As If Everything Were Downside Up


upsidedownworldScripture Text: John 2: 13-17

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making 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. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”


We don’t know what to make of this passage. Oh, we try to make sense of it, sort of clean it up so that it doesn’t look so bad. After all, what happened to that loving, mild-mannered Savior that we knew? What happened to the consummate storyteller that knew how to get everyone to listen to him? What happened to Jesus? Here he is, whip raised like some sort of drunken cowboy herding all the sheep and cattle out of the square outside the temple. And then grabbing all of the baskets of coins from the money changers and throwing them on the ground. So, when he walked away there were animals scattered into the town, tables turned over, coins strewn everywhere, and, I’m assuming, some pretty flabbergasted merchants standing around not knowing what to do.


Well, of course, we know why. After all, the temple is God’s house; the temple is a place of reverence and worship. Well, OK, BUT, remember that God dwells everywhere—in you, in me. Remember…God made flesh, Emmanuel, Dwelt among us,..all that stuff. So what exactly was wrong? After all, that was the way society ran. No one was breaking the law. No one was mistreating anyone (or at least not in any way that was not properly sanctioned by both the community and the religious tradition) So what was wrong? Why was Jesus so upset? Because, there they were…essentially selling worship, selling religious practice, selling God.


“Horrible!,” we sigh. But think about our own society.  Think about us. Our lives are reward-driven and because of it we live with the idea that we should get what is “due” to us. We believe that by working hard and doing the right things we will be rewarded. And often that carries into our spiritual lives. How many of us do the things we do because we think we should, because we think that it will in some way earn us points with God, or, even, because we think that we are the only ones that can do them? Oh, you know the stuff. If I pray really hard, God will answer. If I have faith, God will reward me. If I serve God, I will feel good. If I study and try my best to make sense of God, God will guide me and everything will turn out alright. It is our own way of merchandising. What do we do because we love God and what do we do because we think that will reap a reward (or at least insure us against future calamity)?


Meister Eckhart (13th-14th century German mystic) said that “as long as we strive to get something from God on some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God.” Eckhart then exhorts us to “live as if you do not exist…then God alone dwells there.” So what would that mean, then, to live as if we do not exist? It means to live without an “if-then” statement. It means to live “as if”, as if God’s Kingdom is here in its fullness and glory, as if all of Creation echoes the song of God, as if God dwells in our midst and you are God’s holy temple (oh, yeah…that one IS supposed to be an already one). We live between the already and the not yet. This season of Lent makes that oh so much more real to us as we journey in the wilderness knowing that the Cross, and, indeed, the Resurrection, God’s ultimate act of bringing the downside up, is up ahead.  But that does not mean that the tables cannot be turned—even now. So, to live as if you do not exist, to live as if God dwells in you as a holy temple, what tables in your life does Jesus need to turn downside up to get your attention? (Or what do you need to do to at least live as if it were that way?)


The noblest prayer is when [one] who prays is inwardly transformed into what [one] kneels before. (Angelus Silesius, 17th century)


FOR TODAY:  Think about what tables Jesus need to turn downside up in your life so that you can live as if you do not exist.


Grace and Peace,


A Gift in the Wilderness



Mt. SinaiScripture Text:  Exodus 20: 1-17

Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You 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. 5You 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, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But 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. 11For 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.  12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You 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.

This is hard.  The people are journeying through the wilderness.  Food is in short supply and nerves are raw.  They have quarreled and tested God but until now, they have had no real identity, no real purpose.  This is the place where they are finally aware of the intention that God has for them as a people. This is the place where their lives and their journey becomes meaningful. And God gives them this covenant.  The specific laws would have been selected from among the many social and moral laws over many generations.  It is probable that they did not magically drop out of the sky but rather grew out of a people’s understanding of who God was.

So many in our society try to make these laws more judicial, as if they are a hard and fast set of rules that God laid down, perhaps metaphorically slapping the people on their hands for misbehaving, like small unruly children.  There are those who think we need to post these up on the board (or in front of court buildings and the like) so that people will remember them (and, sadly, interpret them the way the person that pinned them up does!).  But these are not laws to obey in the “following the rules” sense.  They are the shape of who we are, the shape of God’s people.  They depict who we are as people of God.  It is about how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, and how we sustain ourselves on our faith journey.  The wilderness provided a gift of how to wander in the wilderness, of how to be.  Think of them not as boundaries but as declarations of freedom, freedom not just from the slavery endured before but from every time that we allow ourselves to be enslaved by anything.  I don’t think we’re called to remember the words of the ten commandments as much we are to remember who and whose we are.

This Season of Lent is not really about following rules either.  It is not meant to burden us or make us quit enjoying life or any of that.  It, too, is about freedom, about finally experiencing the freedom that God gives us from slavery, from our plans, from the expectations of the world.  God is not expecting us to follow rules; God is asking us to dance, to delight in Creation, to delight in the world that was created for us.  And the way we do that?  We love God. We love ourselves. We love our neighbor as ourselves.  And we learn the meaning of rest and reflection and glorious Sabbath.  That’s all.  But that’s the way we will know God.  Consider these commandments not as rules but as a glorious gift of God from the wilderness.  But, notice, we had to get away, we had to wander a bit, all the while shedding ourselves of the trappings that we have created in our life, of those things that enslave us, to really understand what we have been given.  We have not been given rules; we have been given Life.

If indeed we love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength, we are going to have to stretch our hearts, open our minds, and strengthen our souls, whether our years are three score and ten or not yet twenty.  God cannot lodge in a narrow mind.  God cannot lodge in a small heart.  To accommodate God, they must be palatial. (William Sloane Coffin)

FOR TODAY:  Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor.  And then rest, and reflect, and be still.  That’s all.

Grace and Peace,