We just heard the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple.
This is a challenging story for Church people.
It seems like Jesus doesn’t want the Temple associated with any kind of commercial transactions. If so, we’re in trouble. Just yesterday, the vestry spent significant time working on our Church finances. Tomorrow we’re having a Church Supper as a fundraiser. I think those are good things, indeed really good things. But it means we need to be paying careful attention to what our Gospel reading has to say to us.
I start with an obvious truth. Maintaining any religious institution takes money.
Here at Saint David’s, we are blessed with talented and VERY dedicated volunteers who do most of what needs to be done in our common life. But we still have expenses.
We have to pay people to do things. Among people, I am the largest expense by far. But not the only expense. Just last week we hired an electrician to put lights on the Saint Francis window, and he wants to be paid. Maintaining the building is another big expense.
We have to raise money if we are going to continue as a parish.
The same was true, and on a MUCH grander scale, for the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a magnificent building, forty-six years in the making, as our reading reminds us, and constant in the upkeep. And the Temple had a huge payroll: priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, a temple police force, and so on.
The Temple was surely the single largest economic institution in Jerusalem. And that meant people associated with the Temple had to worry constantly about income and expenses.
The people Jesus condemns in our passage were not Temple employees. But they, too, were necessary to the smooth functioning of the Temple.
Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem from all over the ancient world. On the Temple mount, just outside the Temple building itself, pilgrims would change their money to a currency accepted in Jerusalem, purchase an animal, and then give the animal to the priests to be sacrificed. Take away the money changers and the animal merchants, and the sacrificial system of the Temple would grind to a halt.
It doesn’t seem possible that Jesus was condemning everything about this economic system. Economic activity had to happen, for them as it does for us.
So, what was Jesus condemning in our passage? Exactly what he says, “making my Father’s house a marketplace,” treating the Temple as a source of personal enrichment, thinking of the Temple not as God’s house but as a financial opportunity.
The lesson here is not that we shouldn’t hold Church fundraisers or manage the Church budget. We have to keep doing those things.
But we do need always to remember that we raise and manage money in order to build up the life of our community for service to God. The important part of that sentence is the last bit: for service to God.
That last bit is what the money changers in our reading forgot. In their eagerness to make money, they lost sight of God. They thought of the Temple as nothing more than a marketplace, not as God’s house.
We have to do better than that, to remember always that we do what we do as God’s people and in service to God’s mission. Raising money is a means to that end, never an end in itself.
Thankfully, their mistake is not a big danger for us. We don’t raise money for personal enrichment. Instead, we work hard to preserve and maintain God’s house.
But there is danger at the opposite extreme, too.
Both the disciples and the onlookers were shocked at what Jesus had done. They were even more shocked when Jesus told them to destroy the temple and in three days he would raise it up.
Although no one understands him at the time, Jesus is redirecting their attention away from the Temple building and on to himself. The Temple itself is not the point. God is the point. Christ is the point.
I love our building. After years of faithful worship and prayer, years of the Holy Spirit swirling around us, years of sharing Eucharist and the other sacraments, faithfulness has seeped into the walls of the building. Multiple people have told me that they have felt God’s presence here. I certainly have.
One of my favorite moments of the week is closing things down on Sunday afternoons. Usually, I still have left-over adrenaline from the services and whatever happened afterwards. Always I am caffeinated and sugared up. Before I leave for the day, I wander around for a few minutes, taking care of business, but really just settling down, experiencing the peacefulness of this place.
If you have never had a chance to be in our sanctuary by yourself, I encourage you give it a try some time. If you do, you will know what I am talking about.
For the last thirteen years, this building has been an important part of my spiritual journey.
Our building has been sacramental for me. Our building has been “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” That’s the definition of a sacrament from our catechism. What it means is, our building has become for me a visible reminder of God’s presence, and more than a reminder, a way I actually experience God’s presence.
But, and this is an important “but”, we shouldn’t confuse our building with the “Church.”
That’s a second mistake Jesus was trying to correct in our reading. If some people forgot about God altogether in relation to the Temple, others seemed to limit God to the Temple. And so Jesus tried to help his disciples see that the temple building, impressive though it was, holy though it was, was ultimately still just a means to an end, the end of encountering God. But Jesus himself was God in the flesh, God right in front of them.
Jesus doesn’t stand in front of us in the same literal way Jesus stood in front of them. But the body of Christ is still here. Paul tells us that individually we “are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in” us (1 Corinthians 3:16). And, Paul continues, together we are Christ’s body, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:27). We can encounter God when we are alone in our building. And we can encounter God in each other’s faces, too.
Like the disciples, we need to distinguish between the building where we meet and the true Church, which is us, God’s people, our Christian brothers and sisters.
I wish there were a set of glasses we could wear to help us see God’s Holy Spirit shimmering in each other, radiating grace and love. Mostly I can’t see that. Mostly I see what look like ordinary people. And then I get a glimpse of true holiness in one of you. And I realize that no one is “ordinary,” that I am just blind to God’s presence in you, and in everyone I meet.
And so we rightly raise money to cover our Church expenses. And we rightly love our Church building as a place we meet God. That is as it should be, as long as we keep focused on Christ and on Christ’s body, that is on God and on the people of God.
I end with the prayer that God keep us properly focused on Himself, and help us to do what needs to be done to maintain that focus always.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
 BCP, 857
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan