Benediction Online

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Selma and the Temple

John 2:13-22

In a couple of weeks, Bishop Mary will be visiting St Benedict's, and will be receiving several people into the Episcopal Church. This is a time when we all get to renew our baptismal vows, so this morning I want to take a little time to reflect on a couple of them. So please turn to page 305 in the BCP;
Celebrant      Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
                 your neighbor as yourself?

Celebrant      Will you strive for justice and peace among all 
                 people, and respect the dignity of every human 

Please find one or two other people and reflect together on what these mean to you and how you try to live them out in your life. I’m not going to ask you to report back to the whole group, so you can be totally honest.

Today’s gospel reading shows Jesus gripped by passion. This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild, but Jesus “consumed with zeal”. Under Jewish law, people would bring animals to the priest to be ritually slaughtered and then they were usually cooked and eaten. These sacrifices were made for many reasons including thanksgiving and to end ritual impurity. Jesus would have been very familiar with this system, and it is unlikely that he was wanting to get the market itself out of the temple forecourts.

What incensed him was that the people selling animals or changing Roman money into the Jewish or Tyrian money that was used to buy them, were cheating the poor. They were charging high prices and putting an obstacle in their way to God. This may have been especially true at the Passover since Jerusalem would have been filled with as many as 3 or 400,000 people come for the celebration. Merchants put up their prices because everyone wanted a sacrificial animal.

So instead of being a service, providing animals had become a racket – it would be like us charging everyone high prices to come to church at Easter.

At the beginning of Lent, our season of special intention, we read a passage from Isaiah in which the prophet declares that God isn’t interested in sacrifices or fasting. Why not? Because these shows of piety are hollow unless they are accompanied by social justice.
Is not this the fast that I choose, says Isaiah,
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

Piety without social justice is empty. Jesus dramatically disrupts the marketplace of those who are scalping pilgrims. Prayer does not take place in a den of thieves.

How does this apply to us today? We live in a world where the richer are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The top 1% of the world’s population own as much as 50% of the world’s wealth and the next 5% own 42% of what’s left.  You and I are somewhere in that top 6%.

We live in a country where inequality continues to grow; and a county where you can’t live comfortably on minimum wage even if you work full-time, which has a very poor record of providing housing for the homeless, and where 40,000 people - that’s almost 15% - will worry about putting food on the table at least once this year.

Here at St. Ben’s we have a good record of providing meals and offering breakfast items for those who are homeless and need to use the Prado Day Center. We also provide inexpensive clothing and household items through the Abundance Shop – and even give clothes away when asked.

But these good deeds do nothing to address the basic issues of social justice in our time. They do nothing to address the causes of inequality. They do nothing to prevent homelessness increasing. They do nothing to end hunger, even here in this food rich place. Our good deeds do not require us to give sacrificially, to have a lower standard of living, to live simply so that others may simply live.

What would the prophet say to us today? Is our piety empty, betrayed by the way we continue to exploit others and do nothing to try to change our social system? Most of us are winners. Most of us have nice homes and food on the table. Yes, we may worry about how to pay the bills but most of us don’t worry about where we will sleep or whether we will eat. We are winners in the social system and so there is little incentive for us to change anything.

Little incentive except the moral imperative of our faith.

Jesus was deeply concerned with the poor and the marginalized, those living on the edges of society. As his followers we too are concerned and that leads us to take action to make things different. We live in a “free” society where there is no dictator to tell us how to do things and no centralized economy. But with that freedom comes great responsibility because we are corporately responsible for those who govern and for the decisions they make on our behalf. The capitalist system rewards the acquisition of capital and so it will always make the rich richer and the poor poorer; we need leaders and decision makers who will govern for the good of all the people, not just the rich, not just special interests.

But if we, the voters, do nothing, they have no incentive to do that.

The Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, famously said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” As its International Women’s Day today we should probably change the language to “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Many of us feel that church and politics should not mix, but we are called to bring God’s reign on earth. We are called to work for social justice. We are called not just to feed and clothe the poor but to stop them getting poorer.

The only way we can do that is by exercising our rights as citizens, by using the political process provided in our civil society. Of course it’s a screwed up system; anything human made gets screwed up by the sin matrix. But we serve the Christ who has shown the sin matrix to be a big scam.

If our piety is not to be empty, then we too must be filled with zeal for God’s house – which we understand to be the cosmos and all that is in it. And our zeal will lead us to work for change. And that will lead us to write letters to editors and elected representatives; to sign petitions, and attend meetings and vigils and demonstrations. Because that is what it takes for us to use our God-given power to work for equality.
The civil rights movement did not succeed by prayer and sermons. It succeeded by taking non-violent political action. There is no incentive for our world to change for the better unless we, the people of God, take action. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple was a symbolic act just as the Selma to Montgomery march was a symbolic act. It was one of the events that led to his death, just as the violence of Bloody Sunday when 600 marchers were attacked by police was the result of their determination to make the world more equal.
Fifty years later, the world is still unequal. I am sure, like me, you have been horrified by the reports coming out of Ferguson of police discrimination and fines being used to shore up the finances of the city. I don’t need to tell you that although African-Americans constitute only 12 percent of America's population, they represent 40 percent of the nation's prison inmates. Race continues to be an issue in this country. In our comfortable, predominantly white church it is easy to pretend that this is nothing to do with us.

But we know that we are all inter-connected in the great web of life through the Holy Spirit. Race is our issue. So is hunger, so it homelessness, so is political corruption, so is climate change.

And now it is time to revisit our baptismal vows. Please turn again to page 305.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
                 your neighbor as yourself?

Celebrant      Will you strive for justice and peace among all 
                 people, and respect the dignity of every human 

Please take a few minutes to consider them. You may want to share again with a neighbor or just on your own, ask what God might be saying to you this morning.


Post a Comment

<< Home