All posts by The Rev. Erik Parker

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. Blogger | Liturgy Geek | High Church Lutheran | Husband | Dad. Musician, gamer, movie-lover, amateur techie.

Christ is Risen – Do NOt Be Afraid!

Mark 16:1-8
But he said to them, “Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

This is not the ending of the story that we usually tell. In fact, nothing about the stories from the Gospel of Mark is usual. The Gospel of Mark has never done things the way we expect. Of all the Gospels, Mark is the shortest and perhaps the strangest, expecting things of us, expecting that we will put the pieces together and be moved to a deeper discipleship. 

Mark’s Easter story is perhaps the strangest of all. In the 3 other gospels, we normally hear about Jesus appearing to the women and disciples at the empty tomb. Jesus speaks with Mary in the Gospel of John. He bring greetings to all the women in the Gospel of Matthew. In Luke, Jesus meets two of his disciples on the road of Emmaus. 

But in Mark there is none of that. And it makes us uncomfortable. And not just us today, but Christians for centuries have been so uncomfortable with Mark’s ending, that they added to it. Hundreds of years later, shorter and longer endings to the Gospel of Mark were added just to try and wrap things up. 

So what is it about the Gospel of Mark and his ending that doesn’t sit well with us?

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Failure. 

Easter isn’t suppose to be a story of failure. The women hear the good news, they are given clear instructions to tell people about Jesus being risen, and they tell no one. 

In fact, this is the story all the way through the Gospel of Mark. The disciples, the ones who are supposed to know and understand who Jesus is what he is about never do. And the people who do know are unreliable. It is unclean spirits and demons who recognize Jesus as God’s son. It is the blind man who never actually sees Jesus who knows he has been healed by the Messiah. All the way through the gospel of Mark, not a single reliable soul figures it out. 

Last Easter, as we gathered online for the first time, we toned down our celebration for the sake of our neighbour. And though the world seemed scary, and things so unusual and different, we held to the hope that things would “go back to normal” soon. 

And yet, a year later, here we are. And it can feel like there has been a failure along the way. Failure to do the things we needed to do as a society make things safe, or perhaps a failure to stand up for what many are claiming is our right to gather for worship. Or maybe we have failed our ancestors and failed our children by not being able to gather for the celebration of the resurrection that our forebears in faith have done for generations, that we hope our descendants in faith will continue to do for generations to come. 

So maybe Mark and his story of an Easter failure fits us and our circumstances  well this Easter. 

But here is the thing, Mark knows that we know that it didn’t end with the women being afraid. We all know the story of the resurrection. We are reading it in Mark’s gospel. We proclaim that Christ is risen from the dead every Sunday we worship, just as Christians all over the world have been doing so for 2000 years!

So Mark expects that we can figure out that things didn’t end with the women running from the tomb afraid… but Mark also expects that we see our part in the story too, in the command to go and tell the world of the resurrection. Though this news of the resurrection is scary, though the world that we are called to speak it to is scary, though our circumstances for preaching the gospel are less than ideal. We are called to be ones who are not afraid to speak. 

It is a big calling. 

Because it was only on Good Friday that we stood below the cross and we proclaimed that this instrument of torture and violence, of humiliation and death is God’s transformed tool of life. 

Because now today at the empty tomb with the women who are too afraid to say anything,  we are just as afraid as they were. Afraid to announce this news to world. Afraid of that no one will believe our incredible, unbelievable story.

But this Easter morning and Easter story reminds us something else more than our fear and failure. 

We are reminded that it is always in our fears and failures that Christ meets us. It is when we are too weak, too afraid, too focused on ourselves, when we are too much intent on our sin, on our selfishness, that Christ comes and meets us. It is when we feel alone and powerless, when things seem impossible for this story to get out there and be heard.

There is no Easter without sin and death, there is no resurrection without humanity’s greatest failure, without our trying to be God in God’s place.

And in the midst of our failures, big and small, the Risen Christ meets us. The Risen Christ reveals himself to us and brings us into the new reality of a world where sin and death are no longer the end. Yet still, our fear overcomes us and this new world that God is creating is too much for us. And like the women at the tomb we are too afraid to speak, too afraid to act, too afraid even look at how things are different. 

“Do not be afraid, you are are looking for Jesus for Nazareth, who was crucified. Has has been raised.”

Do not be afraid. 

Across the old and new testament, these words always precede good news. 

Do not be afraid. 

And even still the good news can be terrifying. 

We stand before an empty tomb today, on this day of the Resurrection. And even when everything is supposed to be perfect, and when death is finally defeated, and Christ is raised from the dead. We are reminded that we still fail. We are reminded that we are still imperfect, sinful and selfish people who are frozen in the face of God’s amazing work in our world. 

And we are also reminded again, that it is in our frozen failure that we are met by the Risen Christ. 

The Risen Christ who has overcome the cross. 

The Risen Christ who has conquered death. 

The Risen Christ who has entered in our lives, our joys and our sorrows and has made our life his own. 

The Risen Christ who has shown us a new reality, where death is no longer the end, where we are no longer defined by our failures, and where our sin no longer has control of us. 

We are met today by the The Risen Christ and we are shown that God’s love for us is alive and there is no place we can go to escape it, no place where God’s love cannot reach us, and no limits on God’s love to keep binding us to the Body of Christ, the family in faith entrusted with this good news.

Even when are afraid to speak a word to anyone,  even when it feels like there is no one to speak this good news to, the Risen Christ meets us with the words “Do not be afraid!”

Behind-the-Scenes-Philip and the Greeks who Want to See Jesus

John 12:20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

Lent has been long and hard on us this year. Lent has been a long and hard year. Usually, this 5 week season of preparation for Holy Week is about opening us up to Jesus’ work in the world, helping us to see just where God is doing important work in our world. Instead of that, this year has felt like stumbling through the wilderness, learning to trust that God is leading us somewhere, even if we cannot see the way. 

We began Lent as Jesus showed us that wilderness is not the scary place we imagine, but where God meets God’s people. We continued as Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about death, and we were shown how our fears get in the way of seeing God’s work. We then watched as Jesus overturned tables in the temple, accusing people of selling God and we were shown that our own tables have been turned right side up. 

And last week, Jesus reminded us that the familiar verse of John 3:16 is not exactly the verse we hope to use to convert those around us, but instead comes in the context of a reminder of how we are condemned already… and it is in our dark world that God shines a light, even if that light stings a little. 

As Lent concludes this week, the disciple Philip is milling about the busy religious marketplace of Jerusalem. This scene actually comes after the triumphant entry, where Jesus rides into town on a Donkey. 

Unlike Peter, James and John, Philip is not a leader among the disciples. He is more of a background kind of guy. Peter is the one who speaks up as the leader of the group, even if he is putting his foot in his mouth half of the time. James and John are vying to be Jesus’ second in command. The three got to go up the mountain with Jesus. But Philip is behind the scenes. While Jesus is teaching the masses, Philip is finding the boy with 5 small loves and 2 fish to feed the 5000. Today, Philip is away from the action, from the crowds surrounding Jesus. 

And this is where some Greek Jews come to him. They are from far away. They have come to the Holy city for passover… perhaps this will be their only chance in a lifetime to be in Jerusalem for the festival. As foreigners, they are unfamiliar with the city, but they have probably heard about this rabbi and teacher who rode into town like a King.”Sir, we wish to see Jesus” they ask. 

Philip, uncertain, goes to Andrew. Together, they leave the Greeks behind to go and talk to Jesus, who gives them a long speech.

If Philip were a church member today, he would be an usher or greeter. He would be one of those volunteers who likes behind-the-scenes work. Peter, James and John might be up front preaching, reading the lessons, conducting the choir, or on church council. Philip would be in early to make coffee, he would probably have picked up some doughnuts for a snack after church. While others are up front leading or taking charge, Philip was the disciple looking for a place to eat or sleep, he is the one making sure that people are looked after and that everyone has what they need. 

But when the Greeks come looking for Jesus, when that visitor walks in the door of the church, he knows how to pass out a bulletin or a cup of coffee… but he isn’t so sure about taking people to meet Jesus. 

If I had to guess, it would seem that many church members are Philips. Faithful people diligently working behind the scenes, caring for each other.

And up until a year ago, we knew how to care for each other. We had tools and habits that we could rely on to maintain community. The chit chat with a sibling in Christ while setting up communion or washing coffee dishes. The conversations in the narthex following worship, or before choir practice, or in the parking lot after a committee meeting. 

And like Philip, the faithful and diligent behind-the-scenes disciple, we find ourselves out of our normal context. Our usual habits and tools for building and caring for community have been ripped away from us. Instead we have been forced to build and maintain community in the comments section of a Facebook video, and over sometimes awkward zoom calls “Gladys, I can’t hear you, you are on mute!”

And we have had to learn to be intentional about reaching out with phone calls and emails and check-ins. We have had to find new ways to be together and collaborate as community. Finding that nice spot in a house to film yourself doing a reading, singing hymns into your iPhone hoping that it can all be mixed together for Sunday, delivering sermon packages and hymnals, teaching an elder relative in faith how to zoom, sharing the peace with text messages and praying over the phone. 

And even as we have been worshipping from home, we have also been revealed to the world in perhaps uncomfortable ways with our worship being on social media, viewable by people across the world. 

Just when our old familiar tools and habits for being church have been ripped away, we have been joined by folks coming to us, wishing to see Jesus in our midst. 

Like Philip, every instinct tells us to go to Andrew instead. In the before time, we might have pointed a visitor asking for Jesus to the bathrooms, showed them how to use a hymnal, waved the pastor over hoping to make quick exit. These days, being out in the open and in the public space of social media might make us uncomfortable or uncertain about what to do when people we don’t know “show up” for worship. 

Before this past year it was easy for us to forget why people walk through church doors in the first place. To forget why we keep coming back again and again. To forget that the volunteer roles we sign up for, the jobs we agree to do, the relationships that become so important to us, the community we form and become a part of are not the things that make us the church.

But this past year has revealed to us a truth more important than ever. That even with all those things that seemed to make a community, those relationships and connections, those habits and tools, those jobs and behind the scenes things that bonded us together… even with all of those things mostly taken away, here we still are still gathering together, still a community of faith.

This past year has revealed the thing that binds us together… the One who binds us together, the One at the centre of the shared faith we confess… the one who has been dragging us through this long season of wilderness. The one that those Greek Jews asked Philip to see. 

When the always helpful Philip goes to Andrew, and the two go to Jesus not sure what to do with these foreigners… 

The Greeks are looking for the King who rode into Jerusalem. 

Yet, Jesus takes their question and steers it in a new direction. 

Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

God is busy drawing all people. All nations. All kinds, young and old, new and familiar, those leading up front and those behind the scenes… God is drawing all of us to the Christ who is lifted up on the cross. God is the ultimate reason that we are all here regular or visitor, seeking and searching or committed and devoted. 

God is gathering us together, and God who is we are ultimately looking for when we show up at church. God is who makes the church the church. God is who finds us, even as we are uncertain at times with what to do with that question, “We wish to see Jesus”

Today, Philip, even though he is not sure how to answer the Greeks, is still trying to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus. 

And Jesus recognizes that too. 

Jesus knows that even when our communities are thrown into turmoil and we have to learn completely new ways of being a community and gather using unfamiliar means and struggle with what to with when people come to us ask “We wish to see Jesus,”… Jesus knows that even with all that we are still trying to be faithful. 

And so God keeps gathering us. Gathering us around the word, proclaimed and shared in the most surprising of ways.  

God works with our faithfulness as it is. And from there, God draws us all to the cross. To the place where Christ will be crucified and will die.  

And yet also the place where death will drag us through the wilderness to the empty tomb. To the place where God’s faithfulness is fully revealed, to the reason that we continue to be and gather as community despite all odds.  To the place where God’s faithfulness is on full display when Jesus is lifted up, drawing us all to God’s love. 

Waiting for God’s Answers

John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Each Lent  invariably leads us to and prepares us for Holy Week, for those most important 3 days of the church year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. We do so by journeying with Jesus from Baptism to Wilderness and from Wilderness to Jerusalem. Along the way, we hear hints and signs of what is come. In other years, Lent is filled with stories about Jesus’ ministry. He meets the woman at the well and tells her of living water. He heals a blind man by spitting in the mud and putting the mud on the blind man’s eyes. Jesus feet are anointed by Mary and he is prepared for burial. Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb as a sign of what is coming on Easter Sunday. 

But this Lent is more of a slog than usual. This liturgical year as we focus on the Gospel of Mark, we are dropped into the major themes of Mark’s gospel. No one ever knows who Jesus is the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus tries to keep his identity a secret. He constantly tells the people around him not to tell anyone of his miracles. 

For the last 3 weeks of Lent, have been faced with the fact that we still do not truly know or understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing in the world. Jesus began 3 weeks ago by going into the wilderness. Into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But also into the wilderness to find us… into a wilderness that we have been wandering in for much longer than this season of Lent. Into Pandemic wilderness, into the wilderness of the decline of Christianity, and the wilderness of change. 

This year we went from wilderness  beginning Lent, to Peter’s rebuking of Jesus for talking about dying. But Jesus told him to “Get behind me, Satan”. Jesus was reminding Peter, and reminding us, that God has very different plans. God is going to save the world in a way that we cannot comprehend or imagine. 

Last week, Jesus overturned the market stalls in the temple. He told the animal vendors and money changers to get out. Jesus was furious that people were trying to sell a piece of God’s love. Jesus wouldn’t have it. Jesus reminded us that we cannot profit from God’s love, because God freely gives love and forgiveness away. 

This week, we hear some very familiar words from the Bible. “For God so loved the world…”. Christians of all stripes are encouraged to learn these words by heart. Luther called John 3:16 the Gospel in a nutshell. Yet, as we delve into the verses around 3:16, we discover that this verse is so much more than a simple explanation of the gospel taken out of context. 

This familiar verse is in fact Jesus’ answer to a question. A question posed to him by the Pharisee Nicodemus, who has come asking question. Nicodemus whose world has been rocked by Jesus’ coming onto the scene. Nicodemus thought he knew the path to salvation – follow of the law of Israel and you will be righteous. And yet he also sees that Jesus has been sent from God, and Jesus doesn’t seem to live by the same adage. Nicodemus wants to understand how all these things reconcile, he asks Jesus how one can be born again. He wants stability and certainty, he wants to move on from this disruption that Jesus has introduced. 

Each week of Lent so far has felt like it is taking us from one wilderness to another, one moment of uncertainty to the next. A reminder that God’s promises can sometimes feel so very far from us, that stumbling from one uncertainty to another doesn’t always feel like we are getting somewhere. That our desire for answers and certainty are not usually met neatly and straightforwardly by God. 

Nicodemus comes with his questions trying to figure out his own life, and Jesus gives an answer about God’s plan that include all humankind and all creation. Jesus answers from a perspective that Nicodemus… that we… might not be ready to hear an answer from. 

So what does all of this mean? What is God up to? Where is God taking us? We want answers, we want to reconcile this messy confusing world that we are living in. Like Nicodemus we want to move on from the disruption. For him the disruption that Jesus brought to the religious order. For us the immediate and intense disruption of pandemic, the larger and slower disruption of decline, and the even larger and more pervasive disruption of a rapidly changing world. 

Waiting for answers, waiting for things to make sense, waiting to be relieved of our inconvenience and discomfort… waiting for God to finally get us to the next thing… it can make us squirm with anxiety like waiting in a long line-up for the bathroom or for a rainy day to let up so that we can go outside or for a slow moving train to pass by us at a railway crossing when we are in a hurry. 

In the midst of our waiting and discomfort God is working on us and it sucks. God is forming and shaping us, making us ready for the thing that is coming next, opening our perspective beyond ourselves and our inconvenience. 

Today, on the 4th or 40th Sunday of our Lenten wilderness,  God is preparing us for cross and for empty tomb… and it is hard to endure. 

And God’s work on us can hurt at first. It can feel like that first ray of sun light that stings the eyes after being in dark building. It can feel like the pain of a deep tissue massage, working out the kinks and knots. It can feel like those first painful and sharp breaths that come into our lungs after being dunked under the waters of a cold lake. 

This Lenten season, as God makes us ready for the salvation that is on its way, it can be hard to endure without the glimpses of Easter that we get in other Lenten seasons. We will not listen in as Jesus forgives the woman at the well. We won’t see with new eyes with the blindman. We won’t watch as Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Instead, we are reminded of where we are going. Of where we are going with Jesus. 

Jesus is on his way to be lifted up. Jesus is on his way up a cross. And from that most terrible place of suffering and death, from that Roman cross meant to be the most humiliating way to die, God is using Jesus to save the whole world. 

This is the promise that is made to us today, in the midst of our Lenten waiting for answers. Jesus has not come into the world to condemn it, but the world is condemned already. We are condemned already. We are dead already. Right from Adam and Eve we have chosen ourselves first and we have chosen death. We have chosen to be our own God’s. We have chosen to align ourselves with anything and anyone but God. 

Yet we also hear that God so loves the world. God so loves the world that has chosen anything but God. The world that would rather die than let God be in charge. This is the world that God loves. Love is how God chooses to judge the world, rather than with what we justly deserve. Our discomfort with waiting, our desire for answers and certainty push us so often towards darkness and death that God should let us have, but instead God gives of Godself over to our death dealing ways. God in Christ is given over to be lifted up and then shows us something new. 

God shows us life. Life instead of death. Light instead of darkness. Healing instead of suffering. And yes, it hurts to wait for that promise to be realized. It hurts to have those wounds and scars covered over. It hurts to look into that light when our eyes were accustomed to darkness. It hurts for our hearts to start beating when they have stopped and for breath to be forced back into our lungs when they are empty. 

But this is the God of John chapter 3 verse 16. A God who so loves… so loves… the world that God gave the son. God’s only son to a world that wants to die, but that now, because of the cross and because of Christ, will find out that death is the path to life. God loves us so much that God will come and be wherever we are in order to save us. 

God is going to save a world simply cannot wait through anymore discomfort or uncertainty.  God is going to save the world by dying, no matter how much we protest with Peter. God is going to save the world freely no matter how many market stalls we set up in God’s house.. God is planning to save the world, even when we just cannot wait a moment more for salvation…   

Even we cannot look beyond ourselves and our problems of the moment… Today, we are reminded that God’s salvation plan is for more than we can imagine. God’s salvation is given freely for us and for all.  

Ep 10 – A Pandemic Ministry Year

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-j7ftr-fd02de

We are now 1 year into this pandemic. Lent has started again, and Ash Wednesday – for many folks – was the last major church festival to last happen pre-pandemic. What have we learned in the past year, and how will we do things differently in year two. 

Join Pastor Courtenay and Pastor Erik for a conversation about this anniversary of this on going pandemic.

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

This podcast is sponsored by the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synodof the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Music by Audionautix.com

Theme Song – “Jesus Loves Me” by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Alberta and the North (LOMAN)

The Day After Our Tables Have Been Overturned

John 2:13-22
Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Our wilderness Journey continues this week. From the wilderness of our year long Lent, to the wilderness of the fear and anxiety that we shared with Peter last week.

Today, Jesus strikes out for a place that seems far from wilderness and letting go, but instead is the place where everything is held onto. Where tradition and ritual, consistency and honouring the past is valued above all else. Jesus heads straight to the heart of Jerusalem society – the temple, God’s dwelling place, God’s house. The temple of Jesus’ day was a bustling place of business. There were pilgrims coming and going from all over Jerusalem. Pharisees debating religious law. Priests performing sacrifices. And lots of people selling things. Selling animals for sacrifice. Kosher food and clothes. Selling whatever a religious person might need in order to access the temple appropriately. 

For most Hebrews of the first century, the temple was the experience of a lifetime. It was something that took time and money, and was not easily afforded. The temple was a place for rich folks to come and go from, for those in the middle to visit occasionally, and for those on the bottom, the poor had no hope of ever getting the chance to make it into the temple. 

But it had not always been so. All the rules about sacrifice and ritual that the temple was based on were not about keeping people out when they were first given to the people of Israel. Instead, they were meant as means to talk about God in a communal and shared way. They were meant to facilitate the communal practices of worship and prayer. They were meant to make it easier for everyone to access God’s love and God’s forgiveness of sins. As people tried harder and harder to follow the letter of the law, to be faithful Hebrews, they created more and more barriers to God, rather than making access easier. 

By the time Jesus comes to the temple, the cost and process for even getting into the temple, an enormous building surrounded by huge imposing walls meant to protect the holy of holies, was so cumbersome that only the rich and privileged had real ease of access. 

It is not surprising that Jesus seems to lose his cool. Jesus running around with a whip, overturning tables and yelling is not the Jesus we are used to. Jesus declares, “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace”. These words are more profound than we imagine. In greek ,the word for household is oikos and from that comes the word oikonomos or in english: economy. Jesus’s words could be heard this way:

“Stop making my father’s economy a marketplace”. 

What had begun as a means for the people of Israel to access God, was now a money making machine. It was a place for entrepreneurship, for making money. And the exclusive product being sold was God. 

So now… this is usually the point in the sermon where we would look at the parallels between story and us. And we don’t have to look very far in Christendom to see where God is being bought and sold. We can look to the prosperity preachers on Sunday morning TV, to the Christian book stores that promise to make our spiritual life grow, or places like FOX news who are using quasi-Christian beliefs to boost ratings. We can look back to the Reformation and remember the sale of indulgences, essentially “get out of purgatory” cards. 

But if we really look around ourselves now as Lutherans in North America, or as mainline Christians over all… I think we can safely say that Jesus wouldn’t have much cause to show up with a whip to overturn our tables. 

If we have been selling God here… we have not been doing it very well.

These days, we look a lot more like the day after Jesus has come through and upset the order of things. Now let’s not kid ourselves, the Jerusalem temple was certainly back to business as usual the day after Jesus overturned those tables. But the Jerusalem temple which had been built and rebuilt over the course of a 1000 years, would be destroyed for good within 40 years of Jesus overturning the tables by the Romans. 

And after the Romans razed the temple for the last time, the Jewish people had to completely change the way they did religion. 

Like the Hebrews after the destruction of the temple, our marketplace moment has come and gone. We were once the only show in town. We were once the centres of communities all over. Our religious leaders could phone prime ministers directly. Governments have mandated  civic holidays on our holy-days. Public schools forced children to pray our prayers and read our holy books. On Sundays everything was closed and people couldn’t do anything but come to us. Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics, we were planting churches and starting congregations left and right 40, 50, 60 years ago. We were the ones who controlled access to God. 

In order to have people walk in our doors, all we had to do was build a building and raise the money to call a pastor. And Sunday Schools were bursting, confirmation classes full, choirs robust, Sunday worship was bustling. 

And today… well if our churches and gatherings often felt like were trying to turn the table right side up a year ago, it is much more so today. 

For quite a while now the church – we – have been losing sight of what our original purpose was. In Jerusalem, providing access to God’s love and forgiveness was transformed into making the right sacrifices, being ritually clean and worshipping only in God’s holy temple. Forgiveness became a way to sell sacrificial animals, to earn money for maintaining the temple, to bring people from all over to Jerusalem.

For us, providing a place for the Body of Christ to hear the word and receive the sacraments has been transformed into maintaining structures and budgets. Sermons and worship have become selling features to pay for buildings and to fill offering plates. We have often flipped the functions of our building and budgets with gathering for word and sacrament. Instead of buildings and budgets being tools that allow our faith communities to gather to hear God’s word, to be baptized and receive communion;  attractive, flashy worship becomes a tool we use to keep our budgets viable and buildings open.

But now today, Jesus shows up and declared, 

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

And now everything has been turned upside down, everything has been taken away from us. Our buildings, our traditions, our familiar rituals and practices… and we wonder what will happen, how will we rebuild, how will we begin again?

Jesus has a curious answer for us.

“Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up”

Jesus is not talking about physical structures. Jesus is not going to be found in the walls of church buildings that now sit mostly empty. Jesus is not hiding in our wallets waiting to be put into offering plates. Jesus is not in all the things we have been putting off for year, and are waiting to pick back up again. 

Instead, Jesus reminds us how and with what the church is built, not bricks and mortar, but people. People gathering in all kinds of surprising ways, people caring for and nurturing the love of God within community. People gathering for online worship, making phone calls and writing letters. People making deliveries, picking up mediation and playing church services from their computers over the phone to elderly relatives. People making care packages for those who are alone or just checking up friends who have fallen out of touch. The church has been dispersed and scattered for the past year… only to be found in small acts of ministry all over the world, and connecting across long distances in ways we could never have imagined. 

And then with the seeds of this new church being planted, a new foundations being laid,  Jesus reminds us who it is that builds this church in the first place. Jesus reminds us whose faithfulness it is that is building the Body of Christ. 

Hint: it is not our faithfulness. 

God is the one who is providing the means for forgiveness. God is the one who comes to us in word and sacrament. God’s faithfulness is the purpose of our worship and praise. Buildings, temple walls, balanced budgets, ritually purified coins, programs that bring the people in, animal sacrifices… these are not the things that show us where God is.

God is in the person, the flesh of Jesus who comes and meets us in our misguided attempts to be faithful. 

God is the One we meet in the Word, in the words of faith proclaimed amongst us, over and over. Words like forgiven, mercy, grace. Like Gospel, baptism, promise. Like peace, love and welcome. 

God is the One that bridges the gap between distant members, the one who joins us together as one, in whom we hear the words of eternal life. 

Jesus is reminding that God can raise up the body of Christ without bricks or mortar, without budgets and programs. God can build churches just with people, with what Word of God, with the promise of baptism, with a community that shares a common confession of faith. None of us can do that, no matter how strong we think our own faithfulness. 

As faithful as we try to be by building holy places for people to meet God, as upside down as get things as we try to sell God to pay for our holy buildings, Jesus is coming out of the wilderness to meet us right in the heart of our marketplaces. Jesus is coming right to the middle of our bustling temples. 

And Jesus, for a a while now long before the last year, has been relieving us of the burdens of buildings and budgets. Jesus has been overturning our tables and whipping us back into shape. And it is Jesus that shows us that God’s temple, God’s church is not buildings and budgets, but people, coming together in untold and unimaginable ways, that are the Body of Christ. 

Jesus shows us that our overturned tables have not been turned upside down, but instead Jesus has turned them and us…

Right side up.