Sunday Message  03-07-2021
 
"Stone, Cold, and Dead"
Ex. 20:1-17
John 2-13-22
I brought with me, a wood carving that someone gave me years ago.  I imagine some primitive idols were carved
from wood.  I remember visiting the Egyptian mummy exhibit, Ramesses, at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North
Carolina.  I was serving a church in South Carolina at the time and I took a group of youth to view the exhibit.  What
I found interesting was to see the idols that the Egyptians had created. The idols were carved out of stone.  They
were cold.  And they were very much dead.  The ancient cultures of the world - the Egyptians, the Greeks, the
Romans, put their trust and their faith into objects that were stone, cold, and dead.
                                               1.
   Now the Hebrews were different.  They believed in a living and active God.  The law which centered in the Ten
Commandments quickly set before the Hebrew people that their God was alive and active.  In our scripture from
Exodus this morning, God identifies himself as the one who had delivered the Hebrews out of Egypt, out of the
house of bondage.  And then God quickly demands total homage - "You shall have no other god's before me!"  
God goes on to command them not to make anything that is a graven image.  God told them not to make an image,
not to use something that is stone, cold, and dead to represent a living and active God.  And furthermore don't
worship any object.  For God is very much alive, and warm, and living, personal and present.    
    But as time passed and the Hebrew people wanted to be like their neighbors, they built a huge temple out of
stone and wood in honor and glory to God.  This was to be God's house: the place where God was to dwell; the
place where God was to live.  And if you wanted to come to God or speak with God, well ... one had to come to the
temple.  As the centuries passed, the temple was destroyed and rebuilt.  The worship of God became nothing more
than a ritual.  God was encased in the stone, cold, tomb called the temple which had all of its rites and rituals
designed to appease the god who dwelled and lived within.
                                               2.
    This was the worship scene that was happening in the temple when Jesus came.  There were the money
changers hoarding and grabbing and paying off the temple priests.  There were the animal dealers who were
paying off the temple priests and charging an arm and a leg for a simple dove so that the common person could
make a sacrifice to the god who lived in the temple. There were the fat temple priests supervising the collection of
the tithes and offerings and getting fatter off the gifts of the people.  The daily practice of faith was like the temple -
stone, cold, and dead.     
But Jesus knew the true God of Israel, Jesus knew his Father.  He knew his father was not an idol to be worshipped
or a stone god to be appeased.  Jesus knew that his father was a warm and loving, living God.  The temple scene
of corruption, greed, disobedience, and outright irreverence brought Jesus to anger and destruction.  He had seen
all the money grubbing at the temple before but on this day he knew what lay down the road, he knew what his
future would be.  He knew the cross was waiting.  He knew that in him, God's people would never again be able to
lock God up in a stone, cold building.
    The scene at the temple brought Jesus to anger and the anger raged into destruction.  John tells us that Jesus
made a whip of cords and drove all those money hungry people out of the temple.  I picture the destruction and the
chaos in my mind.  Here was what would seem to the common bystander, a mad man with a whip in his hands - an
Indiana Jones - who snaps the whip and the tables of the money changers overturn and the coins go rolling all
over the floor.  The people run and scramble to pick up the money and they fight over each coin they find.  The
whip cracks again and the sheep begin bleating and running through the crowds.  The cattle get loose and the
birdcages topple over and come open.  One hears the flapping of wings and cooing as the doves escape and
amidst all of the commotion are the screams and the shouts of the tradesmen who have just lost their livestock,
who have just lost the easy dollar.  The scene is like a riot, full of chaos, full of destruction, full of anger.
    The fat priests, the tradesmen who just lost their livelihood are all very angry at Jesus.  But yet one of the cooler
heads in the crowd prevailed.  Someone asked Jesus, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" To put that
question in modern day language, it is a question of authority, "what right do you have to do this?  Why are you
disrupting our temple market place?  Give us a sign as proof of your authority."  The Hebrews believed that signs
were statements of authority.  The temple priests asked Jesus for a sign to show his authority for his act of
destruction.  For, they did not know who he was.  They did not recognize the very power of the God they served or
realistically, thought that they served in that beautiful stone, cold and completely dead temple.
                                               3.
    Jesus' response does not make sense at the time.  He tells the unhappy temple leaders "to destroy this temple
and in three days I will raise it up."  This was the sign of authority they were looking for but yet they did not
understand it and no one else at that time understood it either, not even the disciples.  For when Jesus mentioned
the temple they looked at the big, stone, cold, dead and yet beautiful building and replied - "it took us 46 years to
build this temple and you will raise up in only three days?"
    I don't know how many of you have ever seen the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. but it was finally
completed over twenty years ago.  It had been under construction for something like 86 years.  I would have hated
to be on that building committee.  It is truly a beautiful building with incredible stone sculptures.  It is truly a work of
art.  
I picture this scene of Jesus in the temple courtyard like a person standing with the building committee of the
National Cathedral telling them to tear down their beautiful cathedral and in three days he would raise it up again.  I
am sure the response of the building committee would be the same as the temple priests - disbelief and thinking
that Jesus is a little crazy.
    But as I said - no one understood his statement at that time, not even the disciples.  It is only after the death of
our Lord and his resurrection three days later that the disciples and specifically John who makes the connection.  It
is not that temple building of cold and dead stone that was to have been torn down but it was the life of Jesus the
Christ that was to be destroyed and then ... in the three days, Jesus was raised to new life.
    So in our Christian faith, the temple of God is no longer a stone cold building but is the church of Jesus Christ.  
We must remember that the church is not the building but rather the people, the community of faith, the body of
Christ.  If we want to come to God, then we come to Jesus, we come to his body, the church and we will see and we
will know God, the Lord of all creation.
    Jesus challenged the Hebrew religious leaders to tear down the temple and this they did but when they did it,
they did not really knowing what they were doing.  For the temple was the Christ.  The religious leaders plotted and
schemed to destroy the temple of God, to destroy the man Jesus, the man who caused them much trouble and
conflict, the man who excited the crowds and threatened the irreligious practices, the man some people claimed to
be the Christ.  And they thought they could destroy him and silence him when they had him arrested and crucified.  
                                                       4.
Here was Jesus.  Dead and buried!  His body was cold and rigid as stone as it lay in the tomb.  The man was down,
the problem was solved.  They could go back to their own temple, they could go back to their own rites and rituals
and never have to worry about a living Lord again ... or so they thought.
    There are some interesting parallels.  Jesus becomes angry and causes destruction in the Hebrew temple.  The
religious leaders become angry and cause destruction to Jesus' body, they cause Jesus to die.  In Jesus' death,
those religious leaders thought they had solved a problem.  They had silenced Jesus.  No longer would he preach.  
No longer would he teach.  No longer would he heal.  No longer would he perform miracles.  No longer would Jesus
be a threat to their cultic practices of worshipping a god who was no better than the graven image they the priests
had made out of the Law.  No longer would their position within their culture and their society be challenged.  They
tore down the temple of God and left it stone, cold and dead or so they thought.
    But the temple of God cannot be destroyed.  The temple of God is not stone or cold or dead but very much
alive and living for it is the body of Christ, the one, holy, universal Church.  Jesus shows us this as he rises from
death to life and the new temple of God is built in three days ...  the new temple of God is built and will exist for all
of eternity.
    Through out history there have been attempts to destroy the Christian church.  The Romans tried it with their
great persecutions but yet the church, the new temple of God, the place where God lives and dwells and works
could not be destroyed.  More recently the communist nations have tried to silence the church and bury it deep
with in the earth.  But today in the new freedom, the church is very much alive and living.  The temple of God, the
dwelling place of God, the body of Christ, the church cannot be destroyed!  Our modern day society is silently
trying to destroy the Christian Church and in many ways is slowly succeeding as we read that more and more
people in the western world no longer believe in God.  But the reality is: there will always be a remnant of the
faithful.  This was true with Israel in the Old Testament and it will always be true.
                                                       5.
   So what does this all say to us today?  There is a warning for us not to make our faith stone, cold, and dead but
to keep our faith alive and active like our Lord is alive and active. There is a warning for us not to worship our
building, not to make special rooms holy, but to worship the living God - the God who lives in Christ, the God who
lives in us.  
We are to worship the God who is acting in the world and in our lives this very day.  The message for us this day is
to keep our faith in a living Lord; to seek the Lord in today’s world; and to serve the Lord in today’s world.
  LET US PRAY