation to wrestle with.
- Where and how does the religious, ritual practice you have in place where you are contradict or interfere with rather than embody, enable or encourage love of God and neighbor and discipleship to Jesus?
- What might Jesus be ready to come in, tear down, drive out, put a halt to, and rebuke? What is Jesus pleading for you to do instead?
- How will you address these questions in how you plan worship today?
Beginning to answer these questions, or even just raise them, may be about all you can realistically do in worship today. But today’s text, indeed discipleship to Jesus itself, demands we do more than simply raise questions. We are called to answer the questions Jesus asks of us with our lives.
Remember, worship during this season of Lent and the following one of Easter is an opportunity to raise key questions that will drive the work of formational groups during the coming days. And that work, this week, is focused on the first part of the third set of baptismal vows: To confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put your whole trust in his grace and promise to serve him as Lord.
While today’s text is demanding and deeply challenging, the point for those in formation is not to overwhelm them with the challenge, but point them (and your whole congregation) to the Savior. Formational groups this week will help candidates focus on practical issues of how to confess Jesus as Savior not only with our lips with with our lives, give concrete practice in leaning into and finding they can trust his grace, and beginning to gain some visceral awareness of what it means to serve Jesus as Lord, so, when the time comes, they can make their promises and continue to practice these key elements of discipleship and baptismal living with other disciples in the congregation.
The third Sunday in Lent was and is a day of special preparation for those preparing for baptism. The ancient church practiced exorcism of all that was not of Christ in the candidates and handed on to them the faith of the church. Present-day churches that practice the ancient catechumenate present the Apostles' Creed (UMH 882) to candidates as the summary of the central articles of our faith in the Triune God.
"[The Apostles' Creed] connects Christians with their ecumenical heritage and links them to the apostolic faith and witness of the early church. As a baptismal creed, it serves as the basis for entrance into the baptismal covenant and helps candidates to relate diverse scriptural texts to the essential narrative of God's saving action." Come to the Waters, p. 116.
If you choose to carry on this tradition today as a response to the word, be sure to connect it with the larger theme—“Cleaning House.” Perhaps either in sermon, or in your introduction to the “handing on the creed,” you might take note how the articles of the Apostles Creed, like the covenant expectations of the Ten Commandments, are a declaration of God setting the world free from captivity to sin and death through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
And, if you want to link exorcism to this act in some way, you might, before handing on the creed, consider singing together “Cast Out, O Christ,” an exorcism hymn found in Worship & Song 3072.
- Act of Congregational Centering BOW 470 (1 Corinthians)
- Call to Worship BOW 199, "Come! Come! Everybody Worship!" (Exodus)
- Greeting: BOW 330 (1 Corinthians)
- Opening Prayer: BOW 460 (Scroll 5/6 down, under Opening Prayers, second item, “O God our Guide and Guardian”, John)
- Canticle: UMH 112, "Canticle of Wisdom" (1 Corinthians)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 479 (Exodus)
- Litany: BOW 496, The Ten Commandments (Exodus)
- Prayer: UMH 268, Lent (Exodus)
- Prayer: BOW 501, "For the Church" (John)
- Prayer: BOW 510, "For Discernment" (1 Corinthians)
- Prayer: BOW 514, "For the Mind of Christ" (John)
- Response: 191, "May This Mind Be in Us" (John)
- Prayer: BOW 516 or BOW 517, "For the Nation" (John)
- Prayer: BOW 525, "For Wisdom" (1 Corinthians)
- Response: BOW 193, "Prayer for Wisdom" (1 Corinthians)
- Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Myanmar (Burma), Thailand
- Great Thanksgiving for Early in Lent: BOW 60-61
- Dismissal with Blessing: A deacon or assisting minister/layperson could dismiss the people using BOW 559 and the pastor speak the blessing using BOW 561 or UMH 669.