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Saturday, March 14, 2009

John 2:13-25 2009 SERMON STARTER
In today’s gospel people get real excited about RAMBO Jesus. Jesus who kicks butt and takes names while righteously cleaning up the corrupt mess that the Temple Courts had become. When things make us angry, perhaps we call to mind this passage, this scene: angry RAMBO Jesus break things and swatting people left and right with his broom of righteousness.

Perhaps unemployment makes us angry. Who knows someone who has lost a job in the past year? It is a blessing that we live in a country where many of those who lose their jobs have access to unemployment benefits to help them make ends meet while they look for new employment, but two things immediately come to mind.

First: That the unemployment system can be difficult to navigate and is overwhelmed by the number of applicants

Second: that the number of unemployed people in Broward County far exceed the number of jobs available for them.

In Broward County over 97,000 jobs were lost last year – and over 68,000 people are currently unemployed. If you are newly unemployed and you need to file for benefits so that you and your family can eat, can pay the bills, can keep the lights on and the water running then you might go running to WORKFORCE ONE. In Broward County, in the entire state of Florida, there are no local unemployment offices. You have to call or file online. But if you need a computer or need a phone to file then one of the places you could go in Broward County is WORKFORCE ONE. If you need to look at the jobs bank or sign up for a workshop to brush up your resume or learn how to prepare for an interview then in Broward County the place that you go is WORKFORCE ONE. Just be prepared to stand in line. Possibly for a long time. And if you make a mistake filling out your unemployment benefits application when you get to a phone or a computer your file will be flagged. And if your file is flagged be prepared to wait and wait some more to correct it and to be able to receive the benefits that you desperately need.

What can be done, you might wonder? What would make the biggest difference? Relieve the greatest suffering. Win some justice for families struggling to keep food on the table, the lights on, the water flowing in this difficult economy. Well, the staffers at WORKFORCE ONE told a group of researchers from BOLD Justice, the community justice organization to which Trinity and 27 other congregations and synagogues here in Broward County belong to, that if they had the authority to correct minor mistakes on unemployment forms that it would save those in line hours of their time and ensure that their much needed benefits - money to put food on the table and pay the rent and mortgage and electric bills - arrive as quickly as possible. In our research we found out that all WORKFORCE ONE has to do is to ask the state and they can be granted permission - just one phone call - and the state will even train them to fix these errors for free! In fact half of the Workforce centers throughout Florida have already done this, but not Broward. Not yet. Once the call is made, the time to implement the change is only three days. Now who thought that justice could come so easy or so quickly!

But despite the fact that half of the Workforce centers throughout the state are already doing this very thing, the Workforce centers in Broward County refuse. Outright, no more discussion on the subject, refuse. Relieving the suffering of people in this way is not part of their strategic plan, management told us. Too many people might show up, they told us. No, they tell us. We are finished discussing that issue. No, no, no.

Does this make anyone here angry? Anyone at all? It sure made me angry because I was there asking the questions. Asking for justice to be done. I was definitely angry. That, I imagine, was the expected emotion, but not a particularly helpful one. Something has to be done, but spending time being angry isn't the most helpful action.

So, what does Jesus tell us ought to be done?
We read:
13The Passover of the Jews was near and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

It is not uncommon for folks to cite this passage (and typically this passage alone) to justify what we have come to call ”righteous anger."
Jesus, we imagine, was agitated, angry, in the common vernacular, pissed.
Our imagination does not have to break a sweat in order to picture Jesus kicking over tables sending money flying in all directions, pigeons loosed from broken cages climbing high to freedom or salesmen and moneychangers jumping out of the way of Jesus' makeshift broom that was swinging for the fences with their posteriors in his sights.
Righteous anger.
Feels good, doesn't it?
To let it out and let it fly.

As Jesus encountered those money changers and so forth in the Temple Courts, so, too, do we encounter that which causes righteous anger to well up in our hearts, like the people refusing to help the suffering because it doesn’t fit into their strategic plan.

In the Temple Courts the money changers made their living by changing all of the coin of the realm (with graven images abounding) into the only coin deemed acceptable to pay the required Temple Tax. Of course, they extracted a transaction fee for the service. It was a convenient setup to make some bucks at the expense of others who had arrived from pilgrimage to the House of God.Don't want to insult God with graven images on the Temple Tax, now do we?

There were other profitable businesses at work as well.Pilgrims brought with them the prescribed animals for sacrifice, but wouldn't you know it - when the priests examined the animals they were found wanting. They found blemishes here and there that would render the animals unfit to be sacrificed to God. And so the pilgrims had to buy new animals in the Temple Courts at a reasonable mark up, of course.

Pilgrims that had come to worship were being systematically shaken down.
A little here. A little there.
And the insiders grew rich at the pilgrim's expense.
A den of thieves, they were.

And Jesus was righteously livid, angry, and apoplectic, right?
In our minds, we picture this scene and the over whelming emotion is what?
___________?
Now, we dig a little deeper. Notice, what Scripture says and doesn’t say.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the only indication of Jesus’ actual emotional state is in the Biblical quote used to explain it:
"Zeal for your house will consume me.”
And we think to ourselves – Zeal – righteous anger – there it is. But there, in fact, it is not.
Zeal, according to Merriam Websters means: "Eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something."
Eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.
Its synonym is passion. Passion!

Perhaps we should consider throwing a little water on our righteous anger and lighting the fire under our eagerness, our ardent zeal, under our passion.
Just a matter of semantics, some might say.
It’s the same thing, some might say. You are just mincing words. If one merely takes a few steps back, one finds a righteous anger forest there among the trees of eagerness, ardent zeal and passion.

Anger leads us down a serpentine path towards hatred, self-righteousness, egotism, and so on. Unbridled anger can breed a demand for revenge, rather than justice.”In your anger do not sin,” scripture admonishes us. Why?
Because in our anger we will be sorely tempted to sin. Are we ever! Boy Oh boy, are we ever!

Clearing out the Temple Courts was an act of justice and compassion on behalf of innocent pilgrims who had arrived to worship God and who were being systematically ripped off by those who in theory were committed to help them. The very people who should have been guiding people in their relationship with God were in fact putting up walls and barriers and fences of every sort and kind to delay growing that relationship as long as possible in order to extract as much money as possible.

Jesus is not lashing out at people who make him angry, Jesus is removing barriers between people and their God. There is a difference.
Jesus isn’t taking letting his emotions rule the day – far from it. Jesus is ardently working for the cause of justice for the sake of the powerless in this situation, the innocent pilgrims who have only arrived in order to worship God.
As Christians we, too, will frequently find ourselves confronted by injustice both perpetrated upon ourselves and upon others and in faith be invited to act out in faith as God’s sons and daughters. To passionately act out in faith.

When confronted with a situation such as corporations that do not consider the suffering of the poor and unemployed part of their strategic plan, we must say to ourselves that it is not time to mutter under our breath and fume and stew as anger might suggest. Jesus does not complain to the disciples about the injustice done to the pilgrims he removes the barriers by making a statement through his actions.

We can make a statement, too. We can challenge those who are putting up barriers or refusing to take them down. For starters, we can all turn out on April 2nd for BOLD Justice’s Community Assembly to show the management of businesses like WORKFORCE ONE that we care how they treat the poor and unemployed. We can show the County Administrator and County commissioners of Broward County that we care about the lack of affordable rental housing in Broward County, another issue being reviewed that night. We can show the medical community that we want them to keep moving forward to establish a program for affordable dental care in this county, the third issue of that evening. I believe that there is information about the event in your bulletin and on your worship slip.

Zeal, according to Merriam Websters means: "Eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something. And in today’s Gospel that something is justice. It is time for all of us to take a stand for the poor and most vulnerable, just like Jesus did. Hope to see all of you on April 2nd to make a statement by your presence. Consider well how Jesus responded in the Temple. He got their attention, didn't he? In Broward County a few thousand people showing up and being passionate about justice will get just about anyone's attention. Amen.

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