Raise Up
John 2:13-22

by | Mar 11, 2024

PRAYER: God of patience and love, remind us today that while sometimes we may actually need to flip a table or two, we must also raise something up in its place. Remind us of the imperative to love one another, and make that our first instinct today and every day. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

I want to tell you a story about something that happened to me in a store maybe a year or two ago… There was only one cashier waiting on a long line of customers, and I was third in line. Fortunately, another employee came to the front of the store and opened up their register. They announced that they could take the next customer – and I waited to see if the person in front of me would move over. She didn’t. So when the new cashier started to say ‘next customer’ again, I went around the woman in front of me and went to the newly opened cashier.
Well. This woke up the woman who had been in front of me. She started yelling at me and calling me names. She was angry… so very angry. I tried to tell her that I had waited for her to move and she hadn’t, so I went ahead and moved over. She wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. She demanded that I move my stuff off the belt and let her go first. Frankly, she was pretty rude.
I actually did move my items off the belt. It really wasn’t a big deal to me… but then after all that drama… after she went and had all of her items rung up, it turned out that she didn’t have enough money. She had to give some items back. This just made her angrier. It was just a few bucks that she was short – and to be completely honest, if she hadn’t yelled at me the way she did, I would have reached into my wallet and made up the difference… but I didn’t do that. After she paid for what she could afford, she took her items and left the store. I never saw her again.
Now, I want to tell you another story… a story about Marge. I don’t know if that’s her name… I’m totally guessing that was her name. Marge was having a really bad day. Her boss had yelled at her most of the day and was making her life a living hell. Also on that day, her daughter, who lives in Ohio, had called and told her that she had lost her job that day.
Marge was feeling completely worn down. She just wanted to go home, have a little dinner and go to bed. But she had to run to the store first because she hadn’t had a chance to get there in over a week. She just needed a few things, so she hoped it would just be a quick in and out deal.
The problem was that there was only one cashier working. Marge was so frustrated; she put her head in her hands and just shook her head. She was so tired. She thought about her daughter. She thought about her boss and the terrible day she’d had. She thought about just leaving her cart there and going home.
She didn’t hear the cashier call out for next customer the first time. All of a sudden, this self-important man just barges around her and goes in front of her in line. One more example of rudeness in an already rude day. And then, to top things off, she had forgotten to go to the ATM before she went to the store and had forgotten that she had to buy gas that morning and had spent most of her cash. She just wanted one thing to go right that day.
Same story… from two perspectives. It’s a method called “flipping the story” or “flipping the narrative”. Marge – or whatever her name actually was – was really angry because, in her mind, I took her place in line. I have no idea why she was having such a bad day, but it was pretty clear that she was having one. And this type of narrative is the kind that it’s so easy to narrate to your own benefit… to paint yourself in the best possible light. We all do it. I would bet you that when Marge got home and told the same story to whoever was waiting for her at home, she told it in such a way that made me out to be the monster.
In our gospel story today, Jesus gets all up in the face of the temple leaders with an outburst of righteous anger. If we’re being totally honest, it can be very satisfying in our own lives to excuse some good old-fashioned anger by pointing to this story from John’s gospel. Jesus got angry when he cleared out the temple… Jesus used some significant hyperbole when he said that he would destroy the temple. Therefore, I’m allowed to spew anger as well. The logic is sketchy at best, but people do go there. And I’m sure that when the temple leaders got home that day, they told the story of this crazy man flipping the tables in the temple, chasing everyone out, making outrageous claims. They certainly pointed at themselves as the poor hapless victims in the story.
The difference is however that Jesus’ righteous indignation was directed toward those things that harmed others. He wasn’t just expressing how much he hated the moneychangers. He wasn’t necessarily being victimized by them. He was defending and lifting up the needs of others: the poor, the people who were being taken advantage of.
Honestly, sometimes things do need to be stirred up! Sometimes, things need to be torn down with the same urgency Jesus had when he took his whip of cords and drove out those who were exploiting the spiritual practice of the Jewish people to enrich themselves. As people of faith, we certainly can and should speak out against things we hate… but those things we hate should involve injustice. When people use their faith in order to throw stones, we should speak out against that. But we tend to forget that in our work of seeking justice today is the importance of raising up that which needs to be put in the place of what has been destroyed. It’s not enough to just get angry or frustrated at injustice or the treatment of the poor. I think there is an additional challenge for us to provide an alternative to what we are protesting. To dream the way Jesus dreamed of what might be raised up when the temple was destroyed.
Now for some context to this narrative, the Gospel of John was written more than one hundred years after Jesus’ death, and quite some time after the Roman Empire destroyed the temple for a second time (about 40 or 50 years) after the long siege in response to insurrection and chaos in Jerusalem. A third temple has never been built, but a new Judaism rose up, and lives on.
That is the story of our faith, too. For we worship the one who lived, the one who has died, and the one who has risen. The primary gospel of our faith is a story of rising up from death. That can come to life in many forms today. “Raising up” doesn’t mean recreating a facsimile of that which has fallen. Sometimes “raising up” looks like transformation.
I think we can apply this to the general narrative of Christianity. It’s one of the topics I hear frequently in church conversations. Many people lament the emptiness of churches today; they lament the fact that people don’t’ come to church anymore on Sunday mornings. There’s even some anger expressed. But when asked about what they would like to see happen, they simply point backwards to what the church once was… that’s not transformation. That’s just putting the broken pieces back together again. But it’s still broken.
The story of Jesus’ angry response to the temple being made into a marketplace was profound and may have been another step toward his ultimate demise on the cross. But listen to what he says: He refers to raising up a new temple in three days — something his disciples later remembered as a foretelling of his resurrection. But the point is that it wasn’t enough to simply tear something down; something had to be raised up in its place. You know the old expression – nature abhors a vacuum. How might we raise up as the Body of Christ and be a holy temple — a holy dwelling place of God — in the world? How might we flip the narrative to re-present Christ in the world today?
God is urging us to make way for the new thing that can be risen up in this place. What needs to be driven out – or put down in order for the church to experience transformation? We may be bogged down with thoughts of deferred maintenance and leaking rooves, or rooms full of hoarded memories that have become stale… what needs to be risen up in these places? Can they be transformed into spaces our community can use?
How can the Body of Christ rise up in a new way in this 21st century we are in? I believe that God is calling us into a new space, calling us to be a new creation, transformed for this day and age, for this community. I believe that we are called to re-present Christ to the world. What tables need to be overturned? Make no mistake: I’m not just talking about physical tables. What tables set firmly in our minds need to be overturned that we can see beyond them to the new thing that God is doing in this place – in this time?
It is not our mission to ensure that the church as we know it remains exactly the same today as it was 50 years or 100 years ago. That is not creating a new thing. That is not transformation. Those tables need to be overturned, and new tables need to be raised up in their place. I know that sounds scary, but I promise that God is present in creating a new thing, and this is something that people of faith can embrace.
What needs to be driven out to make space for the new thing God is doing among us? What narrative that lives in our minds do we need to flip, so that we can raise up new ones? What is holding us back? What new communities can rise up? Are we ready for the call to raise up the new thing God is doing, even if it might mean that we are expected to change and be transformed ourselves?
Each weekend, we gather in this space – or in our fellowship hall (for dinner church or breakfast church) to worship God as a community and then we go out, charged with the commandment to love God and one another. But what if we flipped that table? What if we love God and one another first and foremost and THEN came here and worshipped God? What if we love God and one another as a form of worship out there – and then gathered here as a community celebrating that love.
Instead of viewing our faith through a lens of ‘first we gather, and then we’re sent’, let’s turn that around and remember that we are sent first and foremost to be Christ’s disciples, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to seek justice, to bring good news to the poor. What if we view that – not as a charge at the end of our worship, but as a form of our worship itself. Our worship of God is found in how we lift up our neighbor, in how we share God’s love to even the most difficult people to love. What if we raised up our worship in a way that puts God’s love into our community first and foremost in our lives beyond these walls, and into the world in which we live.
It is easy to break down tables. It’s easy to get angry when standing in line at a store with only one cashier working. But the real work and the real reward is found in what we strive together to raise up. Let’s flip the table of how we view our worship, how we understand the church, and how we raise it up in a new way that breaks the chain of transactional worship and fills us, empowers us, to be a voice of God’s church of the 21st century.
To God be the glory.