Reading: Luke 19.45-48
Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be a house of prayer”;
but you have made it a den of robbers.’
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
What does the Church mean to you? Is it a place of prayer and worship, is it a place where you can meet and socialize with like-minded people, or is it just a beautiful ancient museum? That question is particularly relevant at the moment. Access to and the use of our church buildings is restricted because of the government’s reaction to the current coronavirus pandemic. At the moment, church buildings can only be used for private prayer. Between August and the beginning of November we were allowed to return to a reduced and restricted pattern of public worship, but that has been put on hold once again. So … to repeat my initial question … what does the Church mean to you?
Some will realize that the Church is a community and not a building. The beautiful historic buildings are just that … beautiful and historic. For centuries people have gathered to celebrate, weep, pray and worship in those buildings, but they remain just buildings. Without a community of faith that gathers within those walls to pray and worship the living God, they are just piles of stones. With this thought in mind, I ask again: what does the Church mean to you?
In today’s reading we hear of a famous incident near the end of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus enters the Temple, the very heart of Jewish prayer and worship, and finds people being exploited and cheated by the money changers. To come to God in prayer involved sacrifice, often in the form of living creatures. To offer a suitable sacrifice involved the acquisition of the ‘right’ sort of money. That is where the money changers came in. To change one’s everyday money into the ‘holy’ currency of the Temple involved an exchange. The rate of that exchange was never fair, it was always exploitative. That is why Jesus overthrew the tables of the money changers. Their actions and motivations were totally contrary to the teachings of God. Their actions and motivations were stumbling blocks to the prayer and the worship of the faithful.
So … again I ask the question: what does the Church mean to you? Is it a social club and a place of comfort and consolation? Or, is it a place where you can meet with other Christians in prayer and worship? Is it a place where, in sharing in that prayer and worship, you find yourself recharged with a new energy to go out and preach God’s message in word and deed? Or, are you happy for it to be a museum and a ‘den of robbers’ … that is the place that Jesus found when he entered the precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem? I pray that we may all see the Church in the context of the living stones that Jesus wanted to see as a conduit for his new way of ensuring that God’s light might shine into the dark corners of this world.