Tenth Sunday after Trinity, August 4th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Cleansing – Luke 19:45-46
Cleansing. What a good word. Jesus cleanses the Temple today. How nice. Maybe…
Cleansing. Cleansing can be very pleasant, like a deep cleansing facial treatment, clearing out pores and freshening the skin, or the cleansing aroma of menthol, clearing out your sinuses, allowing you to breath, taking away the throbbing pain in your forehead.
Cleansing. I was chatting with Ted and June Sullivan, at their house next to St. John the other day. Watching the traffic go by, we discussed how much the boom had changed the area. Ted likes to go the Raymond Center in Williston to take a sauna, a steamy cleansing, well worth the drive. Except that now, with extra traffic and construction and the hectic pace and the dirt that seems so strange to see everywhere in Williston, that cleansing feeling doesn’t last. The trip back dirties what was so pleasantly refreshing, so Ted doesn’t go much anymore. He misses that cleansing.
Cleansing. We like to cleanse the carpets at the parsonage. Our dogs hold a very important place in our lives, offering us unconditional affection, forcing us to get out and take walks, keeping us company when Shelee and I are separated. But let’s face it, two dogs, two labs no less, shed a lot of hair, and drag in a lot of dirt on their paws. Vacuuming having its limitations, we like to get a steam cleaner every so often, and clean all the carpets, deep clean them, with hot water, detergent, and powerful suction. All because clean is good.
Clean is good, but sometimes it hurts. How many wounds have you had “cleansed.” Knees or elbows or gashes elsewhere in your flesh, maybe full of sand and gravel, not life threatening, as long as we get it cleaned up, to prevent infection. Saline solution at the ER. Hose water in your backyard. Maybe Hydrogen peroxide. Or alcohol. Or that perennial favorite of the male of the species, cleansing the wound by squeezing it to make it bleed more. Hey, it works… None of these cleansings are pleasant, but they are all preferable to the alternative, letting a wound scab over and start to heal, only to become pussy and infected. Because then cutting has to precede the cleansing. So let’s get it clean now.
Clean is good, but it’s not always possible. Vicar had a small stain on the back of his alb that I kept forgetting to tell him about. Now I’m worried it may be permanently set. Stains in white garments are often the worst. We try ‘Spray and Wash’ and toothbrushes, ‘Simple Solution,’ or hydrogen peroxide (works on flesh and fabric!). Cold water, hot water, bleach, dozens of remedies may or may not get the spot out, the successful ones sometimes working by eating away the fabric, leaving a thin spot, just as noticeable as the original stain.
Clean is good, but it’s not always possible, like the smoke in the bricks here at Trinity. We’ve had such a mild summer, I’ve hardly noticed. But a few weeks ago, on a good hot day, an old familiar odor greeted me upon my entrance to the building. The smoke deep in the bricks, the smoke that Restorx couldn’t remove, released a little, as the summer heat swelled the clay, opening the pores. Will our bricks ever be cleansed of their smokiness? I doubt it. It would take a miracle.
We’re like those bricks. The sin that fouls us, the sin from which we need to be cleansed is down deep, very hard to get out. The evidence of the deepness of our sin is all around us. I could make a list of examples to cover everyone of us here. But to stick to the text, consider what today’s Gospel reading says about human sin. Consider that the chosen people of God could choose to pollute the very House of God. How deep must human sinfulness go, if God’s special people, rescued out of slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon, blessed with God’s Word and the Temple and the Sacrifices, how deep is human sin if they couldn’t resist corrupting part of the LORD’s House? God’s special people perverted part of His Temple, part of the space where the great ‘I AM’ came to dwell with them, turning the court of the Gentiles into a market, full of doves and lambs and money exchanges, all to support the pilgrimage supply business.
So Jesus cleanses the Temple today, and it isn’t pleasant. Luke mostly passes over our Lord’s fury in his description: He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers." Pretty mild description. Our artist captures a bit more of the Lord’s likely mood in our bulletin cover. Matthew and Mark add this striking detail: ‘He overturned the tables of the money changers,’ thus allowing our minds to hear the ringing of the coins as they scatter across the stone floor. John reveals most of all in His Gospel, telling us how Jesus made a whip of cords and used that to drive out the merchants who were defiling His Father’s House.
Jesus cleanses the Temple today, driving out those who would bring their business into the space God had consecrated for the prayers of the nations. But, like so many cleansings before and since, it didn’t last. It didn’t solve the problem. Churchmen around the world continue to find ways to pervert their calling to proclaim the Gospel, twisting into opportunities to get rich off the faithful. No, like Restorx, standing on lifts, rubbing down the outside of the bricks in our wall, in a futile effort to remove the smoke deep within, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, while dramatic, did not make a lasting difference. All it really did is make the Jews, the Pharisees, Scribes and Priests in particular, even more angry at Jesus, even more determined to destroy Him.
Well, now, that is something, something eternal, the death of Jesus. And so there is a Cleansing that truly, and eternally cleanses.
‘Create in me a clean heart, O God.’ We will sing those words in a few minutes. Do we remember what they mean?
How does God create clean hearts? How does the Spirit cleanse us, from the inside out?
By the forgiveness of sins, free and full.
And from where does the Spirit draw the power to forgive us all our sins?
From the blood of Christ, poured out to cleanse the world of all sin.
It would take a minor miracle to remove the smoke from our bricks. Removing the sin from you and I, removing our guilt and the punishment we deserve for continually staining our lives with lust and anger and hatred and selfishness, well, this requires the greatest miracle of all, the miracle of the Atonement, the complete payment in suffering for all our sin and guilt. This miracle Jesus, the Son of God, has completed, by dying, by shedding His Holy Blood, for you, and for me. The only true and eternal cleansing from sin and death is found only in the Blood of Jesus.
Jesus shows a lot of emotion today, it seems. His righteous anger flares as He cleanses His Father’s House, driving out the sellers, the money changers, the animals. He weeps too, weeping over Jerusalem, over His own people, who refuse to recognize that He is their true peace. True peace for God’s people is the man, Jesus, the one who mourned over Jerusalem, because she would be destroyed by the Romans, finally abandoned by God, as He removed His dwelling place with men from that Temple on a hill. And, don’t forget, Jesus also shows patience, teaching the people who hang on His Word, teaching them to trust in Him, no matter what happens.
Which is necessary, because the unthinkable did happen, at the end of that very same week. God died on a Cross, dying at the hands of sinners. But Jesus died at the hands of sinners, for the sake of sinners. And so this is the cleansing that changes everything, including the place where God dwells.
The Lord is no longer found only in one Temple in one city. Now God dwells among His people, wherever two or three gather in the Name of Jesus. God dwells among His people, wherever the Spirit’s Bible is read for the edification of God’s New Chosen People, the Church of Christ. God now dwells among His people, even entering into them in a physical mystery, through the eating and drinking of the Supper, the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you, for your forgiveness, and for your new life.
That’s why we’re here today. To gather around Jesus, and hang on His Word. To humbly confess the sins that stain the pure white garments He gave us in our Baptism. And to come rejoicing to His Table, to wash our robes and make them white again, in the blood of the Lamb, who reigns on high. Now is the time of the Lord’s visitation to us. Ponder His love for you. Rejoice and sing, for you are cleansed and pure, in Jesus Christ your Savior, Amen.