One of the movies nominated for best picture this year was Selma which recalls the time in the not so distant past when the country was divided over the fight for equal rights as Martin Luther King, Jr. gathered people together to make a choice, to take a stand. The movie doesn’t cover his whole life but a period of 3 months, a moment in time about the work leading up to the Voting Rights Act. In one clip from the movie we see MLK say forcefully “It is unacceptable to use power to keep people voiceless” And though this man was nonviolent he did take action to raise consciousness to push against the accepted oppressive norms. This action led to violence as forces within this country resisted the walk to freedom as people were clubbed and beaten for standing up for their rights. Ironically the bridge where the marchers tries to cross is the Edmund Petttis bridge which was named for a former confederate general who was also a grand dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. This is where what is known as Bloody Sunday happened There is a time to disturb the peace it seems. To stand up, to say enough is enough Big changes seldom occur without significant action taken by brave souls. There were many people who were angry during that time and it is interesting to note that while anger is a common human emotion there are types of anger some that lead to positive change and other manifestations lead to destruction.
In last week’s gospel we saw Jesus angry with Peter as he rebuked him for getting in the way of his mission and ministry and today we see Jesus angry again in a more physical way as he challenges the authority of the temple. While in the synoptic gospels this event occurs toward the end of Jesus ministry and life in today’s rendition from John’s gospel it occurring the beginning of Jesus ministry. To say that the display of anger merely shows us that Jesus was human only touches the surface of what’s at work here. What Jesus does is much more than that and his actions in the temple are not a protest against Judaism Jesus was a faithful Jew after all but his actions were prophetic. He was radically challenging the trap that many had fallen into equating the authority of the temple with the presence of God. The status quo of the temple practices had been absolutized and therefore closed to the possibility of reformation, change and renewal (New Interpreters Bible, Vol IX p.545). This is what Jesus was protesting.
The temple was a closed system just like our government was closed in the early 60s thinking that it was just fine that 99% of voters were white. Jesus’ action in the gospel of John and his reference to the temple being destroyed and being rebuilt in 3 days point to the fact that God’s presence is to be known through Jesus not through the temple and its practices. That the focus on place and rules of the temple needed to be changed so that the temple and in our case the church is a people rather than an institution, a people that can be molded that can grow because grounded in Christ we can address unjust social systems.
It is not easy to see the savior the Messiah angry but he shows us that while anger can be powerful disturbing the peace can lead to something positive. Jesus shows us how to use our anger in passionate constructive ways.
As human beings we can sometimes become angry out of selfish reasons someone snubs us, cuts us off in traffic, hurts our pride but when Jesus got angry it wasn’t about him. In an essay titled What makes Jesus Angry Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola point out 3 categories for Jesus anger. The first incident was when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and saw the barren fig tree. He became angry and cursed it because of its lack of fruit. We as God’s people are called to be fruitful. You will be known by your fruits. When God said be fruitful and multiply it didn’t mean everyone is called to have children. It means God calls us to reflect God’s nature God’s nature is love.
A second focus of Jesus anger had to do with children. When anyone damaged children or dismissed them Jesus got angry Remember when he scolded his disciples when they tried to keep the children from “bothering him? He didn’t like that. When the disciples debated about who was the best he pointed to a child and said they were to be like them. The third category of anger for Jesus was related to the incident that we see today which the writers refer to as Jesus “temple tantrum.” Jesus became angry when the status quo itself was made a god. His anger was often at the self-righteous judgementalism of the temple authorities who didn’t see their own sinfulness but who were continually pointing the finger at others. Jesus challenged such behavior many times. The Rev Peter Wallace in his commentary points out that “Jesus example and teachings reveal to us that anger channeled and directed in love can proclaim a better way and fuel positive acts. That’s what we saw portrayed in the movie Selma, a holy anger that led to challenging an oppressive system. Any institutional embeddedness whether in government or our churches that models that we have everything figured out denies the fact that the Holy Spirit continues to move and inspire and call us to listen and change and witness to the ongoing revelation of God’s Spirit of truth.
There are many ways which we can do this to make choice and take a stand. I want to tell you about an experience I had and an opportunity for us this next week. Some of you have heard about the NOH8 campaign. It started as a nonverbal response to Proposition 8 in California a photographic silent nonviolent protest Adam Bouska and partner Jeff Parsley, photos feature NOH8 on one cheek and duct tape across their mouths symbolizing voices that have been silenced. So maybe 4 years ago there was one hosted at Transfiguration on a Sunday afternoon. People lined up all along the sidewalk. After church I walked up and down the sidewalk meeting and greeting some gay couples, some individuals, some families with children making a statement for equal rights. I also met a woman in her 40s told me about parents, one white, one Hispanic, and what a hard time they were given because of that back in the 1940s. “I’m here for them,” she said. You know what people said as I talked to them, “it’s really great that a church is doing this. It’s always been in Civic centers but never a church. They were surprised that a church would host such an event. That is sad. Why were they surprised that a church would host something that? It’s like being surprised that MLK, an ordained minister stood up, that there were clergy with him It’s like being surprised that Jesus would challenge oppression and eat with people who were on the margins. The temple, the church is not about a building or rituals. The church is about people about community about making sure that we are being fruitful, showing God’s love and taking a stand and sometimes that means experiencing holy anger and standing up saying enough is enough. There are many ways we can do this. There is an open NOH8 photo shoot at Transfiguration next Sat, March 14, at 1:00 p.m. Cost is $40 but $25 each for a group shot. I’ve put a sign up sheet out there on the Narthex table. What a cool witness for a group from St. Thomas to go. Let’s do it. Let’s take a stand and say with others saying, “Enough is enough!” It’s unacceptable to use power to keep people voiceless there is a time to disturb the status quo so with respect and love and peace. So that all may walk in freedom.
sermon written by: the Rev. Joy A. Daley
March 8, 2015 | Lent 3B
Exodus 20:1-7 | Psalm 19 | 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 | John 2:13-22