Cleaning House

Our baptismal vow asks us this essential question:  Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

I wonder, “What could keep us from proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  Will it be persecution?  The threat of imprisonment, torture or death?”  Nah.  Probably nothing so severe as that.  The greatest threat to us living out our baptismal vow to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ is busyness.  Busyness is one of the most oppressive forces in our lives.  We are just too busy to be the body of Christ.

I was at an emerging Church conference a little while ago where someone asked a panel of church leaders, “How would you characterize these new generations of Christians?” and one rather crushing answer was, “Too busy to live out their ideals”.  As I looked around the room everyone nodded their head in agreement.  This is so true for me.  I treasure the silence and the solitude I experience in the half-minute walk I take around my car between putting Moses in his car seat and getting into the driver’s seat.  I walk s-l-o-w-l-y.  It’s like a 30 second sabbath.  We’re too busy to be the body of Christ, our lives are too full to be fulfilling and not empty enough to make room for what matters to us.

Social researcher Liah Greenfeld wrote:

“Americans who suffer from busyness today do not prioritize. They treat all their occupations– work, family, and even leisure–as equally important… [Americans] are busy not because our physical and economic survival requires constant exertion on our part, leaving us little opportunity for spiritual restoration–relaxing, getting rid of the sense of busyness–but because we are incapable of perceiving and taking advantage of the opportunities for repose. We are restless. And our busyness is an expression of this inability to rest, rather than its cause… We are veritably torn into pieces by all these simultaneous and necessarily conflicting demands that oppress us every minute of our waking life and eventually invade our sleep.”

I read that and thought, “Yep. We’re just too busy to be the body of Christ”.  But this story about Jesus clearing the Temple wants to speak into our busyness and say, “It’s not too late to clean house, because Jesus has some serious zeal for the Temple.  St. Paul makes this connection, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? …God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”

So it’s really not much of a jump to say, “Jesus is consumed by zeal for you.”  He wants to clean house, clear out all the clutter and the busyness that keeps us from fully living when our lives start to look like an episode of Hoarders.

We don’t have to be afraid of this zeal.  Jesus is not going to harm you, even though things we mistakenly cling to will be challenged, and that certainly is scary.  But his is a protective anger on your behalf towards all the consumption that takes up room in you, but does not fulfill you and leaves no room in you for meaningful relationship with God or anyone else.

“Cleaning the Temple” is what it means to say, “No”.  Saying “No” is the energy to clean house.  Saying “No” creates the boundaries to hold that empty space.  Saying “No” makes room to decide what to give your “Yes” to.  So, without fear, wonder what space needs clearing in your life?  What “No” might Jesus be saying in your life in order that you might more fully say “Yes” to something else? These questions form the basis of the personal address of our Gospel.

But there’s also a wider address for our culture in this passage that we should not forget. The Gospel says, “Jesus poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” The reason why money needed to be changed in the temple was because pilgrims were traveling to Jerusalem from far away countries and the temple was making big bucks off of this dirty exchange of currency.  In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the JPMorgan of the time, who turned a blind eye to Bernie Madoff’s deception.

The Gospel says, “Jesus told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” In the Jewish Temple doves were the offerings of the poor purchased by those could not afford a lamb or a goat. In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the Wells Fargo of the time, who gave bonuses to loan officers who put minority borrowers into high-priced subprime mortgages—internally dubbing them “ghetto loans.”

The Gospel says, “Jesus told them, ‘My house is to be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”  In the Jewish Temple there were few places where Gentiles were allowed to worship and that’s where all this business was located.  All the buying and selling had pushed out any room for prayer – which the reason why the Temple was built. But buying and selling had pushed out any room for the Gentile to pray – instead they were treated like a commodity, like a profit unit.  In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the Citigroup, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs of the time, who gave tens of millions of dollars of bonuses to their top executives while duping their own clients.

I can’t think of a better time than now to call upon the words of the prophet Amos, who said:

“Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land, saying,

‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain,
When will the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure, boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals.’

Your gig is up and it’s time for a clean sweep.

The Temple was full and needed emptying.  Our banks are full and in need of emptying.  And there’s a way in which we too are full and in need of emptying. We need emptying so that we might be a house of prayer to cultivate earnest relationship to God. Do you have room for prayer and relate to God? When’s the last time you cleared your schedule and just kept it that way determined to nurture intimacy with your God?  Like the Jewish Temple, this is what we’re made for.  This is the essential.  What’s stopping us?

And we need emptying so that we might be a place for ‘all nations’, a place to cultivate relationship with the ‘Other’.  Do you have room for strangers, for those who are outside of your family or outside your circle of friends?  When’s the last time you had someone over for dinner? (We all know your house is messy, no one cares about that except you – are you gonna let that stop you from the thing that God says is essential – that is, the welcoming of the outsider?)

We are too busy to be the body of Christ, but Jesus is consumed by a zeal for you and wants to give you the courage to say “No” to everything that wants to fill up your time and your energy but never really fulfills you.  It’s time to make a fast from busyness as usual and enter the liminal empty space of Lent. It will feel like the destruction of the Temple. It will certainly feel like death. But Jesus makes you this promise, “In three days it will be rebuilt.” Your whole life will be rebuilt, cluttered rooms of your life will be swept clean, time will bend to a new rhythm, priorities will reorder their importance, and life will unfold in a whole new way so that we can get back to being the body of Christ, so that we can answer “with God’s help we will” when asked “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.”