The 3rd Sunday in Lent at St Mark Church in Norman, OK
March 23, 2003
Exodus 20:1-17 + 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 + John 2:13-25
Mark has led us this far into Lent; but now he passes us on to John who will be our guide until Palm Sunday. Quickly we notice the change. After the precise, orderly details of Mark, we suddenly must deal with the emotions and the stirring images of John’s Gospel. From Cana and its wild wedding feast we move to Jerusalem with its somber and serious Temple business. From a family celebration in a home, to the somber courts of Jerusalem’s Temple, signs of change filled with promise sweep off these pages into our hearts and minds. Water to Wine. Temple of Stone to Temple of Flesh. All woven together with signs and wonders leading people to believe.
But John tells us that Jesus is wise to them. He knows human nature. He knows this crowd that gathers for a show, for excitement, for free food, or the chance to be seen where ever the action is. He was a sensation, and he knew that as long as he engaged the Pharisees and Scribes, in controversy and debate, people would hang around for the fun of it. He knew too that if he turned the talk to self-denial and service, the crowd would thin. When he talked about a cross they stared in blank disbelief, and many left him on the spot, not even waiting to find out what it might mean.
He knows human nature. He knows that people can be swept away in emotion and then back out when they start to realize what it means to follow Jesus. He knows human nature hungers for sensation, and so he is not very interested in cheering crowds who have no clue of what he is really about. He prefers a small company who know what they are doing and are prepared to follow him to the end.
Not much has changed when it comes to human nature. It is possible that we might find among us those who come when it’s easy and convenient, when they feel good, or feel like it; who are at church for what they can get out of it, who stay when the message brings comfort, but storm out when it brings challenge or questions their way of life, their politics, or their comfortable identity. Talk of service, talk of giving, talk of sacrifice still makes some look at their watches or look for the door. Human nature would still turn religion into sentimental, feel-good, “it’s all about me” celebrations; but with this Jesus who messes up things in the Temple, it shall be so. He will call from that place and that crowd people who will be there for the long –haul, people who know the way to Calvary, and find that service of others is better than service of self. These will be the ones whose lives become signs and wonders. Rather than asking for miracles they become one. Their lives will be miraculous and their faith will bring awe. They will make love the power that mends a broken body and heals a broken heart.
In John’s Gospel, miracles reveal something about the nature and character of God. In John’s Gospel, the power of Jesus is used to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to comfort the sorrowing; and the very fact that Jesus did use His power in that way was the proof that God cared for the sorrows and the needs and the pains of every man and woman. That power is ours now – at least it belongs to those who are here to stay, who understand where Jesus will lead, and who are not put off by the cross and the tomb. For them, church will not be a country club or entertainment complex; but an assembly of the powerful and the faithful who chose to Steward God’s gifts for everyone but themselves as God would have it. For them, faith is not shaken by tragedy or disappointment, but simply challenged to grow stronger. It is Lent’s best message, and Easter’s best promise.