Sermons

Jesus Was A Protester

Themes: John

Chris Topping

Introduction

What makes you angry? I suspect that there will be a long list right now in the midst of a pandemic.

I would like to think that I am not really an angry person but somethings do wind me up!

One of our sons has/had a habit of leaving his cereal bowls in the living room and no matter how we tried to persuade him that this was a bad thing it never really changed – it wound me up!

Maybe it’s the dog across the street barking incessantly!

In the grand scheme of things these are relatively trivial things to get wound up.

But maybe its food poverty or the damage done to the environment or homelessness or abuse of power?

But what do you do with your anger?

Context

Our reading this morning is another of those classic situations where I wish I had been there. This coming week in Lent Group we will use a painting by El Greco to consider this account a bit more. Here is a sneak preview of the painting for you to look at and to imagine what it would have been like.

The sheep and the cattle being driven out of the Temple along with those who had been selling them must have been quite a sight. It certainly blows apart the idea that we sing about at Christmas of “Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild”.

It’s also one of those events in Jesus life which allows me to answer the rather annoying question “What would Jesus do?” by responding “He would kick up a right fuss”.

John gives us this account of Jesus in the Temple at the start of his gospel. All that John has told us about before this event is the gathering together of the disciples and the wedding at Cana in Galilee. Having set that scene the focus moves to Jerusalem and to the Temple and we begin to see what John’s purpose is for writing his Gospel.

The Lessons for Us

As we think about this reading I want to try and draw out two things for us to take away this morning and as we do so keep in mind the notion that “Jesus was a protester”.

  1. What is the Theology of this event?
  2. What do we learn about Protests?

The Theology of the Event

You will know how important the temple was to the Jewish people. In the middle of Jerusalem this was the place where they believed God lived, this was the place they came to for forgiveness and for healing.

The temple was the focal point of the nation which said Yahweh is King and that the gods of the surrounding nations were mere idols.

For Jesus to have caused chaos like this in the temple was what one writer describes as

“a slap in the face of the cult of the temple"[1]

The importance of what is happening here is not just about throwing over of the tables.

Jesus is making a bold statement that He is the real temple – it will be in the person of Jesus that there can be forgiveness – in the person of Jesus we will know the presence of God.

God is no longer confined to a building – God is alive in the person of Jesus. The temple as a building is going to be redundant as, in Jesus, there is a new way of knowing God.

That is massively significant because this puts Jesus on a collision course with the leaders and rulers of the temple.

The Gospel writer is setting out his theological agenda here which will be a theme running through the rest of John’s account of Jesus’ life.

At the end of the Gospel John writes

“These things are written so that you may become to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name"[2]

The building, the Temple, had assumed an importance which perhaps skewed things significantly. A building which had taken 46 years to build must have taken some energy and I suspect there had been a lot of committee meetings to raise money, to discuss what sort of construction, what colours to paint the walls, what sort of floor coverings, how many windows were needed.

Perhaps this resonates with us in the current pandemic?

When church buildings are by and large closed what is their significance? If you have been reading the letters pages of the Daily Telegraph, which I don’t generally do, but one of our congregation helpfully makes sure I see them, then you will know that the issue of church buildings is a source of furious debate as the debate goes on around their importance and how we should care for them.

Maybe there is a lesson for us here that actually the building should not be seen as all important. Here we are this morning meeting again virtually seeking to be the church, to know the presence of God and of course God is just as present with us now as if were in our building in Linnet Lane.

What is important is to believe in Jesus who has come to show us how to live life in all its fulness.

We are to be stewards of our building but it does not represent the full extent of the life of the church.

The Action Of The Event

In understanding the theology behind what happened in the Temple we have to see that the theology demanded action. This was not just an academic debate about the importance of the Temple what Jesus does in driving out the traders is an act in support of the poor. It is an act which opens wide the Kingdom Of God to everyone.

The traders had a monopoly on selling animals to be sacrificed in the Temple and so that meant that there was a price on being forgiven – hence Jesus shouting at the traders

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”

If there was ever any doubt about it, and there shouldn’t be, God is shown here to have a heart for the poor or as Bishop David Sheppard put it “a bias to the poor”.

Jesus takes a stand with the poor and those who were being priced out of a relationship with God.

Is our church an institution which welcomes the poor or prices them out?

There is a big question for the Church Of England to answer as to who it seeks to reach in the post-pandemic world and what its focus will be.

The actions of Jesus in driving out the traders from the Temple seems to me to point the way – the church is not a business.

Tough question for us - what sort of church do we want to be?

Our message is “absolutely.everyone.welcome” – we need to hold ourselves to account in the light of this passage and make sure that we are not creating barriers to those who should be welcomed in.

What do Learn About Protest

The other thing that strikes me from this passage is about Protest.

From my perspective it is liberating to think that “Jesus was a protester”.

I suspect many of us have an image of Jesus in our head of a baby with blue eyes and blond hair – and characterised by the phrase “butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth” – this passage shows something quite different – Jesus was a protester.

In thinking about this and preparing for this morning I read this

“Contrary to our religious assumptions about righteousness and holiness, sometimes the most Christ-like thing we can do is protest.
Christianity isn’t political power, military might, safety, wealth, control, fame, or comfort — it’s emulating Jesus.
Defending the gospel for the sake of humanity — people loved and created in the image of God — that was the reason Jesus protested. Are we willing to do the same?.”[3]

I wondered whether this Lent we are called to re-evaluate how we interact with the world? Are we emulating Jesus the protester?

My question at the start of this sermon was to ask

“What makes you angry?”

As we saw Jesus get angry in the reading He was driven to act.

“Not every Christian is called to be an activist. But all are called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world"[4]

There are of course all sorts of different protest.

It maybe that your protest is to follow the way of “Gentle Protest” with organisations like Craftivist Collective run by a former member of Christ Church, Sarah Corbett. Sarah uses craft to get across her message by using thoughtful, beautiful crafted works to help and encourage others be the positive change they wish to see in the world.[5]

Or it maybe like Andy that your protest is more direct being a member of Extinction Rebellion.

Or it may be that you are a protester through the letters your write or the petitions you sign.

How will you emulate Jesus the protester this Lent?

Conclusion

When John got to the end of writing his Gospel he reminded his readers why he had written it.

“These things are written so that you may become to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name”[6]

Through believing we may have life in His name - life in all its fulness which unavoidably includes getting angry and protesting.

Remember how what we said together at the beginning of worship this morning

When We Are Angry – God Welcomes Us

Let’s see that emotion of anger as part of living life in all its fulness as we recognise that anger compels us to action. Remember “Jesus was a protester”.

AMEN

  1. Tom Wright - New Tasks For a Renewed Church - Hodder
  2. John 20 v31
  3. https://sojo.net/articles/jesu... - Stephen Matson
  4. Marcus Borg - Convictions SPCK
  5. https://craftivist-collective....
  6. John 20 v31