We are the open doors: March 3, 2024

March 4, 2024

 Year B, Lent 3                         John 2:13-22                                                         

          When I walked into this church for the
first time, it took my breath away. It was a beautiful day and the sun was
streaming through the windows lighting up everything within. It glowed. My last
church was lovely and sacred, but it was dark. Most churches are because so
many are made of dark wood and gray stones. 
They are adorned with stained glass windows that allow very little light
in.  But Christ Church is bright and
warm.  When I saw those glass doors, it
felt welcoming, like a church that was perpetually open.  Of course it’s not just the light that makes
this church beautiful. It’s the Palladian window, the fluted columns and of
course, the wineglass pulpit.  The
building draws many people in. I had never met so many architects until I
became the rector of Christ Church.  Now
they are everywhere! All that said, the most beautiful part of this church is
the people within.

            There is nothing
wrong with having pride in one’s church. This church took over 20 years to be
built in the 1700s and has required years and years of work since.  Churches and places of worship of this scale
take time to build. It’s not surprising to hear that the temple in Jerusalem
took over 46 years to build and when this gospel reading took place, it wasn’t
even finished.  It’s understandable that
the religious authorities had a lot of pride in the temple. 

wasn’t a fan of religious pride, or really any kind of pride. This Gospel story
is one that surprises people.  It does
not fit into the image that people have of Jesus.  People picture Jesus with a lamb over his
shoulders and children on his lap.  They
imagine him teaching and healing.  They
don’t usually picture him with a whip driving animals and people out of a
temple while overturning tables.  This is
not the peace loving Jesus who we imagine in our heads.  Yet it was clearly an important event in the
life of Jesus because all four Gospel writers recorded it. 

was it that got Jesus all riled up? 
There are a lot of theories about that. 
Since he said, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” some
people have assumed that he was angry about the fact that people were selling
animals in the temple.  This is possible
but unlikely.  Selling animals was a
necessary part of the temple system. 
People were supposed to make sacrifices and most people did not travel
with sacrificial animals.  So it made
sense to sell the animals at the temple.

have said that Jesus was not upset that these animals were being sold, but that
they were being sold at an unfair price. 
The sellers were taking advantage of people and profiting from these
sacrifices that were meant for God alone.  
This makes more sense in light of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In those three Gospels, Jesus tells the
people that they have made his father’s house a den of robbers.  But he does not say that in John’s
Gospel.  He just tells them to stop
making his father’s house a marketplace. 

           I wonder if what he really meant was that they
were making the temple a market place for God. 
It was as if they were implying that they had exclusive rights to
God…that people could only be in God’s presence when they were in the
temple.  This was especially a concern in
a time when there were many people who were ostracized from the temple.  Not just anyone could go in the temple, which
meant that God’s love was limited. Jesus knew that this was not the case.  He knew that God was everywhere, present at
all times.  Jesus also knew that his life,
death, and resurrection would transform how and where people perceived
God.   He wanted to introduce that change
now while he was still living. 

          The people who had the power in the
temple were angry that Jesus thought he had any right to call this holy temple
his father’s house.  So they asked him
for a sign…presumably a sign of his power. 
His response was even more troublesome. 
He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it
up.”  They were astounded. The temple
that he was standing in had already been under construction for 46 years and it
wasn’t even finished yet.  And this
carpenter was going to destroy it and build a new one in 3 days?  But Jesus was not talking about a temple made
of bricks and mortar.  He was talking
about his body.  His body was where God
dwelled.  And his body would be destroyed
in the crucifixion, but in three days in would be resurrected.

was not saying that God was not present in the temple anymore.  I want to be very clear on that.  He was at the temple to worship. Jesus
regularly went to temple because he was a devout Jew. He was saying that God
was not limited to the temple and no human institution has control over God’s
presence.  No person or religious body
can say that some people have access to God and some people don’t.   That is what got Jesus all riled up.  People weren’t just trying to control money
and power; they were trying to control God. 
They were trying to limit who had access to God.

          It would be easy to read this and feel
a little superior. We don’t restrict who comes in our church. We welcome
everyone.  Right?  And we do, but there are small ways that we
limit access to our church.  For
instance, you have to be literate to follow our leaflet.  If you are not very familiar with the English
language, you probably won’t be comfortable in most Episcopal Churches.  While past church experience is by no means
required, it’s helpful to understand the basics before participating in our worship,
so you don’t get too confused.  These
things aren’t unique to Christ Church. Almost every Episcopal Church has these
same barriers to entry.   We can do small
things to make ourselves more open and welcoming, but the Episcopal Church is
structured in a way that makes it impossible for us to judge other
churches/places of worship we perceive as less than hospitable.

other barrier to entry is the perception of organized religion.  While our building seems an asset to many,
others might find it intimidating, especially if they have negative associations
with church.  I can’t tell you how many
people have told me over the years that they are afraid if they walk into a
church, lightning will strike.  One
person told me he was only coming back to church in a casket and that turned
out to be true.  Does this mean we should
abandon these beautiful buildings that were built for the purpose of
worshipping God? Of course not. But it does mean that we have to find other
ways to connect with people who might never come into our building. 

know that one of the reasons that we have these glass doors is so that we can
demonstrate authentic welcome on Sunday mornings.  The first time I saw those glass doors on a
Sunday morning, I felt that. But given the way our world now views religion, we
need more than open doors and open windows. 
For many unchurched people, it’s not the structure that will welcome
them, it’s us, the people of God and the people of the church that are the open
doors and open windows.  We are the connection
between the church and the community.  We
can be those points of connection by sharing our faith, a faith that emphasizes
the abundant love and grace of Jesus Christ.

do we do this? For one, we can be better about talking about our faith…not to
convert them, just so people can see that Christians are good and loving people.
 We can’t keep letting the loudest
Christians have the monopoly on people’s perception of the Christian faith.  We are people they know and like.  We are more than what they see and hear on
the news. We can invite them to events outside of Sunday morning worship that
might be less intimidating, which means we need more of those events.  We can emphasize outreach and fellowship, or
bring our worship into our beautiful garden because for some reason that is
less intimidating to others. 

will never cease to love this building and what it represents, but we can’t let
the building confine our God. God’s love is way too big for that. We, the
members of Christ Church are the vessels of Gods overflowing love.  Not only that, but we too are temples of the
Holy Spirit.  God dwells in us and there
is no wall that can confine the Spirit that dwells in us.