The Third Sunday in Lent: March 4, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Today’s gospel, we are confronted with the human embodiment of God’s righteous anger in Jesus. In the other gospels, Jesus’ righteous act of cleansing the Temple purges the corruption, commercialization and commodification of faith; here Jesus is re-creating sacred space from a den of robbers into a house of prayer for all nations.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus takes this vision one step further. It is not just the Temple itself or the people’s practices that need cleansing. Instead, Jesus calls for an entire religion to be reoriented and reformed. Turning the tables on the institution of Temple worship, Jesus drives everyone and everything out. Stripped of its structural comforts and constraints, faith becomes free to engage, embody, embrace the indwelling of God in humanity. The Spirit of God no longer caged by building, ritual or trade becomes wildly incarnational, spiritual, relational in Jesus.
Jesus whose body is the new Temple radically challenges the Jewish leaders to move beyond their sense of complacency and complicity with corruption, to move away from faith as transaction and make space for faith as new life and transformation.
It is no wonder that this dramatic event sets Jesus at odds with the Jewish religious authorities and leads to his crucifixion and death on the cross. Such is often the fate of those who care deeply for the good of all people, who speak the truth that all may have life, and live abundantly.
These days, our lives are swept up in swirls of self-righteous indignation and anger. Much like the Jewish leaders, we are caught in societal cycles of comfort and complacency with corruption. Structural systems, religious and political institutions which we have relied upon for decades are cracking, crumbling and crying out for cleansing and renewal. Much like the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time, we as individuals and as a nation are being driven out and displaced from the familiar and comfortable. And we find ourselves overwhelmed with fear, anger, and a myriad of emotions.
And so here we are, 2,000 years after Jesus’ death still struggling to follow and understand what it means to move from experiencing our Christian faith as a series of transactions to living faith as a transformational walk with God.
One way I have been walking with God in this living, transformative relationship is through the Ignatian Exercises. This type of Christian spirituality stems from the 16th century and emphasizes striving “for the greater love way of loving God” by recognizing our “need for and dependence on God, embracing our humanity, and rejoicing in who we are and Whose we are, with all our gifts and limitations.” (Kevin O’Brien, SJ – The Ignatian Adventure)
Through these exercises, I have found ways to listen more deeply to God in my life and discern when I am moving towards or away from a transformational relationship. As I have reflected on my own feelings of anger at the various things going on in our world, I have come to realize that the thing anger most desires is to be heard. When we encounter anger in ourselves or another, this is an opportunity to pause and listen. But it is not enough to hear another’s words or to understand. Transformation calls us to respond in love and be changed by our encounter.
Whenever our response is rooted in being right, then we remain trapped in cycles of self-righteous indignation and enmity. But when our response is rooted in doing right and caring for others, raising up the vulnerable, then we are driven to a place of compassion, resilience, and peace–even in the midst of turmoil and conflict. Jesus doesn’t just drive us out of our comfort places…he goes with us there.
Ignatian spirituality believes that we can find God in all things, at every moment, even in the most ordinary times. To do this, we must take time to reflect on our experience, to look at the data of a day and discern their meaning. The Ignatian Examen encourages us to look back over a period of time and pay attention to what is happening in and around us. Then to look ahead, to what comes next, to ask God where are you calling us to go?
This daily practice of reflection takes 10-15 minutes and helps us discern how God is calling us in small and large ways.
The following five steps are guidelines to building a relationship to the Living God.
- Pray for God’s Help: be attentive to how the Spirit was working in and through you, others, and creation. Let yourself see your day as God sees it.
- Give Thanks for the Gifts of This Day: An attitude of gratitude, practiced often enough, helps us find God in all things and can transform the way we look at our life and other people. Savor whatever gifts God shows you.
- Pray over the Significant Feelings or interior movements. Ask God to help you understand what aroused those feelings and where they led you. Ask did these feelings:
Draw me closer to God? Or lead me away?
Help me grow more or less in faith, hope, and love?
Make me more generous? Or more self-centered or anxious?
Make me feel more alive, whole, and human? Or lure me into doubt and confusion?
Make me feel more connected to others or challenge me to life-giving growth? Or lead to the breakdown of relationships?
- Rejoice in those times that you were brought closer to God, and ask forgiveness for those times when you resisted God’s presence in your life. Praise God for the grace of awareness–this is the beginning of healing and transformation.
- Invite God to be part of your future. What do you need God’s help with? What tables do you need overturning? Where do you need to be driven out of so that you can find a sense of new life and transformation with God.