|Posted by chesterlanducc on March 21, 2017 at 9:20 PM|
This sermon reflects on the story in the book of John where Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers and chases the sheep and cattle out of the Temple court.
One of my favorite novels is the Color Purple by Alice Walker which tells the story of two African American Women in the South in the early 20th century. The book’s name comes from a line in the book when one of the women, Shug, is talking to Celie about God, and Shug says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”
In our humanness we often attribute human emotions to God including anger. As we hear the gospel story today, even Jesus is not exempt from moments of anger and rage time to time.
When I was in college I worked at Hiram House Camp just over in Moreland Hills and one summer I was the Unit Leader for the 11-14 year old boys. Many of these boys came from Cleveland or Akron—some of them were foster children. A lot of them came from pretty difficult situations. There was one day in particular that the entire camp was gathered behind the dining hall singing camp songs before we went into eat dinner together and I realized a few of the boys from my unit were missing. Not a good thing.
I went around the front of the dining hall to find three of the boys beating up one of the smaller, weaker boys. I became enraged. I am not sure I have ever been so angry before or since in my life. I ran over and pulled the boys off of the child, and began yelling at them and in a fit of rage I walked away from the boys over to a small building, and I punched the door with my hand. I was so angry.
That would have been the end of the story except for in my anger, I so scared one of those teenage boys that he began crying and he took off down the driveway and then onto Harvard Road. I chased after him and when I caught up to him he was sobbing and saying over and over again, don’t send me back—he didn’t want to go back. He didn’t want to go home, where I imagine he too experienced physical violence. My righteous anger now turned to deep sorrow as I began to cry with him as we walked back up Harvard to the camp together.
In today’s story I imagine what angered Jesus most was that these practices of changing money and selling livestock at the temple often exploited the poor. And
whenever I hear this story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers and chasing out the livestock from the Temple, I think of holy anger—an anger that is not so much about harm done to the individual, but rather an anger that wells up out of us when we see those who are most vulnerable in this world being hurt by those who have power. Holy anger!
During our Lenten dinner study this past Friday we talked about today’s scripture and one of the questions we discussed was what things might Jesus seek to clean up in each of our own lives if Jesus were to encounter us today? Would it be our priorities? Would it be our materialism? Would it be some form of addiction?
And I have been thinking about this question not just about myself, but what in our community of faith—what in our religion—what in our country—and what in our world —would Jesus seek to clean up or dive out—what might outrage him to holy anger about lives, or religion or culture or world?
Sometimes there are things in our lives that we are too close to, to close to see with clarity. The first course I took in College was about how ordinary people became complicit in the holocaust in Europe—teachers, painters, every day people who became complicit in genocide, each playing their own small part. And the first research paper I ever wrote in College was about the St. Louis. On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 937 passengers. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were German citizens, some were from Eastern Europe, and a few were officially "stateless." The majority of the Jewish passengers had applied for US visas, and had planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States.
However, for a number of reasons, including anti-Semitism and fear of German spies entering our country posing as refugees, almost all of the passengers on the St. Louis were sent back to Europe rather than being allowed into the United Sates. 228 of the Jewish people on that ship were able to find political asylum in Britain while 620 passengers were sent to other countries in Western Europe. When Germany invaded Western Europe in May 1940, 532 of the St. Louis passengers were trapped in those occupied countries and just over half, 278 survived. 254 Jewish political refugees were killed.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are few issues that appear to be more prominent than how one treats foreigners in need. The Israelite people had the experience of being foreigners in an alien land and therefore their concept of God and justice was deeply influenced by notions of hospitality towards foreigners.
Today, in the middle east we are experiencing the largest refugee crisis our world since World War II. From Syria alone, 5 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.3 million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children. In 2016 the United States took in 12,587 Syrian refugees. In my opinion, our country, under both the Obama and the Trump administrations has been slow to adequately respond to and receive political refugees from Syria and President Trump has now sought to indefinitely ban Syrian refugees from the United States due to security concerns.
While there are reasons to consider safety in our nation, in the midst of these realities, I have to wonder; would our nation’s response to muslim and especially Syrian refugees be something that would have angered Jesus in the same way he was angered by those in the temple who took advantage of the poor?
The story of the St. Louis and the German Jewish political refugees not accepted by our country who were sent back to Europe reminds us that sometimes fear blinds us to justice and leads us to intolerance and even hate.
Lent is a time for us to consider the journey of Jesus and to enter a spiritual journey of our own. It is a time for deep introspection, a time for especially caring for others. It is a time that we must refocus our efforts for justice and kindness in our communities and world. It is a time to consider the plight of the most vulnerable in world and how we are responsible to respond, at least in part, to the plight of refugees and foreigners as the book of Exodus reminds us—we too were once all foreigners.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.