In the Midst of Our Lenten Journey

3rd Sunday of Lent
Gospel of John 2: 13-25

About now, in the midst of our Lenten journey, we may find ourselves wondering if the self-sacrifice, prayer, and service are really worth it. It is likely that some of us have already encountered significant tests and trials on our journey through the desert, and it may be possible that some of us have begun the process of giving up. Yes, you heard me correctly, I said, “have begun” giving up. We very rarely give up suddenly or spontaneously because that is not our typical human response to difficulty. Typically, when we endeavor on a path of change and growth our decision to abandon that path starts with a shadow, a shade, or a phantom of doubt that then grows into discouragement and despair eventually resulting in the abandonment of the journey.

I recall many times sitting in my counseling office listening to broken and discouraged individuals attempt to explain their failed attempts at recovery and change. They would sit in my office in shock, dismay, and shame as they described a “spontaneous” relapse into their old familiar destructive behaviors. Invariably they would claim they had no idea why, or how, or what lead up to their relapse.

Sadly, in almost all cases, they were wrong. Their relapse was not a sudden and definite change in direction, but rather it was a gradual and almost imperceptible drift from the path. The reality of the situation was not that they had decided to stray, but rather they ignored the warning signs. The warning signs that they were drifting from the course. The key to preventing relapse is recognizing those signs…and believe it or not that leads us today’s Gospel; John’s account of Jesus cleansing the temple.

In the time of Jesus, the Temple Mount was the center of Jewish religious life. The Temple building itself was small and could fit inside the infield of a professional baseball field. However, the structures around it, the plaza, the porticos, the columns, the staircases would have covered close to 10 football fields. Immediately inside the outer walls of the Temple Mount was a large open-aired space known as the Court of Gentiles, and it was there that Jesus encountered the sellers of oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers. It was there in the Court of the Gentiles that the majority of the people would have been gathered, especially in the days leading up to Passover, engaging in the business of buying and selling and trading. It was there that Jesus demanded that his Father’s house no longer be treated as a marketplace, and it was there where Jesus asserted his authority.

The challenge for us today, this 3rd Sunday of lent, is to place ourselves into this Gospel narrative and ask ourselves, “how are we treating our Father’s House?” Just as Jesus responded to his critics, so too I ask you to identify where does God reside in your life? Does he exist outside of you, in a building, or structure? Does he exist in thought; or in your mind, as a creation of your own mental understanding? Does he exist in rituals, rites, or in your personal exercises of righteousness? No! God does not exist in building or structures, nor is he a creation of your thoughts. God exists in you, personally and experientially.

Our Lenten journey is a response to God calling us to draw nearer to him; and in order to do that, we must be willing to allow ourselves to be cleansed. However, before we can be cleansed we must first become aware of how far we have strayed from the path. Today is an excellent day to engage in self-examination and honestly evaluate your progress on your desert journey. Re-examine your commitment to prayer, self-sacrifice, and service. Evaluate your behaviors, your language, and your relationships. Are you moving closer to God? Or, are you drifting from the path back towards the comfortable and enticing habits that prevented you from growing in faith and service?

Everyday the events, circumstances, and business of walking this pilgrim’s journey, we call life, can distract us from seeking God. Our financial, physical, and emotional health are under constant bombardment by the daily functions and realities of living in this imperfect world. We encounter disappointment, and in turn we become discouraged, that eventually creates doubt, that leads to fear. Once we become fearful, we become angry. Angry towards God, ourselves, and our neighbor.

Our goal today is to recognize where and how we have managed to stray from the path on which God has called us to journey. We must recognize the authority of Jesus, and his power, as a guide and an aid, and call out to him to cleanse our temple of all the distractions that have taken up residence there. We must recognize one another as fellow pilgrims along this desert journey and lift and carry one another’s burdens knowing that God has called us to serve him through serving each other.

We must not let our disappointments and hardships put us on the path of fear and anger. Rather, we must trust in the promises of Jesus Christ our savior knowing that by his authority and through his power we will be filled with hope…and hope does not disappoint.

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