Sermon for Sunday 11th March 2012
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’
Well I guess we probably may well think that this is a rather strange text for a Harvest festival service – surely better to use the letter to the Corinthians with its exhortation to generosity, or the reading from Deuteronomy which seems to be a sort of early harvest festival (By the way if you note in the Deuteronomy reading they bring everything to church, so to speak, and then throw a party with it all J - but more of this later) – Yes Either of those readings fit well with a Harvest festival – but why this reading about the cleansing of the Temple?? Well I might respond that it is the set gospel, which it is, or that it fits my theme for the week, which it does – but given that that theme is Blessing, Generosity and Hospitality – we might still be left scratching our heads – especially with the opening text of the sermon - ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’?? What does the Temple, the money changers, and the death and resurrection of Jesus have to do with Harvest Festivals?
What is the connection? Well I happen to think that this gospel reading is all about Harvest, about rightly celebrating the goodness of God and revealing something of the powerful forces at work which seek and indeed often succeed in destroying our sense that ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above’
But to illustrate why I need to speak of a myth. A myth is as I’m sure you are aware a Controlling story. It is a ‘truth’ that our lives are oriented by. It is a ‘truth’ but that does not mean it is true. Only that is it true for us, it is the story we tell ourselves about ‘How Things Are’ Some are personal and private, and we all have these - but some are Big Stories –Out There, dominating people and governments, hearts and minds. The myth of which I wish to speak is ‘The Myth of Scarcity’ and it is a powerful myth in our culture, a culture in which we have become increasingly disconnected from the Good Earth.
To illustrate the Myth of Scarcity I’d like to tell a couple of brief stories. Firstly the Story of “what happened to Harvest??”
Over the past few years in England at any rate, away from the countryside something strange was happening in churches in towns and cities. Indeed I saw it happen in the church where I was a curate – the story went about – all this stuff about food and farming, the sheaves of corn and the like, just doesn’t connect to our lives here in the town – we need something more relevant – I’ll say that again, just in case you missed it all this stuff about food and farming, the sheaves of corn and the like, just doesn’t connect to our lives here in the town – we need something more relevant – and so in Pudsey we had a Harvest of Pudsey – it was all about the talents and abilities God had given us. Well I leave to one side the obvious point that the focus had shifted more onto us and less onto the Miraculous provision of God – just to reflect about how folk in the town thought of food. Dissociated from the Land, their story about food was no longer about where it came from, rather their story about food was if anything to do with prices and availability in the supermarket – where was the cheapest place to buy food., and thus prey to fear that their might not be enough. We saw this radically enacted in times of drought when there were on occasions fights over bottled water
And then a second story - It was my first visit to Synod here in New Zealand and certainly if the groaning table at the evening meal was anything to go by, there was much that had been gathered in ‘ere the winter storms begin. But . . . in part the mood seemed to be covering over a deep seated problem. I refer to the finances of the Diocese, which was variously described as very dodgy, precarious, worrying and ‘falling off a cliff’. Well fortunately I had in David Fielding an excellent guide to the accounts sat beside me and so I asked, could he point me to the liquid assets, the cash reserves at the ready disposal of the diocese. And I was left thinkng – ‘why all the glum faces?’ having come from a much larger Diocese, with much smaller reserves. It’s a Prime example of ‘The Myth of Scarcity’ and this Myth seems to afflict people in inverse proportion to what they have – and it is the story we tell ourselves that ‘it’s all going to run out’ – Celebration in abundance is far more muted than Celebration in need. There we were, eating an incredibly good meal and worrying about whether the money was going to run out – it was . . . well perverse really. Faced with Wonderful confirmation of God’s provision – we doubted in the provision of God. We are afraid it will all run out – so we hoard and save and exercise financial management . . . and yet God has Always provided in Abundance
A few years ago this myth of Scarcity was mocked by the Archbishop of York at a large Diocesan Gathering I attended.
‘You are always saying here in England’ – The Archbishop is Ugandan – You are always saying in England, ‘ We are saving for a rainy day!’ – Well it is ALWAYS raining in England!! Always Saving against tomorrow, not believing in God’s provision for tomorrow – Give us this day our daily bread we pray, but then we go out and accumulate enough to keep us for many many days.
The Old Testament Scholar, Walter Brueggemann, who was the first person to help me see this myth, puts it like this – speaking of the miraculous provision of daily bread in the wilderness, the Manna he says ‘[the Isrealites] had never before received bread as a free gift. The meaning of this strange narrative [the manna from heaven], is that the gifts of life are indeed Given by a generous God. It’s a Wonder, It’s a Miracle, It’s an EMBARRASSMENT, it’s Irrational, but God’s abundance transcends the market economy’ It’s embarrassing because if when we are believe the myth of Scarcity, or worry about whether there will be enough, we discover the Generosity of God, we feel Embarrassed at our foolishness. It’s an Embarrassment because the myth of Scarcity says ‘it’s all about Us’ – but the Scriptures tell us ‘Its ALL about God!’ (Which by the way is why we should be VERY wary of teaching on ‘being Good Stewards’) We Hate being served – we hate being blessed – we want to be able to say ‘My right hand and the strength of my arm hath gotten me this, rather than accept the free gift of God. The myth of Scarcity is an offence against Grace
The children of Israel had forgotten the Big Story of the Abundance of God, and taken on once more the myth of Scarcity – so they’re all into business and trade and trying to make profits from God’s generosity, trying to secure their own futures rather than accept God’s future – they are Denying that God is Who God is, Jehovah Jireh - the God who provides – and what is more, this act of apostasy, of practical atheism is taking place Right in the heart of the Temple. It comes to me as I write that there is a lot of mystery surrounding the phrase ‘The Abomination that causes Desolation’ what is it that is set up in the Temple that deserves such Censure?? Could it be this??
Why is it Such desecration in The Temple? Because this was symbolic of the dwelling place of God – in the Very place that Israel was supposed to remember this story of Salvation – of Life and Provision – they were denying it – choosing as once before had the Man and the Woman in the Garden, in the midst of God’s abundance to take matters into their own hands – refusing God’s over Abundant Enough, for the Lure of More. It is the old story we hit on a few weeks ago – there is no God AND. When we say God is not enough we reveal that we are strangers to God, and we discover we do not have enough
And So this Temple must go – it must be rebuilt – it must be a fitting House of God. And what in reality was always meant to be The House of God? Not specialized religious establishments, not places where the sacred coule be kept neatly away from the profane – No. The True dwelling place of God was the place God Made to dwell in with humankind – the heavens and the Earth – The Creation. The Temple, symbolized the fact that Creation was the dwelling place of God
The Creation, the place which was pure Gift, the place of Gift, the place of Grace. Because we want to make our own lives we either ignore Grace, or if we are religious reduce it to a spiritual message – we are happy to have the money changers, just not in the temple – we thing Grace and Salvation are spiritual matters – we take the provision of the Manna in the wilderness and say - this has been spiritualised in Jesus - and now only applies to the forgiveness of sins. Daily bread reduced to spiritual graces. We do not believe that God provides Everything – that Salvation is the Whole of Life that in the Risen Christ there is Only Abundance and that the myth of Scarcity is a Lie.
I entitled the service today – Blessing, Hospitality and Generosity – and we may well think ‘When are we going to get on with that’ – with exhortations to bless – like from 2 Corinthians, to be Generous and to be hospitable – but that would be exactly to miss the point – this isn’t about Us being Generous, or Hospitable or indeed blessing – it is about God’s Generosity, God’s Hospitality, God’s Blessing.
As Moses gave the people of Israel Directions about how they should respond to the generosity of God as they entered the land he said this – you will take some of the first fruit of the land – the first things that God gives you – ad you will go up to the Place where the Lord your God will chooses a dwelling for his name – you will come into God’s House – with what God has done for you and recite there all that God has done for you - ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me. You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God’ – and then this wonderful turn – God does not consume it all by fire – he doesn’t say, this is no more than I deserve – you can go now – no – ‘Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.’
You come into God’s house with the things God has given you and God says – use them to throw a party for yourselves. God has provided for a feast – it is God’s House, God’s Hospitailty, God’s generosity and abundance which we celebrate today – made Real in the New Temple – the one in whom all things hold together, forgiveness, generosity, blessing and hospitality - our Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ