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Directionally Challenged

Updated: Mar 4


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

March 3, 2024

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

You know how some people are “directionally challenged?”  They have difficulty knowing right from left, or following directions, that kind of thing?  Some of us just have more difficulty knowing which way to go.  This isn’t just a driving problem.  It can be a life problem and that is far worse than not knowing which way is north or south out there on the Overseas Highway.  This is why I believe in God as a kind of Spiritual GPS.  I think centering our lives on our faith, our relationship with God, and God’s direction in life is the most important thing for a good life.


This morning’s Scripture reading tells a story of Jesus in the Temple.  We’ve all probably heard it before.  A lot of times it is told as if Jesus were having a temper tantrum.  Or it is explained as the reason churches shouldn’t have bake sales or Winter Festivals.  We all know that isn’t true!  In fact, if you read back through that passage of John’s Gospel it does not say Jesus was angry.  I think of it as Jesus giving the people who were there – and us – a suggestion for course correction.  You know, kinda like when you missed that turn and Siri says “recalculating.”  The people running the religious show at the Temple were apparently “directionally challenged.”


Jesus’ actions in “cleansing” or “clearing” the Temple was a symbolic act of economic justice.  The whole system of supporting the Temple depended on the tithes of the people.  The Hebrew system depended on everyone bringing 10% of their crops or their livestock or their income to the Temple to support the Temple and the priests.  There were specific commandments in Scripture for the kind of animals to be sacrificed.  And there were allowances for those who were poorer.  Only certain coins could be given, none with the Caesar’s image as that was a violation of the commandment to “make no graven images.”  But what had happened we might call a kind of “free enterprise.”  Those sellers and money changers were taking advantage of the faithful who came to worship.  They were overcharging and cheating people.  The poor suffered the most.  They had little extra to give and they had to do these things to stay in good religious standing even if it meant not eating or other kinds of economic dangers.


Jesus chose to make a statement about the economic abuse of people’s faith.  It wasn’t about not having bake sales or Winter Festivals.  It was about God’s purpose for all the systems that organize human life – economic, religious, and political.  God created them to be run fairly and justly for everyone, not just the powerful, or the wealthiest.  Jesus was performing a prophetic act by declaring that they should not make the Temple a marketplace.  God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s blessings were not, and are not directed only to those able to pay.  God’s economy was not designed to be based on pure profit for the most clever business man. 


Let’s pivot to this morning as we gather for the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Our ritual comes from that Passover our Jewish faith ancestors went to Jerusalem to celebrate.  Our sacrament speaks to the direction of our lives in many ways.  It is a metaphor and a symbol for our relationship with God.  It isn’t just about being hungry and thirsty physically or we would eat the whole loaf and drain the cup.  It can help us find direction in our faith and life as we come to the table to receive God’s gifts.  But it has many meanings that we can find in it.  Our task is to seek how it can strengthen us for our life journeys.  Let me offer what may be another dimension of meaning.


Some of the language of communion reaches back to the spirit of the sacrifices that were part of Jesus’ own religion.  A lamb was sacrificed at Passover for the Hebrew slaves to have strength for the journey.  Many churches refer to Jesus as “the lamb of God.”  Like the original Passover commanded the bread Jesus’ shared was unleavened.  The slaves needed to hurry to leave Egypt and couldn’t wait for bread to rise with leavening.  The wine Jesus says symbolizes his blood.  There’s a lot of theological meanings made of that.  It is the core sign of life.  Many understand the symbol of blood as a personal “washing” in a powerful sacrifice for release from personal sins.  I never really understood that.  For me, one of the ways I understand the words we say over the cup - “the blood of Christ, poured out for us” - is that the blood that Jesus shed was a sign of his solidarity with all those who suffer and die unjustly, at the hands of political, economic, and religious powers that conspired to have him executed.  And I see in it God’s promise of the day when that will end here on earth and all will have plenty to live on.  The truth is there is plenty for all now.  God has provided plenty.  Many suffer and die from inadequate resources because of injustice and unequal power.  The bread broken is another symbol of Christ’s solidarity with those who are broken, whether that is from personal sin, or public injustice and suffering.


Most of us have found our way to this church on our faith journey because we recognize the Bible’s truth is not confined to one way of thinking.  We understand that truth can be found in symbols, metaphors, stories that hold truth and power for living but aren’t historical events.  It’s called grown-up thinking and grown-up faith.  Life is a journey and growing up calls us beyond childish thinking.  Growing up calls us to find new directions in order to follow truth and to know God fully.  If we are directionally challenged, seek God more deeply and fully on our journey.  It will lead us to deeper faith and deeper living.

One of the speakers in the Living the Questions series describes 3 stages of thinking.  As children we practiced an innocent naivete.  We heard the stories of the tooth fairy, of Santa, and the boogie man and we did not question them.  Then we reached an age of critical thinking.  We recognized that some stories were not necessarily historical events or “factual” truths.  The third stage is a step beyond that critical thinking. It is the ability to see that truth is not limited to a historical event and how it actually happened.  As another of the speakers in the video tells it, there is an old Native American storyteller who ends his stories by saying, “Now I don’t know if it happened that way, but I know the story is true.”


Grown up faith sets us free from literalistic chains that turn God or the Divine Spirit into something we can’t worship or believe in.  To know our faith journey is true and the promises of love in Scripture aren’t limited by literalistic childish thinking is like being freed from chains, set free for living meaningfully in every relationship.


The story of our journey of faith is based in the truth of the love of the Divine for us, each individually, for creation as a whole and for everyone and every thing in this world.  The Communion we share is a sign of that truth.  It speaks to the love of the Spirit that lives in creation and in us and is with us in our journey.  It speaks of a day when all will eat and drink and live fully.  It speaks of the way God provides for us on the journey.  We theologians and preachers call that “grace.”  The songwriters call it “amazing.”  One of my favorite versions says that grace sets us free from chains.  Let’s sing that song.  AMEN.

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