Cleansing the Temple

My goal this Holy Week is to look at my faith and the church’s engagement in the world through the lens of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem. Today, I’m thinking about the typical sermon one hears on Palm Sunday – Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with children waving palm fronds and crowds welcoming him with cheers. Then:

Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” (Luke 19:45-46, NLT)

cleansing the temple
This is the part where Jesus flips tables.

On Good Friday last year, Reconciling Ministries Network published a blog of mine (“Christ on the Cross in 2015“) that reflected on just such a typical Palm Sunday sermon…the very one I sat and listened to a week before. I cross-posted the blog on this site, and considered writing its very repetitive companion here today. Instead, though, I am still thinking about my own sermon from yesterday and how it connects to the cleansing still so desperately needed in our own Temple.

Jesus’ sacrifice did more than throw open the doors of the Temple; it brought worship and discipleship outside of the Temple and into the wider world. He welcomes all to Him and comes to all who would receive Him.

The quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church takes place this May in Portland, OR. This conference, as in most for the last 44 years, a central focus for debate will be the language in our Book of Discipline which explicitly excludes the LGBTQ community from full inclusion in the UMC. Any sometime reader of the news or my blog will know that the UMC Book of Discipline prohibits clergy from officiating or blessing same-sex marriages; it also prevents the ordination of openly gay clergy who are not celibate.

Disputes in the form of petitions, protests, and acts of disobedience (namely, participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies) have become increasingly public in the last two years, and UMC affiliated groups on both sides of the argument have come together in a number of settings to create a framework to address the debate properly at General Conference. Unfortunately, there are many who would prefer that the discussion not occur and that our church maintains its status quo, and many (again, on both sides of the argument) who believe the question will lead to schism within the denomination.

As resurrection people, perhaps we should look at the issue as endings and beginnings. Full inclusion of all people in the United Methodist Church will end awkward and painful conversations with faithful followers of Christ who find themselves unwelcome because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It will begin a relationship between the United Methodist Church and people who have become disillusioned with our denomination or with organized religion in general because of a perceived disconnect between what we say and what we do. It will end our propensity to define Christianity according to our own personal ideas of what is acceptable, and begin the journey toward exhibiting the radical, limitless love that Christ exhorts us to have for all people this side of heaven.

When Jesus sipped from the hyssop branch he cleansed himself for consecration to be a blessing to all people. Would that we can be prayerful and loving through this time of change, and brave enough to cleanse our own temples of the harmful attitudes that have driven so many away.