March 3: I Will Raise it Up

March 3: I Will Raise it Up

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Audio of Scripture reading and sermon only

March 3 – 3rd Sunday of Lent

Other sermons in this 2024 Lentent series
“Depths of Love”

Scripture: John 2:13-22

When Moses was around 40 years old, he was shepherding his father-in-law’s flock one day when he saw something peculiar in the distance. It appeared to be a bush that had caught fire but was not being consumed by the flames. Curios about the matter, he went over to investigate. To his great surprise, I’m sure, when he got there the LORD spoke to him from out of the burning bush. The first thing God spoke to Moses was a command. Can anyone here tell us what that command was? Answer: “Take off your sandals, for the place you’re standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

What made that place holy? Was there something inherently hallowed about that small plot of rock and soil? No. It was made holy by the presence God.

You may recall that hundreds of years earlier, a similar conclusion was reached by Moses’s ancestor, Jacob. Fearing that his brother Esau would follow through on his threat to kill him, Jacob left home to live with his Uncle Laban’s family. On the way there, he had a dream one night in which he saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and angels of God were going up and down the steps. At the very stop of the staircase he saw God, who said to him, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying….I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13, 15). When Jacob woke up from the dream, he exclaimed to himself, “The LORD is definitely in this place. This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven” (vv. 16-17). From Jacob’s perspective, God’s presence in his dream made the location where he slept hallowed ground.

These days, it’s not uncommon for us to think of our worship spaces as hallowed ground. One of the choruses in “The Faith We Sing” songbook is based on the story of Jacob’s dream, and it’s often sung at the start of worship. The lyrics are, “We are standing on holy ground, and I know that there are angles all around; let us praise Jesus now; we are standing in his presence on holy ground.” Our opening hymn began with this proclamation: “God is here as we your people meet to offer praise and prayer.” I think we’d all agree that our sanctuary is holy ground, and what makes it holy is God’s presence.

But it’s not only a sanctuary that’s hallowed by God’s presence. Wherever worship is happening is holy ground because God is there in a powerful way. A living room or bedroom or kitchen is holy ground when it’s the locus of worship. The cab of a truck or the cabin of a plane become holy ground when worship is happening there. Whenever and wherever we engage in worshipping Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we’re standing (or sitting) on holy ground.

So, if it’s the presence of God that makes a location or space holy, then it’s also what hallows worship itself. It’s not the type of music that makes it holy. Or the type of musical instruments utilized. Or whether the prayers are written out ahead of time or offered extemporaneously. Or the clothes worn by the people or the worship leaders. Or which translation of the Bible is used. None of these make worship holy. And that’s because it’s not the form or structure, or the genre or setting of worship that makes it holy. But rather, it’s the presence of God.

Now, having said that, there is one other thing that effects the acceptability of our worship to God, and we know this because of the way Jesus responded to what had become of worship in his day. In biblical days, the main Jewish expression of worship happened on the altar, which was located just outside of the Temple itself and within the Temple court. This was where priests would make offerings to God on behalf of the people. Offerings consisted of either an animal sacrifice or a food offering. For Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries, that’s what worship looked like. And the biggest and most important ‘worship service’ of the year took place at Passover, when Jews from throughout the Roman empire converged upon Jerusalem.

During one of those Passovers, Jesus became very angry with what had become of worship, and he expressed this anger with a whip, a ruckus and some angry words. Listen again to John’s description. “It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here!Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business” (John 2:13-16).

Clearly, something was taking place on the Temple grounds that day which Jesus found very upsetting. Through the years, different ideas about what drove him to do that have been put forth. They’re all plausible ideas. But how about for today, we simply look at the words Jesus used. But not only the words of his first statement, which is what typically gets the greatest amount of attention.  Yes, he angrily demanded the immediate removal of the money changers and those selling what was needed for making the required sacrifices; and he accused the people in charge of turning the temple grounds into a “place of business.” But it’s what he said after the religious authorities inquired about where his authority came from to make those demands that I want us to look at this morning. “What miraculous sign will you show us?” they asked. As one Bible commentator put it, they wanted to see his prophetic credentials, his divine spark. In other words, what sign says you can get away with such outrageous actions?

Jesus’ response: “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.” Because they were standing in the shadow of the great Temple of Solomon, they thought Jesus was talking about that huge structure, which they were quick to remind him took 46 years to build. How could you possible raise it up in three days??!! But, of course, Jesus wasn’t talking about raising up a physical building but a physical body—his own body—following his death and burial. Destroy THIS temple [hands on chest] and in three days I’ll raise it up! He told them about his impending resurrection.

Maybe this is the other key for making worship holy. Of greatest importance, without which it’ll never be hallowed ground, is what God brings: himself. His presence is first and foremost. But there’s also something we have to bring to the table, and that’s the right heart. Right worship begins, at least on our part, with the right heart.

For Christians, worship is about Resurrection. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our own resurrection to eternal life through Christ. And the fact that whenever we gather in Jesus’ name and sing and pray and commune together around Word and sacrament, we’re being raised up. When we worship, what is it that raises people up? Worship, as you know, isn’t just a Sunday event; it’s a daily lifestyle. So, in everyday life, we worship when we elevate and build others up. The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world that can destroy the body and the soul. If we’re to stand against that which tears down, then let’s consider how we’re building up each other and others outside of our church family.

You see, how we worship matters to God. And I’m not talking about making sure we stand at all the right times…or sing along during the hymns…or keep our children quiet…or even pay attention to every word of the sermon! It’s the heart we bring to worship that matters to God. We can trust that God’s here. He’s promised us that he’ll be here with us. And the heart we bring may just be what allows us to sense and feel God’s presence. So, as persons who have been raised up by Jesus Christ, may we also raise up others through our words and actions of love and grace. Let’s pray.

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