The Gospel of John begins with soaring language about the Word of God taking on flesh and about true light coming into the world. The Word of God is living among us, full of grace and truth and giving us the power to become children of God. God is true light shining in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome.
Quickly, the story moves from the wonder and majesty of incarnation to the everyday lives of real people. There is a wedding in Cana. When the wine runs out, Jesus saves the day by turning water into wine.
After the wedding, Jesus finds himself in the temple. There he sees much of the world’s wisdom on display and little of God’s. He is angry. The cleansing begins. An interesting exchange takes place between some Jews and Jesus. Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews wonder how Jesus can raise up something in three days that has been under construction for 46 years. He was talking about himself as the temple.
The temple, a place to worship God and encounter God’s power and majesty, is a structure. Jesus says, “I am the temple. I am the place, the structure, the means whereby people will come into the presence of God. I am the connecting point.” In Christ, is the fullness of God. Coming to Jesus one encounters the wonder of God’s holiness, the wideness of God’s grace and the depth of God’s love. Jesus is the person and the place where God is met. Jesus is the temple.
So what is going on in your temple? Is a party breaking out? Are blind eyes seeing, deaf ears hearing and captives being set free? Not so much, you say. Things are a little dry, you say. Why don’t you try to learn something new? Choose a gospel and read it all the way through. Keep a pen and paper handy so that you can jot down details that you were unaware of or had not noticed in previous study. You will be amazed at how many new things that you can learn reading an old, familiar book.
If you don’t want to learn something, then do something. Set aside some time – 15 minutes, an hour or a day. It doesn’t matter. Just set aside some time and put that time in your temple, put it in Jesus. Use the time to do a Jesus kind of activity. Sit with a friend who is sick or alone. Call someone who needs some cheer or a listening ear. Feed some hungry people. Fix something that is broken. You can do almost anything. Just give the time to Jesus. Offer it to him as an offering and see what happens in your temple. See what happens in the space where you meet God.
Which direction is your temple pointed? Is it pointed toward you or toward God? Don’t be embarrassed if your temple is pointed toward you. That would be our natural inclination. Certainly, the society in which we live would underscore the necessity of focusing our energy, attention and resources on ourselves. The temptation is great in each of us to make American idols of ourselves, turning our worship away from God and toward our own lives. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are quick to settle for just loving ourselves.
Lent is a time for asking these sorts of questions. We know Easter is coming. We know that Jesus will be crucified, buried and resurrected. The question is: Will it be enough? Will it be enough to cause us to give our lives to him? Can we trust him enough to move our lives into this temple? To be in Christ, so that Christ can do with us as he pleases? It seems like a risky proposition, doesn’t it? The alternative seems safer, but it is not. In clinging to the notion that our lives belong to us, we cling to our own destruction.
Ed Sunday-Winters is senior pastor of Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He blogs at Just Words.
Ed Sunday-Winters is pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ in Greensboro, Vermont.