Carrie Nation was a temperance and prohibition activist at the turn of the 20th century. She is best known for her willingness to smash up saloons to save men from their “drunkard’s fate”. The first time she did it she used rocks; later her husband jokingly suggested a hatchet would be more destructive, Carrie’s response was apparently “that is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you.”; they divorced the following year. Between 1901 and 1910, either alone or accompanied by hymn-singing women, Nation would march into bar and sing and pray while smashing bar fixtures and stock with a hatchet, she was arrested more than 30 times, paying her jail fines with funds raised from her speaking tours and sale of souvenir hatchets. She spoke in Amherst in 1902 and I have heard smashed up a bar or two in Holyoke while she was here. Carrie Nation was on a mission, she believed that she had been sent a sign from God to stamp out drunkenness in the United States and she so she went about her work as best she could.
Jesus was also sent by God and though his mission was a little different, he was sometimes a little zealous in his actions. I could not help but think of Carrie Nation when I read todays passage about Jesus busting up the temple. I like to think that this passage may have been an inspiration to Carrie, though I think her goals were a little different than those of God. As with all scripture there are multiple layers to this story. Did Jesus literally raise a ruckus in the temple? I certainly hope he did, but as usual I want us to view this story from a different angle and not through a window as if we are looking back at history; instead, I want us to view this story with a mirror.
If we view this story through a window, we could logically conclude that John is talking about the physical temple that sat in Jerusalem and that Jesus went there, saw the ways in which his father’s house was being defiled with human messiness and then took it upon himself to fix it. That is certainly the way I have often seen this passage and it is very likely that some version of this story occurred, but as I have grown into my faith I have come to realize more and more that the Gospel is not about this world and is in fact about restoring creation; it is about returning to a state of being when we did not experience pain, we experienced joy; we did not experience fear, we experienced confidence; we did not experience hatred, we experienced love. The Gospel, the good news, is that we can, and we will experience creation again, but only after we do our part to restore it and to do so we need to view this story with a mirror. Imagine that you are holding a hand mirror and hold it up to yourself. What do you see? Do you see joy, confidence, and love? Do you see a temple of God?
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul asks “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” I think this is important because it reminds us that even if we do not see it, we are temples of God; and it is through that symbiotic relationship that God is able to reach the world, the problem is that we spend a great deal of time attempting to control the relationship and leave very little room for God.
I am struck by the words “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”. I am struck by this because it reminds me of the fact that we fill ourselves with hatred, fear, and pain; and because we inevitably focus on these things it is very difficult to notice the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit.
The story of the cleansing of the temple is meant to be a reminder that we need to allow Jesus to drive the hatred, the fear, and the pain from the temple of our bodies, from our souls, from our very being. I have said it before and I will probably say it until the end of time; being a Christian, being a follower of Jesus is a way of life; it is not a hobby; it is not just the latest feel-good gimmick. If we are going to let Jesus in and I mean truly let him in, then we need to prepare ourselves for what is going to happen. I draw your attention back to John’s Gospel, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” It has taken me 41 years to construct this specimen of a temple, and during that time I have danced around, hopping from one thing to the next trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and to my surprise the answer was right in front of me the entire time; I just needed to listen to the gospel, look in the mirror, and do some hard, emotional, internal work. The reason I was not finding the answer is because I was not actually paying attention, I was wrapped up in what I wanted and what others said I should be doing.
Now that I have looked in the mirror and identified the problem, things are changing, and I can literally feel the change; but that doesn’t mean my journey is over and neither is yours because the journey is never done, which is why we need to carry a mirror with us and every time we start to fear something, every time we start to hate someone or their ideas, every time we start to experience the internal pain of life; we need to take out that mirror and take a long look, so that we can remind ourselves that he messiness that is the human world is not the goal and giving in to the human ideas of hatred, fear, and pain is not why we were created. We were created to be in a confident, loving, and joyful symbiotic relationship with God and as hard as it is to see that, as hard as it is to accept that; doing so is liberating; so, let Jesus into the temple, let him drive out the hatred; the fear; the pain! Despite what we may see when we look in the mirror, we are not seeing what God sees; God only sees our potential to be the creatures God created which is why God sent Jesus to inspire and teach us as well as the Holy Spirit to guide us. To put it more simply, let Jesus in, let him cleanse the temple. Let God help you work through the pain and hatred of your past so that you will no longer fear the future, let God love you so that when you look in the mirror you see God’s temple.