Have you ever had a problem with clutter? One look at my kitchen table and you would know I do. I have a pile of mail to go through, a wedding invitation to which I need to respond, a gift I want to write a thank you note for, a screwdriver I was going to use to tighten a bracket in the garage, a cylinder of birdseed to replenish the feeder, and the list goes on and on. When I look at my kitchen table, I realize I no longer have a place to eat.
That is the problem with clutter, is it not? It distracts you from what is important. All these items on my table are important, but the one thing that is most important, enjoying dinner and conversation, is hard to do because too much stuff has gotten in the way.
At times, our Church struggles with clutter. For example, the COVID pandemic has put a lot of stuff on our table. Some people worship online. Others physically go to church, but it is not the same. Before and after the services, people are wiping down pews, members are wearing masks, they are distanced from one another, and we are no longer sharing the Peace (not that many complain about that one!). These changes are important. They provide a way for people to balance worship and health concerns ...and yet... they can get in the way. They can become clutter which distracts us from what is most important: Listening to our Lord and gathering at His table where we are fed.
It may not be COVID that clutters your spiritual life. It could be anxiety over employment, a recent rift with your daughter, or questions about how much longer you can live on your own. As you come to worship, these concerns occupy your attention, and our Lord seems so far away.
If you have ever experienced a sense of clutter in your spiritual life, John’s gospel is a joy. Jesus enters into a temple that is cluttered and “cleanses” it, or dare I say, He “declutters” it. I know, the term lacks the religious language of “cleansing.” But I think it captures the wonderful work Jesus does. He enters our cluttered attempts at worship and clears a way so we might experience the presence of God.
He enters our cluttered attempts at worship and clears a way so we might experience the presence of God.
On Passover, people would travel for miles to be in Jerusalem. For them to participate in worship, certain things needed to be done. They needed to change their money into Tyrian coinage. They needed to purchase animals for sacrifice. These things were necessary to help people worship ...and yet... they could become distractions from what was really important.
So, Jesus comes and declutters the Temple. He removes the distractions, so God’s people can worship, to see and hear and experience the most important thing. It is the wonder of a Father in Heaven who offers them forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
I love the way John presents the Temple in this account. Tracing his language, we move from temple (verse 14, τῷ ἱερῷ) to house (verse 16, τὸν οἶκον) to sanctuary (verse 19, τὸν ναὸν). Technically, John is not making physical distinctions of the spaces in the Temple complex. Temple and sanctuary can be used interchangeably. What John is doing, however, is playing with figural associations. We move from the literal temple space to the household of the Father and then, ultimately, to the physical body of Jesus, where God has chosen to come and dwell for us (John 1:14).
John begins by calling attention to the Temple (verse 14). Technically, Jesus is in the Court of the Gentiles, where people are buying and selling, but John simply calls it the Temple, using the broader term. Why? Because John wants you to see the big picture. It would be like a mayor reporting on a crime which occurred in a neighborhood and calling it an attack on “our city.” John wants us to see that the Temple and all it represents is being cluttered by the busyness of business. People are losing sight of what is important.
Jesus then brings us closer to the problem. He says, “You have turned the house of my Father into a house of market” (verse 16). God has given them a space of familial intimacy and yet they have filled it with business. It would be as if we were so occupied in worship with how far we sit from one another that we overlook how closely God draws near to us.
It would be as if we were so occupied in worship with how far we sit from one another that we overlook how closely God draws near to us.
Then, when questioned by the religious authorities, Jesus reveals the depth of God’s love (verse 19). “Destroy this Temple,” He says, “and I will raise it in three days.” He is talking about His body. The sacrifices of the Temple and the familial intimacy of His Father are all bound up in His willing death for the forgiveness of sin and His resurrection to bring new life. God has come into our world and nothing, not COVID, not clutter, not even death itself, will prevent Him from loving you.
This temple did not take 46 years to build. It was designed by God from eternity. And Jesus will make sure it is always open and uncluttered, bringing God’s grace to you. He has come to dwell among us in grace, providing forgiveness to the penitent, life to the dying, strength to the weak, hope for the hopeless, and rescue for the powerless.
In these days of COVID, it is easy to become distracted, exhausted with regulations, and frustrated with so much of the clutter. Jesus promises to be here, clearing it away, so we know God’s desire: To be with us - To bless us - To receive us at His table.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 2:13-25.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 2:13-25.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Walter A. Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 2:13-25.