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3 Lent - John 2:13-22

Tiffany France thought her son would receive his diploma this coming June, reports Chris Papst for Fox News Baltimore.

But after four years of high school, France just learned, her 17-year-old must start over.

He’s been moved back to ninth grade.

In four years, he passed three of his 25 classes.

His 0.13 GPA ranks 62nd in his class of 120 – middle of the pack.

France says she didn’t know that until February, Papst continues.

She has three children and works three jobs.

She thought her oldest son was doing well because even though he failed most of his classes, he was being promoted.

No one from the school told France her son was failing and not going to class.

“I feel like they never gave my son an opportunity, like if there was an issue with him, not advancing or not progressing, that they should have contacted me first, three years ago,” said France.

“He's a good kid.

He didn't deserve that.

Where's the mentors?

Where is the help for him?

I hate that this is happening to my child."

"I get angry. There's nothing but frustration," said a City Schools administrator, who

asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

His transcript is not unusual to me.

I've seen many transcripts, many report cards, like this particular student."

"I don't know what to do for him,” France told Project Baltimore.

“Why would he do three more years in school?

He didn't fail, the school failed him.

The school failed at their job.

They failed. They failed, that's the problem here.

They failed. They failed."

When Jesus stepped into the temple, he saw a system that was failing people.

He didn't crack the whip on the sinners seeking forgiveness, or the money changers doing their job, or any of the faithful and flawed individuals doing their religious duty.

The religion itself needed to be killed and born again.

In that system, the temple was the one holy dwelling place of the one holy God, who graciously provided a way for unholy humans to purge their sin and purify themselves, to become righteous enough to be with God.

The way for this to happen was through the proper sacrifice of approved animals.

Because many people could not logistically provide their own approved animal, temple vendors provided the helpful, convenient service of identifying ritually clean animals and selling them right there at the entrance to the temple.

There were also money changers, because most people have Roman coins in their pocket, and Roman coins have the graven image of Caesar claiming to be a god, which violates God's commandment.

That won't do, especially when the whole point is to overcome sin and get right with God, so the money changers provided currency exchange for a very modest fee.

They weren't making a killing on the exchange rate; just enough to cover expenses and keep

people gainfully employed.

The prices were reasonable, and there were smaller animal options available for the poor, and what could be more important for anyone to spend whatever income they have on than

their relationship with God?

It was all very reasonable; just like sixteenth century indulgences.

The problem isn't that we change money.

The problem is that money changes us.

When God makes a way, humanity builds a toll booth.

The history of religion is littered with one example after another of grace exploited for gain, the goodness of God haggled, hoarded, guarded and peddled at a mark-up.

Lest we Lutherans, with our insistence on grace as God's free gift, become smug about ourselves, remember that the young man who shot up the church in Charleston went to an ELCA Sunday School.

The BTK killer was the president of his ELCA congregation.

Our system failed them and their victims.

There is blood on our hands too.

Which is why we need some reliable way to get right with God.

John's gospel announces that Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life,

Jesus is the temple, the meeting place of God and humanity, freely available to all.

Jesus promises to draw all people to himself ... at the cross, where his three years are rejected as abject failure, where the principal himself is expelled, where the whole busted system comes crashing down, where God starts over.

Notice what happens in the midst of the temple chaos.

Animals run wild in the temple of the Lord, alive and free.

Coins, graven images of an idol, roll into the holy house of God.

Sinful, unclean people are able to stroll in without performing the proper sacrifices.

The temple itself is violated, desecrated, made unclean.

Human hands aren't clean; God's hands get dirty.

Which is to say, God is with us at last, and what the system was designed to do has finally been achieved, ironically enough, by getting the system out of the way.

The place where God and humanity come together shifts from a holy building to a broken body.

In his book The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg explains:

According to temple theology, certain kinds of sins and impurities could be dealt with only through sacrifice in the temple.

Temple theology thus claimed an institutional monopoly on the forgiveness of sins; and because the forgiveness of sins was a prerequisite for entry into the presence of God, temple theology also claimed an institutional monopoly on access to God.

In this setting, to affirm "Jesus is the sacrifice for sin" was to deny the temple's claim to have a monopoly on forgiveness and access to subverted the sacrificial system.

It meant: God in Jesus has already provided the sacrifice and has thus taken care of whatever

you think separates you from God; you have access to God apart from the temple and its

system of sacrifice.

It is a metaphor of radical grace, of amazing grace. (Borg, The Heart of Christianity, pp.94-95)

No longer do we go to God's house; now God comes to ours.

We are not in the temple; the temple is in us.

The renewed temple, the broken and buried and resurrected body, the way to God with

dirty hands named Jesus, is the bread and the identity we share around our table, where

God calls to us and to all people in the words of the prophet Isaiah: you that have no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price...

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

The body of Christ, given for you.

The blood of Christ, shed for you.

The life of Christ, stolen and risen for you.

The very heart of God, the treasure you can never earn or afford, unprotected and placed in your hand like a free diploma.

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