Reason to Believe – The Rev. Shannon Preston – Church Building

We live in an age of information and, if you’re willing to look, you can discover almost anything about the world and its past.  There is no shortage of facts to be learned about biology, psychology, sociology, law, banking and…well, everything. This is good news for us as Episcopalians, as a traditional understanding of how we find out who God is comes from Thomas Aquinas, an important church father in the 13th century and Richard Hooker, an Anglican theologian from the 16th century.  The understanding is the three-legged stool of Anglicanism. And those three legs are scripture, tradition and reason. Reason is an important part of our church.  We are free to think and question and research and wonder.

There is no shortage of facts and resources to help us find out about what this passage reveals to us about the historical Jesus—a man who lived 2000 years ago.  For example, in the process of writing this sermon I researched what the temple Jesus cleansed was like.  I learned that the physical location from which Jesus probably drove out the moneychangers from was the “women’s court” or the first court within the temple. Just outside this locale, gentiles, or non-Jews, could visit but the first court for the Jewish people was the women’s court.[1]  On the High-holy days, with Passover approaching it is likely that the selling of animals for sacrifice and those changing money over from local currencies to the currency of the Holy City probably spilled into this first court within the temple—where the women worshipped and prayed.  On the internet you can take virtual tours of what this temple probably looked like before it was destroyed in 70 CE.[2]  I can find pictures similar to the tables Jesus flipped over.  Our intellect and reason can have a field day researching any biblical story and these historical details help us understand more. It is good, reason is part of our three-legged stool.  Our three-legged stool for faith.

The gospel passage we hear today, is the story of Jesus cleansing the temple according to the gospel of John and John’s gospel is about our believing.[3]

Unlike the other gospels, in which this story comes after Palm Sunday and is regarded as a cause of Jesus’ arrest, John’s version comes at the very beginning—in chapter two right after the wedding miracle at Cana.  John’s gospel is filled with signs that help us to believe Jesus is the Messiah and our gospel today is one of these signs that Jesus is the Son of God.  This passage pivots around Jesus’ saying “Take these things out of here. Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” This is not in the other gospels and moves this passage into a statement about who Christ is and for John and his community Jesus needs to be the Christ, the Messiah.

Written around 100 CE, John’s is the last written of our four canonical gospels and it was written on behalf of a community that had started to identify themselves no longer just as a branch of Judaism, rather they were figuring out their identity as followers of Jesus; which did not prove easy for them.[4]  For John’s Community, it is essential, central, life and death that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Saviour, the Son of God.[5]  Their identity as followers of Christ impacted every part of their lives.

It was important for them and it is important for us today.[6]  John’s gospel wasn’t just written for his community but to be read and re-read as a revelation of who Christ is.  John’s Gospel as, Sandra Schneiders a well-respected New Testament scholar titles her commentary on John, Written so that we may Believe–[7] that we may believe in Jesus as Messiah and as fully and truly God.

This requires something more than reason.  It is a leap to follow and believe with all of ourselves; to humble ourselves enough to let a savior into our lives.

It is tempting today to think Jesus is just an enlightened man who lived 2000 years ago and was pretty good and loving.  He flipped over money changers tables so he is also an advocate for justice.  Overall, he is a nice inspiration that hopefully makes us kinder and more loving and just people, too.  This reduces Christ the Messiah, who we believe is God incarnate—God made flesh—to someone on our terms, not the Saviour of the World—that is the God we worship, and worship is not done with reason alone.  Reason is an important leg in our Anglican tradition but it is not the only one.  And, Lent is a good time to check-in on our relationship with God and, I think John’s gospel calls us to check-in on our belief, too.  Have we boxed God just into an intellectual pursuit rather than a living and saving force in our life?  Does God permeate every part of our life or just a few hours on Sunday?

Christ is our Messiah.  Part of our showing up and worshipping here is because Christ is, in fact, our Messiah.  We may know[8] this but always we can open ourselves to believe this more—but not just through one lens–we must expose and stretch and challenge ourselves to deepen our faith and know Jesus Christ who is one with and in God, his Father.

A stool is no good if the legs are not balanced and I invite you this Lent to check on how your three-legged stool is balancing.  Might you need a more regular reading of scripture? To spend some time with how Christ is revealed to us in gospels like John that point us to Jesus as Messiah? Or perhaps to spend more time with the tradition of the Christian faith—exploring why we celebrate the Eucharist or where some of our creeds,[9] our statements of belief come from?  Or, may you need to fact check a bit more on what reason tells us about our faith?  Even the smallest effort begins the movement that can change our belief, the faith or desire for faith that brings us here.

The God we follow is one who, as John’s gospel says, leads us to abundant life,[10] to a joy that is complete[11] and to a love that brings us into deepest relationship with one another.[12]

Thankfully, God does not come to us on our terms, at the times we schedule, or through a search online, but is always coming to us, is in us, and waits and longs for us to believe that we may share in the abundant life he shares with his Son our Lord.  The One we proclaim as “eternally begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.”[13]

[1] BibleOdyssey.org. <https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/the-temple-mount-and-the-money-changers>
[2] One example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHLD6RXVLaM
[3] Sandra Schneiders, Written that you may Believe.  New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2003. 51-53.
[4] Schneiders, 12-13.
[5] Schneiders, 12-13.
[6] See Schneiders, 37. ”As long as the Gospel is among us, the evangelist claims, Jesus himself is present,
active, available to us. And furthermore, we are at no disadvantage in relation to Jesus’ first disciples. Those who believed because they ‘saw’ are equally blessed with those who do not see but ‘hear.’
[7] This title comes from John 20:31.
[8] “There is a great deal of irony in John around the word ‘know.’ Those who claim to know, for example,
Nicodemus or the Pharisees in the encounter with the man born bling, are usually precisely those who do not know who Jesus is and are not really open to finding out even though they may seem to be inquiring.” Schneiders, 53.
[9] Creeds as statements of our belief as tradition has interpreted through the centuries.
[10] John 10:10
[11] John 15:11
[12] John 17:21
[13] From the Nicene Creed