March 7, 2021 – Third Sunday in Lent
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Message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Have you got your complimentary “Wishing I were there” postcard courtesy of Canada Post? They invite you to send it to anyone you like, in Canada, to connect during the pandemic. Bob and I would like to send ours to all of you. Surely we are wishing we could all be there together in worship. But, as I have said before, in the meantime, we bring these resources for worship, with the prayers that they will draw us together in the Spirit and that soon, we will be there, together in in-person worship.
Rev. Helen Smith
Call to Worship: PWS&D Liturgy for Lent
Spoken by One (L) / Spoken by All (P)
L: We are not the first to make the journey to Jerusalem; many have gone before us and many will come after us. From near and far, God’s people gathered to celebrate God’s goodness on the holy mountain.
P: We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road.
L: Jesus often went to Jerusalem as a child to celebrate Passover. Now he has set his face toward Jerusalem again, knowing this time will be different.
P: We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road.
L: Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem is sombre. He has no illusions about what is to come. Still, he goes ahead, doing God’s will.
P: We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road.
L: Let us pray.
All: God of light, we want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, but we have our fears and doubts. We would rather avoid the pain and darkness on our journey. Give us courage and perseverance when the journey is difficult and the grace to help others on the road. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
Book of Praise – 730 “O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways”
- Video with on-screen words exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words (1987) by American Roman Catholic Medical Mission Sister and hymnwriter Miriam Therese Winter (1938–). Music (1839; tune “Azmon”) adapted by American composer Lowell Mason (1792–1872) from an 1828 work by German composer Carl G. Gläser the Younger (1784–1829). Words copyright © 1990 Medical Mission Sisters; music in the public domain.
- Video recorded by High Street Congregational Church, Auburn, Maine on July 8, 2020.
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
Gracious God, we sit in our kitchens or our living rooms, in our homes. May this be sacred space for us. Sharpen our sense of the holy, our expectation that we will meet you here. Surprise us with the joy of service, and strengthen us to accept the cost of following in the way of Jesus your son.
Jesus, cleanser of temples and souls, at this mid-point in the Lenten journey, look deep within our hearts and our lives and clear away all that holds us back. Truth be told, Jesus, there are lots of tables that need overturning in our lives. Beneath the veneer of respectability, the tidy rows and neat regulations, hide prejudices and judgements, greed, and heartless rejection. We know the pain, and so do those around us, of keeping up the façade. What a relief to have it all upset, smashed, scattered, destroyed. This day, help us to rearrange radically the furniture of our lives.
We pray in your name and continue to pray as you taught your disciples:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness. Thanks be to God.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
So, here’s a question for you. Matthew, Mark and Luke place the cleansing of the temple towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, right after the Palm Sunday Parade, actually. So why do you think John places it at the beginning of that ministry?
Jesus grew up in Galilee, part of the peasant class who certainly felt the knee of the Roman Empire on their necks. He knew first-hand the power of oppression. According to the beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus is recognized by John the Baptist as the Son of God, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus goes about Galilee and collects a strange group of people to be his followers and students. The first thing they do is go to a wedding where Jesus makes sure there is enough wine to go around. And the next thing they do is head into Jerusalem because it is Passover time.
Anyone who is able tries to get to Jerusalem at Passover to celebrate the feast. The city is alive with people, eager to be in the holy city at this special time. And when Jesus says, “I think we should all go to the temple,” that seems to make a lot of sense.
The temple courtyard has a bit of a Mardi Gras feel to it. It is jammed with people, children running around, vendors with sheep and cattle and doves for temple sacrifices, shouting out that their prices are the lowest. The animals themselves contribute to the din. Other merchants are ready to sell refreshments to weary travellers who have come a distance. And the money changers with their strong boxes are set up at tables all around the courtyard, doing their business. And Jesus stops and looks around.
And then Jesus goes into action, storming around the temple court, shouting and swinging a whip of cords. He walks up to the money changers and one after another, in a mighty heave overturns their tables sending the strong boxes clattering to the ground and the coins roll across the stone pavement. He unties the cattle and sheep, letting them run free amongst the people. He releases the birds, who flap their way to freedom. And he yells at the vendors, “Get all of this out of here. Stop making my father’s house a marketplace.” It was bedlam. And this would not go down well with the powers that be. An important part of the local economy is represented in these businesses that now lie strewn over the floor of the temple forecourt, or are now stampeding out through the temple gate and into the city. The tables have turned in a big way for a lot of powerful people and they will not be happy.
You see, everyone who comes to worship in the temple needs to pay the annual temple tax. It’s not a voluntary offering. It is more like a fee charged to everyone just to be there as part of the worshipping community. An admission fee for worship. And as bad as that sounds, it gets worse. The temple law forbids graven images, and, of course, the everyday Roman currency bears a profile of Caesar, so it is ruled out as a suitable payment for the temple tax. But wait, there’s help! The temple authorities have produced their own temple currency and the money-changers are only too happy to exchange your filthy lucre with Caesar’s image for theirs. The only wrinkle is this: the half-shekel temple coin for the tax will cost you two or three shekels, maybe as much as five at the height of the festival. Whatever the market will bear. Oh, and you can’t buy this temple currency anywhere else. You exchange here, or you don’t get in.
And then there’s your offering, an animal to be sacrificed in the temple worship. The law is very strict about this. The animal must be a year old, and without blemish. The animals for sale in the courtyard have already received a stamp of approval for temple sacrifice. Any animal brought in from the outside, well it has to pass temple inspectors to make sure it is good enough, and often they are rejected, whether there are any blemishes or not. In the end it’s just easier to buy your sacrificial offering at the temple stalls and save yourself the trouble. And no one dares to complain that the sheep for sale in the temple court could be found for a quarter of the price just a few steps outside the temple gates. What can one do? You need an offering for God when you enter the temple.
Many changers, sellers of sheep and cattle and doves, they’ve got all the business neatly wrapped up. It’s a monopoly, a closed shop, and business is great. This is not about providing a service so that Gods people can worship in spirit and in truth. It’s about ripping them off and it’s the Temple itself that’s doing it. And just one more injustice, all of this is taking place in the outer court, also known as the Gentile court, because if you are a Gentile, this chaotic marketplace is as far as you are allowed to go. This is where you get to worship.
The Hebrew scriptures make it clear: God is God of all the nations. So space has been made in the Temple complex for Gentile worship. It is just not very nice space. It is in this only space for worship for the outsiders that all of the trading and bartering and bleating and noise and extortion is happening. Outsiders are there, but at the same time they are told in very clear terms that they are second class citizens.
It is as if, when we could go to the church building for worship, we accepted offerings only in US funds. Don’t have any? No problem. We’ll have members of the Finance and Maintenance Committee out in the lobby, ready to exchange funds. And we’ve pegged the Canadian dollar at 50 cents US. We’re looking at a plan to mint our own Guildwood coins, Guilders. We’ll charge $5 CDN for them.
Oh, and we don’t call it offering anymore. It is our graduated seating program. All according to demand. So the platinum seats are those in the back row. They cost $1,000. For $500 you can sit anywhere else in the sanctuary. For $200 you can sit in the hall and watch the service on a screen. And while a bright group like you might catch on and think to check out Holy Trinity Anglican across the street to see what their rates are like, for the poor worshippers in the temple in Jerusalem this is the only temple in town.
Lots of people today say they can find God without going to church. We could debate that today, especially as none of us have been “going” to church for a while. But that kind of conversation about the Temple in Jesus’ day would have been unthinkable. Sure God is bigger than the Temple, but that is where you go to meet God, to bring your offering, to be a faithful part of the covenant community.
The business going on in the Temple court, the business of ripping people off, of placing an exploitative burden, especially on the poor, of segregating the outsiders, of placing mediators between the people and God, mediators who sell access to God to line their own pockets, all of it is what Jesus objects to so violently. He turns the tables, not just from some money changers in the Temple, but on a whole system that is corrupt and uncaring. And all of this is happening under the guise of worship.
So, is Jesus condemning the religious hucksters on TV selling their holy hardware to keep the network going? Maybe, although I often think their biggest sin is just really bad taste. Does he condemn church bazaars, or fundraising auctions? I doubt it, unless we get to the point that it’s more important to raise funds than to be faithful as God’s people.
Jesus is condemning any message the church gives that says to anyone, “You are not welcome here.” “You are not high class enough to be one of us.” “We don’t have room for your type.” By spilling the money-changers coins all over the floor of the temple court, Jesus turns the tables on the values and assumptions which are often the way our world works today. Wealth may grease a lot of palms but it will not buy a way to God. Power may help people get their way in the world, but won’t hold much sway in the reign of God. Putting others down may make some feel superior, but it doesn’t silence God’s call to the church to minister to those who are excluded. Our challenge is to follow Christ’s leading in these pandemic times and beyond, leading which includes his preferential option for the poor, his inclusivity, with no “othering”.
John places the cleansing of the temple, the turning of the tables, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because it provides the template for that ministry. It is a ministry that challenges the principalities and powers, a ministry of healing and acceptance to blind beggars, despised tax collectors, shunned prostitutes, excluded Gentiles. It is a ministry of breaking down barriers and of building bridges, of baptizing life with God’s Holy Spirit of grace.
- “Only a Shadow”. Words and music by American composer Carey Landry (1944–); words and music copyright © 1971, 1973, Carey Landry and OCP; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Guitar and vocals by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- Audio recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Great, Giving God, as we bring our offerings to you, bless them, and use them to continue your healing work in the world.
Great, Giving God, we thank you for the world you have created and given to us to love and enjoy. Help us to care for it wisely. We are grateful that you choose to accompany us on the adventure of our life’s journey. As the hours of daylight increase, we give thanks for the hope of new life in springtime. We thank you that in our risks and our stresses, you are the still point of calm. We thank you for your word of comfort and your word of challenge, and for your Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, for Christ’s teaching and example, for the gift of abundant life now and forever that is ours in him.
In seeking to follow Christ, we pray for those who hunger, those who thirst, those who cry out for justice, those who live under the threat of terror, and those without a place to lay their head. Help us to turn the tables, that whose who are broken may rejoice.
We pray for those who are ill, those in pain, those under stress, those who are lonely. Help us to turn the tables, that they may be sustained and made whole by your bountiful Spirit.
We pray for those who are excluded from our fellowship by policies, attitudes, procedures. Help us to turn the tables, that all will be welcome.
Give us patience during this time of pandemic as we wait for all to receive the vaccine. Thank you for all the workers in essential services who continue to provide for us all that we need. We pray for all who are working under great stress, including civil servants, health workers, public safety workers, teachers, food service workers. We pray for those who have lost their employment and struggle financially. We pray for politicians who must make difficult decisions. This is a time of challenge and opportunity, an opportunity to turn the tables over and do things differently, to do things according to Jesus’ example. May we take up this opportunity, as individuals, as communities, as a nation. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(not in the Book of Praise) “Draw the Circle Wide”
- Video with on-screen words.
- Words and music (both 1994) by Canadian Anglican priest and composer Gordon Light (1944–); words and music © copyright 1994 Common Cup Company.
- Recorded by the Community of Christ Church – Brighton, Brighton, Michigan; released January 17, 2015.
May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Romans 15: 13)
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-03-06 at 11:05 – First version.