Here is the worship service for the 3rd Sunday in Lent! It will be viewable on and after 10am on March 7, 2021.
The worship bulletin can be found here which will have the full order of service, all the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the sermon manuscript. The sermon is also available below this video on this page.
For a more full at-home worship service, you may have a few elements in your space. You can have a bowl of water for the Thanksgiving of Baptism, something small to eat and drink for communion, and a lit candle that can be extinguished with the altar candles at the end of the service. As always, this is optional but intended to only help your worship experience.
May God bless you today and always!
Holy God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight through Jesus, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Before I became a pastor and was obligated to be at the same church close to every Sunday, I had the privilege of attending many different worship services of many different denominations. Charismatic, evangelical, emerging, and of course many different stripes of liturgical worship, you name it, I’ve probably experienced something like it.
And so I consider myself lucky to have been able to be exposed to so many different forms of worship, which allowed my horizons to be expanded and more easily fit in whenever I were to visit other churches of different customs. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned among all these different styles and customs, is that there is a real snobbery when it comes to the type of worship one is used to.
In that, for many that I’ve encountered, I’ve found that whatever kind of worship they might have been brought up with or have become accustomed to has become regarded as the style of worship for them, disregarding the experiences of anyone different. Different styles are at best, inferior, and at worst, in their eyes, fake worship. This creates a real big problem when we try to worship with people from other churches and denominations and it draws some pretty thick lines between the differences pretty quick.
I have a few examples of this. I remember visiting a very charismatic, happy clappy church with a friend of mine. She was very into the whole thing, dancing and just going nuts to the music. I wasn’t familiar with it at the time, and so I just basically stood there and soaked it in. My friend grabbed my arm and shook it around and said, “why aren’t you worshipping?” as though unless I’m jumping around and dancing like her, then I’m just worshipping properly.
Another time in bible college, one of my friends was leading worship during chapel and he told people to stretch their arms out like this, and he said, “see that’s not so bad is it? Let’s keep our hands like this so we can really worship” as though it’s not worship unless your hands are lifted up.
Or perhaps one of the extreme examples that we see today, where it is proven that large gatherings of people are a great way to transmit this virus that we’ve been battling for a year now, those churches who have decided to meet in person anyway, completely disregarding the health orders that are designed to keep us safe. To them, the only true worship is in-person worship, and some have even taken the matter to court stating that their “freedom of religion” has been violated. So to them, I’ve been wasting my time and yours this whole past year, because our worship services didn’t fit their narrow criteria.
And to be honest, I take offense to that. To all of it, actually. To say that any one form of worship is better or worse than the other and going so far as to say that anything but your flavour of worship is false? Well that is a kind of arrogance that quite literally killed Jesus.
Sound harsh? Maybe. But today’s gospel story really points to that as truth. We’re pretty familiar with this story, where Jesus turns over the tables of the merchants at the temple. But we might not be too familiar with where it sits on the timeline of John’s gospel that we get today. See, in the other gospels, this story happens near the end, after Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly and right before he is arrested and crucified. But in John’s gospel, as we have it today, happens near the beginning, as one of Jesus’ first acts of ministry.
Weird, huh? That one gospel would have it at the beginning of Jesus’ active career, and the rest have it at the end. How can we account for this discrepancy? Does this mean that the gospel writers were confused? Could it mean that this part of Jesus’ life didn’t even happen at all? Well, the thing that we have to understand about the gospel writers is that they didn’t write to capture the chronological history per se, but they were more interested in capturing the meaning of the story. So to them, it doesn’t matter for the story when specific things happen, but what matters more is how these events are tied together and describe for us the character of a person and lessons that we can learn from their story.
This specific story, however, is more or less the same across the gospels. Jesus enters the temple, sees the customary money changers and merchants, and turns over their tables making it really hard to conduct their business anymore. I say the money changers and merchants are customary, because that is how they did things in those days. They would even say that they were commanded to do it this way. In that context, if you wanted to worship, you needed a sacrifice. And to sacrifice, you needed a ritually clean animal. To have a ritually clean animal, you had to buy one as most people didn’t have the land to raise one themselves. And to buy it, you needed the proper currency that is only acquired and accepted at, you guessed it, the temple. So there was a whole economy going on in the courtyard which was designed specifically to allow people to worship in the way that they felt was the only true way to worship.
So the reason why this story of Jesus cleansing the temple happens at different points in the gospels is because it depends on how that particular author wanted this event in Jesus’ life to be understood. If at the end, then this event would be seen as a political move, the final act that tipped the authorities over the edge and needed to get rid of Jesus. But if at the beginning, well I see it as Jesus setting the stage for the people to see how God is doing a new thing. A new thing that cannot be contained in traditions or customs. A new thing that isn’t bound by interpretations of commandments and laws. A new thing that doesn’t rely on any single form of worship or building.
This lays the groundwork of who Jesus is and frames the rest of this gospel that is full of signs and proofs. See Jesus says that the temple which the Jewish nation would have understood as God’s house, the place where God can be seen, the center of worship and praise will be torn down but then raised again. Then the author explains that temple that he’s talking about is his own body. Did you catch that? Christ’s own body is the center, the place, the temple of worship.
And we… together… are the body of Christ.
So you see what Jesus was trying to teach the people here? They were so stuck in their customs and ways of worship and doing things that they forgot what worship is all about. They were so focussed on the commandments, the traditions, and the words being said that they lost the heart of worship. They were so fixated on the building, the location, and who was in and who was out that they couldn’t see God residing in them, among them, and throughout the community. So worship isn’t be bound by any one location or any one custom, but is open and free and available anywhere where we can be the body of Christ. This means in a building. This means also online. This means even in different styles and traditions. God is present, and God is worshipped.
So Jesus overturning the tables wasn’t about causing a scene. It wasn’t him throwing a tantrum. It wasn’t a move for him rouse up a rabble. But it was a teaching moment. A very harsh and disruptive and probably scary teaching moment, but a teaching moment nonetheless. He was telling the people that traditions don’t make worship, but the heart does. He was showing the people that location doesn’t make worship, but relationship and community do. He was teaching the people that a physical space doesn’t make worship, but the body of Christ, i.e. the children of God, i.e. you and me and all who wish to worship, do.
This was Jesus’ message that day at the temple, whether it was at the beginning of his ministry or at the end. This was Jesus’ lesson in turning their world upside down and showing them that God can still be praised whether you had an animal to sacrifice or not. This was Jesus’ promise, that where two or more are gathered, be it in person or in spirit, so Jesus is there with us, leading us in prayer, pointing us to God, and directing us in the reconciliation, redemption, and relationship of our worship.
As we continue in this season of Lent and pandemic, may we embrace the worship that we have together while apart, revelling in the joy of the Spirit, giving thanks for the grace of God, and enjoying the unity that we share as the one body of Christ, the temple in which God can be seen, heard, and felt through the life, teaching, and very real presence of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.