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In Retrospect ~ John 2:13-22

[sound of hundreds of coins thrown from the pulpit onto the floor of the sanctuary]
What a scene.  Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers.  Jesus disrupts and agitates.  What is going on, really? What got Jesus so passionate? That the sellers were jacking up the prices of a dove or a sheep knowing that people under pressure will spend just about anything? Sounds like market place capitalism to me.  Just last summer when the gas prices were at $4.00 and it “just happened” to coincide with Memorial Day let me tell you let me tell you I wanted to turn over a few tables – but how do you get those pumps out of the ground? And really, it isn’t the fault of the hourly wage worker who sits behind the bullet proof glass and hands you your lottery ticket and cigarettes.

Was it compassion for the poor innocent pilgrims who were being taken advantage of? Perhaps. I know that when I was in the twisting maze of the Jerusalem market place I probably paid way too much for the souvenirs and gifts I brought home. Who likes to be taken. But when entering the souk, or market place – one shouldn’t be naive. It just the culture.

Was Jesus making a symbolic act of uncivil disobedience against the corruption of the temple system? Like the anti-war protestors who throw blood on the nuclear subs, or like those NOAH demonstrators who packed the elevators in the National City building to agitate National City to sign an anti- predatory lending statement? Whose side would you really be on?

Was Jesus declaring that nothing, no institution, no traditions, no status quo can mediate the presence of God. Anything that stands in the way must be overturned.

Any one of these concerns or all of them may be correct. You pick.

These verses have fueled the indignant against selling girl scout cookies in the fellowship hall or pushing a capital campaign or pledge drive.

Whatever actually happened, what Jesus did in the temple square that day sure caught the attention of the powers that be. You don’t sow disruption and not reap reaction.

The disciples were stunned. The sellers were infuriated. The Jewish temple leaders were perplexed; “what sign can you show for doing this?” which is another way of saying; “who died and made you Elvis?”

And one should never, ever forget that the Romans legions were stationed in the Antonia Tower perched beside the Temple. They were able to look down into the turmoil and take note. And lets just say this: Rome was very good at keeping order and thought nothing of crucifying several hundred suspected agitators just because they could.
If nothing else this story reminds us that Jesus didn’t get crucified for telling people to “consider the lilies.”

And on top of all this when confronted, Jesus said something about destroying the Temple and that line would be remembered by those who would cry out: “Blasphemy, Sedition – Crucify him!”

This act of Jesus would be remembered by Matthew and Mark and Luke and John although they remember the event and interpret it differently.

John interprets these words as Jesus talking about his crucifixion and resurrection, but that was only after, long after the event – 50 years later, when John was re-collecting the stories, re-membering the words. At the time the disciples didn’t have a clue what was going on it was just, well, confusing, unsettling and frightening.

Only after many years does John the gospel writer look back and remember. Only in retrospect does this act have a broader meaning. Only in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection does John have an inkling of what happened. Only after reading Psalm 69 does the light come on for John and he remembers: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Memory is a funny thing; how you interpret your life. And for whatever reason, this week, I find the issue of how we remember and how we interpret to be more important than what we remember; as if there is only one way to interpret things. Only one answer, only one meaning. I want to encourage you to consider that what is happening now in your life – no matter what tables are being overturned – may have a graceful significance far beyond what you can see, but it may take time to really remember.

Meaning changes over time. Interpretations differ according to context and perspective. Just ask zealous republicans and democrats to interpret what is happening in our country now. Ask a liberal and a conservative Christian to get the biblical take on same sex weddings? Ask a Palestinian and an Israeli to describe their story; what has been happening in the Holy Lands since 1948. There is hardly ever just one way to re-member an event.

Christians have a great stake in memory. “Do this in remembrance of me.” – Jesus said. But when we remember, we interpret. And I think that the Spirit of Jesus Christ is always challenging you not to stay fixed, not to close off multiple meanings, to hold even our certainties loosely because only in time can you get a broader picture – like John did of this temple madness.

Remember last week? Peter couldn’t fathom that Jesus’ story, and by extension, his own story would include suffering. That is not what God does? And yet, only after, looking back did he realize the larger grace.
Who is to know how you will interpret what is happening to you now next week, or next year, or in 25 years? What seems like a dead end might be a door way. What seemed at the time like nothing much became absolutely essential.

At the time, 24 years ago, she was just an attractive young woman traveling across Europe with a girl friend who happened to know Bill in Edinburgh, Scotland. With each passing year I think, how remarkable. I guess God wanted me to meet Deanne. And it sure puts into perspective all the heartaches of high school and college. Did it happen exactly the way I remember? Deanne has a slightly different take on the facts. But that’s my story and I am sticking with it.

I remember sitting at the dining room table in Winchester, Va. eating breakfast with a one year old Jack on my lap and Deanne brings in the Presbyterian Outlook magazine and says “this church in Cleveland Heights looks interesting.” And 15 years later I remember that to be a holy moment – a burning bush moment. At the time I was just trying to eat my breakfast and read the box scores.

I remember seeing a young attractive family in the first pew of the balcony maybe ten years ago and finding out that the husband was a scholar at Case and the wife was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Now I interpret hiring Clover as a God blessed event.

I remember a sleepless night, wondering if I was going to make it, the future looked so cloudy and now all these years later I think about that night of wrestling and remember the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel at the river Jabbok and interpret my disquiet through the lens of faith and say “thank you. I get it now.” Of course it might have been too much lasagne and cheesecake. Who knows. But the moment is now filled with meaning, in retrospect.

And who is to know how these events will be interpreted, fulfilled, filled full, in another 25 years? What events good or ill, will alter my memory?

Allow me to make a faith statement: I dare to make the above interpretations about my life and past for the same reason John, the Gospel writer did – because for some reason I choose to look at the world through the lens of faith, through the interpretive lens ground by a conviction in a creator God who loves, who is never done fashioning a final product, always taking the unformed substance, the chaotic stuff of life and kneading, forming, massaging something into being, some graceful narrative, even my life, even your life.

Sometimes I think that faith is much less about certainly and much more about hope, much less a head thing than a heart thing. It isn’t about what you know but who you trust. Not what you see, but how you look.

There is no proof that “nothing is good or bad until God gets through with it.” Face it, what can be observed is often cause for cynicism and hopelessness. But trusting in a God who is still working on your story sure opens possibilities.

What you see before you, what you are living now is open to multiple interpretations – shaped by optimism or despair. Optimism comes from the same root as optics – having to do with the eye. I thank Mirti Raheb, the pastor in the Bethlehem church where I worshiped a month ago for this insight.
Sometimes what we see is delightful but sometimes it is horrific and so you have to choose how to interpret. Do you see your world, whatever your present context is – as a homeland or as a prison, or as a place of battle?

Who is to know really how your present situation, whatever it is, is really going to play out? What tables are being overturned in your life right now?

At the moment you may feel as if that firing confirmed the worst that you always harbored about yourself. But who is to know? In time you may see this present horror as the best thing that ever happened to you.

That death that leaves you with so many questions. It is impossible to think that there could be any redeeming memory. But who is to know, really? In 10 years it may play the most significant part in a new direction.

We see the market collapsing and houses losing their value, and at times I am apt to think that T.S. Eliot was right when he wrote: “This is how the world ends, this is how the world ends, this is how the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.” But who is to know in light of tomorrow what today might really mean?
Perhaps we are on the brink of some wonderful change?

It takes great courage sometimes to interpret the present situation by the shadow of a hope that a longer story that bends towards grace and justice and love even exits. It takes a bit of madness, for sometimes holding on to hope just doesn’t make much sense – the obvious seems so, well, obvious.

But in time, as you remember, as you are ground yourself in the hope of resurrection, perhaps “it ain’t over ‘till its over,” and other possibilities await, and the meaning is fuller than what you first thought.

And what feels like chaos is only creation.
And what looks like darkness is only a shadow.
And what seems like madness is only a clearing, of the temple of your heart so that Christ can be seen and heard and felt.

Who knows… in retrospect?

Amen.
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