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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

It Is What It Is Until It Isn't

WORSHIP FOR: 2023-03-03

Exodus 20:1-17, John 2:13-22


Exodus 20:1-17

20:1 Then God spoke all these words:

20:2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;

20:3 you shall have no other gods before me.

20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,

20:6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

20:7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

20:8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

20:10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work--you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.

20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

20:13 You shall not murder.

20:14 You shall not commit adultery.

20:15 You shall not steal.

20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.




I got a visual aid for today's sermon. Here it is.



It's definitely a warning.

I believe it might also be a reference to a scene from Real Housewives of New Jersey.

THOSE ladies need Jesus.


Many times I've heard people use the example of Jesus flipping tables as an excuse for getting angry.

Or license to get as angry as they wanna be.

"Hey, Jesus got angry too."

Oh, well OK then.

So it's fine to Hulk-out, and go smash.


Thou shalt not flip tables isn't one of the Ten Commandments, so, OK then.

It's not nearly as bad as, say, numbers 6, 7, and 8.

But I will go on record as saying, if you're THAT angry, please get some help.

Don't let us find you in the Fellowship Hall getting crazy with the furniture.


Anger escalates quickly.

Jesus may have been the Son of God, but he was also human.

Being human means being angry.

Anger can be a healthy response, a motivating response.


We all get angry from time to time.

And there are constructive ways to work it out.

Scream into a pillow.

Have a protest march to the Capitol.

See a therapist.

Have a heart-to-heart with the person who's hurt you if that's safe for you.

Heck, we could even set up some beat up old tables in the front yard for you.

Charge $10 a flip.

There's a stewardship idea.

You're welcome.


All that said,


If the only thing we get from the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple is, "It's OK to be angry because Jesus did," we may want to look a little more closely.

Obviously, what Jesus found in the Temple made him very, very angry.

Why? What was it about a currency exchange that so outraged him?

Or, were the moneychangers just the tip of the iceberg?


What makes Jesus mad today?

What in our WORLD makes him mad?

What in US, makes him want to start flippin' OUR tables?


Is there anything that makes YOU that angry?

Should there be?



John 2:13-22

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

2:15 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.

2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"

2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

2:18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"

2:19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

2:20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?"

2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.

2:22 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.




"It Is What It Is Until It Isn't"


I also got another T-shirt.

Gonna wear it to presbytery meetings.



It is what it is.

Great words of wisdom.

It always is what it is.

Until it isn't.

Until someone starts flippin' tables like Jesus.


I don't know if you've been watching the news in the past, I don't know, 10 years.

But a lot of people are really angry.

A lot of Alabamians are angry, and Georgians, and Texans….

Heck, Rhode Islanders might be angry, haven't been there.

You get the point.

The closer things get to home, the angrier we get.

It's always scarier when the calls are coming from inside the house.


Jesus was, literally, inside the house.

Inside his Father's house.

In Jerusalem.

In the Temple.

In the sacred home of God his Father.


Jesus wasn't angry at the Canadians.

Or the Mexicans.

Jesus was angry at his own people, mad at his own religious leaders.

And what was going on in Israel, in Judea, in Jerusalem – his city, his home, in his Father's house, felt like a betrayal.

Jesus knows betrayal.


So what was it?


This is one of those times when skimming along the surface of the Bible just doesn't cut it.

To get what's going on, you have to think Jewish.

Like, first century Jewish.



The Gospel According to John tells us that this was the time of the Passover.

Passover was, and is, the defining religious event of Jewish faith, like Christmas or Easter for us Christians.

Passover reminds Jewish people – and some Christians – of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.

When the Israelites smeared lamb's blood above their doors to protect them from the Angel of Death, and finally Pharaoh let the people go.


In Jesus's time, Passover meant Jews from all over the known world would be making a pilgrimage to the Holy City, to Jerusalem, to give thanks to God.

At the Temple.

To remember.

To re-enact their liberation.

To be redeemed again.

To be named and claimed as God's people again.

Passover was the holiest of holy times.


Jewish people would bring lambs – to be sacrificed in the Temple, on the altar.

And then the'd have a great feast.

It wasn't the Last Supper, but a very good one.

A Thanksgiving meal.

God would be praised.

The people would be made whole.


At least, in theory.

In reality, things were more… complicated.


You see, this wasn't Moses's Israel.

Or King David's.

This was Israel as occupied territory.

The Roman Empire owned tiny Judea, lock, stock, and barrel.

To keep the illusion of peace, Caesar installed nominally Jewish leaders, like King Herod, Pontius Pilate.

And then these leaders appointed local religious leaders – minions – collaborators –

 and kept THEM compliant with a healthy cut of high taxes and back-breaking debt.


This made the top one percent fabulously wealthy.

It turned the Holy Temple into a money-making machine.

The other 99%, the normal Israelites, were peasants.

They had no lambs, at least not their own.


The bosses came up with a simple solution to keep the money flowing in.

Out front of the Temple, they'd open a market.

They'd sell ready-to-sacrifice animals to the pathetic pilgrims.

The price wasn't bad, but once you added the Temple Tax it was a windfall for the High Priests.

They got rich on the backs of the religious faithful.


Does this make you think, "That's kinda unfair"?

Does it sound exploitative?


Does it make you sort of angry?

Now, you're thinking like a first century Jew.


Have you ever been ripped off by the system?

It's not a good feeling.

Hold onto that feeling.


It gets worse.


In the Roman Empire, If you wanted to buy anything, you had to buy it with Roman money.

Roman money had the Roman Emperor's picture on it, naturally, because, in Caesar they trusted.

Actually, no.

The Jews despised their Roman overlords.

In their minds it would be an offense to give God a clean Temple sacrifice bought with filthy Roman money.


Because it wasn't just money.

It was sacrilege.

Romans called their Supreme Leader, quote, "The Son of God."

They called him, "Lord."


Now, does THAT sound offensive to you?

You're more Jewish than you thought.


The moneychangers who sat at the tables, bless their hearts, weren't bad people per se.

They were just doing a job.

Money laundering, yes, but for a cause.

It wasn't that the bank tellers were bad.

It was that the whole system was rotten to the core.


And here's the thing: Everybody knew it.

It was just the way things were.

They put up with it because it was what it was.

Sure better than being crucified.


Rome turned the sacred Temple into a fancy front for nothing less

than government-sponsored, God-ordained, organized crime.

Designed to keep the people in line, keep them poor, keep them powerless.

All in the name of God.


Now, if THAT'S not taking the Lord's name in vain, I don't know is.

And that IS a Top Ten commandment.


Jesus comes to the temple.

JESUS – is having no part of it.

He makes a whip of cords, drives the people out.

The sheep and the cattle, the doves, too.

He dumps out the coins of the money changers and flips their tables.


He shouts, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"


Come on, Bible Translator People.

Marketplace sounds like Publix.

St. Matthew says it better.

In Matthew, Jesus quotes the prophets and calls it a 'den of thieves.' (21:13).



Jesus wasn't mad at moneychanging.

Jesus was mad at God-SELLING.

Jesus was mad at God-PROFITEERING.

Jesus was mad at God being held for ransom in God's own house.

Jesus may have flipped some tables, but that was just symbolic.

Jesus was sick and tired of the whole flipping system.


So, you've thought like a Jew.

Now, think like a local Roman ruler, whose job and whose neck is on the line.

You're watching an incident that just might turn into a full-scale uprising.

Think like a bloated boss staring off his balcony at a potentially angry mob of religious zealots.

Think like someone whose lifestyle (and maybe even his life) is on the line

when the Roman authorities come looking for someone to blame.

You'd be afraid.

You'd be angry.

You might even be willing to crucify somebody.

Not everybody.

Just one man, to save the whole country.

And yourself.


So, when we start pulling the threads of what flipping tables really meant – meant to Jesus, meant to Rome, meant to the local syndicate, there's a lot more going on than Jesus throwing a temple tantrum.

Something was very, very broken.

Jesus knew NOTHING should be broken in the Kingdom of God.




How does this translate to us?

Into our time?

Our world?


As I said earlier, I don't know if you've been watching the news, or if you've been on social media, or tried to have a civil conversation with someone wearing a different color hat or different political T-shirt.

I don't know if you've accidentally cut someone off in traffic.

Or failed at using the correct pronoun.

I don't know about you, but it sure seems to me that there are a lot of people in our world these days who are just… angry.

Everybody's on a hair trigger.

And you don't know who's carrying.

Most people, probably.

Life is scary.


Something's broken.

There's just so much meanness.

There's just much readiness to fight.


Something's broken in OUR system.

Something's broken in OUR twenty-first century world.

And we all know it.

We do our best to keep our kids safe.

Keep our college students going jogging safe.

Keep our large gatherings safe.

We try.

We try to go along and get along.

Try to love our neighbors even if we're afraid of them.


Do we honestly think this is the way God would have it?

Is this the world God wants?

Is this the earth we want our children to inherit, our grandchildren?

And are we just too exhausted to fix it?

Are WE too powerless to make a change?

Are WE too afraid to rock the boat?



I wonder.


I wonder how many of the faithful Israelites at the Temple that day witnessed Jesus flipping those tables.

I wonder if their first reaction wasn't pure, gut-wrenching fear.

Fear at Jesus's anger.

Fear at what the rulers might do.


I wonder, too: what happened next?

I wonder what the people did after the wave of fear.

Did they slowly start to applaud?

First one, then another, and then the crowd?

Did they raise their fists in unity?

Did they cheer for the one person who finally, finally had the courage to start flipping the tables?



No they didn't.

The Bible tells us exactly what they did.

Just a few days later, they started yelling, "Crucify."


That was THEIR choice.

Would it have been yours?

How different would the Bible be if they repented of that fear?

If they said, it is NOT going to be what it is, anymore?



I'm afraid –

I'm afraid that in any group, any country, any organization, even any church, even in any heart –

things are the way they are.


It always is what it is.

Until it's not.

Until someone starts flippin' tables.


Things always are what they are.

Until they aren't.

Until one person.

And then another.

And then another chooses to make things better than they are.

Until someone puts the prayer into action: THY kingdom come, THY will be done.


I know –

I KNOW I don't have the anger, or the courage, or the faith – of Jesus.

But sometimes the Holy Spirit of Jesus finds YOU.

Sometimes the RIGHT things escalate quickly.


Sometimes, they even rise from the dead.