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Can You See Differently?

cleansing1 Corinthians 1: 18-30
John 2: 13-22
Introduction to the reading

Paul is writing to a Gentile congregation in Corinth, a city where the people are diverse, smart, sophisticated and busy with their commercial and social lives. You’ve met these 1st century Corinthians before; in many ways that are not unlike us.

Divisions have appeared in the church; the Corinthian Christians have begun to identify themselves as disciples of particular teachers. Paul reminds them that the Gospel he preaches is not about himself, but about the power and wisdom of the cross of Christ.

Just ahead of today’s reading, he says (from The Message):

God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center – Christ on the cross – be trivialized into mere words.

Did any of you spend some time last week and the week before watching the Olympics? Some outstanding performances… the surprising victory of the Yugoslavian speed skater; the first gold medal for an American – a woman – in cross country; the joyous win of our women’s ice hockey team over arch rival Canada; the amazing skill and artistry of the 15-year-old girl skating for Russia. The Olympic Games are always impressive.

There were also some very good ads, especially from Toyota, as they continued one of their Super Bowl themes, ‘Mobility Solutions’, featuring the latest non-automotive technologies in use to overcome mobility challenges.

I was especially taken by one ad that showed a young woman learning to walk on her new high tech legs. She struggled on the parallel bars, straining, tiring, quitting. Then she was handed a pair of virtual reality glasses (is that even what they’re called?) and suddenly, she was walking on a beach at water’s edge on real legs, one real foot in front of the other. Seeing herself differently – and not just in her imagination – made all the difference in the world. Now she could walk!

The last time the passages we read today came up in the lectionary, three years ago, I spoke about changes to the familiar ‘handicapped’ symbol we see on signs and doors and parking spaces. You know what I mean. It has a stick figure person sitting in a wheelchair with back ramrod straight and arms stuck out perfectly straight. However well intended, the symbol conveys a sense of helplessness, passivity and stiffness – the antithesis of mobility. New signs were being designed, however, that show a person leaning forward, one arm behind as if ready for a race, a person in charge of his movement. Dependency has shifted; the chair is part of the person, the person is not part of the chair.

New signs, new technologies – good examples of how we can begin, literally, to see things differently. Sometimes it takes a fresh look at something for it to convey a whole new meaning and totally different possibility. This is what is happening in both of the Scripture readings for today.

The temple in Jerusalem was the central symbol of the Jewish faith from the earliest times. It was the place of sacrifice and ritual where Jews acted out their obedience to God and to God’s law. The Torah had very specific rules about how the sacrifices were to be conducted. Worshipers coming to the temple first had to change their different regional currencies into official temple coinage, the only money they could use to buy sacrificial livestock and birds. Think about the opportunities for overcharging on those deals. The cattle, sheep and doves for sacrifice were kept in the outer courtyard awaiting their fate. That must have been a lovely scene … the caterwauling of the animals, the smell of their waste, the loud contentious haggling … Not a lovely picture for what is supposed to be a spiritual, religious experience.

Jesus is angry beyond angry. He makes a whip and drives this bawling mass of creatures out of the temple and he upends the tables of the moneychangers. His actions and his words, which were blasphemy to them – “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together” - changed the symbolic meaning of the temple. God is breaking into human life, creating a new way of seeing the relationship between God and humankind. Jesus lets them know, although they did not understand, that the new symbol will be the cross.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection, those who followed his Way, who believed that he indeed was the Messiah, grew in number. The symbol of the early Christian faith, not surprisingly, was the cross, the cross upon which Jesus had been hung.

But to those outside the faith, the cross represented what it was to them, namely, a shameful, tortuous way of being put to death. In the ancient Roman world, the cross was a sign of ignominy, victimhood and helplessness, a death penalty for the worst criminals.

That is why Paul writes (now from the NRSV): For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing [that is, nonbelievers], but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection redefined the cross to mean forgiveness, salvation and a resurrection life after death. This is what we commemorate every time we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, as we will do today. We proclaim to see the cross in this different way.

The best sign of the cross, however, is found in the life and conduct of those who affirmatively follow the Way of Christ; who believe that it carries the same meaning today, for us, as it did for the believers in the 1st century; who understand God’s expansive, inclusive, powerful grace, forgiveness and love.

This message is always new. This message always helps us to see the world differently from the way the world presents itself.

And so, as you continue your Lenten journey of discernment, reflection, meditation, prayer, and perhaps repentance, I encourage you to consider what situations the Holy Spirit might be leading you to see differently.

And now to the One who by the power of the Holy Spirit
at work within us and among us is able to do abundantly far more
than anything we can ask or imagine, to God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
March 4, 2018

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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