Under Construction



Sermon Title “Under Construction” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  It is the third Sunday of Lent, and for a little review, we spent the past two Sundays with Mark’s gospel as our guide on our Lenten journey.  We began with Jesus’ baptism and the affirmation of his identity as God’s Beloved immediately before he went into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan.  Last week’s text from the 8th chapter of Mark was Jesus’ question to his disciples “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter’s declaration that “You are the Messiah,” and Jesus sharing with his disciples that he was going to suffer, and anyone who follows him would have to take up their own cross.  Our texts for this Sunday and the coming Sunday are from the gospel of John: one of them from John chapter 3 verse 16 I’m pretty sure you’ve heard before.  I want to present these texts through the lens of our theme for Lent, Travelers on the Road, and consider how walking with Jesus and with each other helps us to walk the mile and beat the load.

There are some new shoes on the chancel this morning — actually, they aren’t new, they’re somewhat worn, but they weren’t here last week.  They come to us with stories of where they have been, and what they mean to their owners.  This pair belongs to John Hemminger.  He told me that they were his wife’s favorite shoes, and when he’d put them on in the morning to go to work, she’d say, “You’re wearing my favorite shoes!” or “I love those shoes!”  There are so many simple ways which we can bless one another.  John’s wife passed away 13 months ago, and I am grateful to him for sharing his shoes and that story with us.

This pair of white walking shoes belong to Bobbie Newberry.  Bobbie told me that she has been walking for forty years — not continuously; there have been breaks for eating, sleeping, working, going to church — but she started walking for exercise forty years ago.  Because she was still working at the time, she got up early in the morning, sometimes as early as 3:30am, which is the middle of the night, as far as I’m concerned.  Bobbie did that walking by herself; the challenging part of that was getting bored with no one else to talk to.  So Bobbie turned that early morning walk into prayer time; it was the time she talked to God.  And over the years, that time became so valuable to her that even when her work schedule changed, she didn’t seek out human companions to walk with — she continued to keep those mornings as prayer time.  These shoes represent a lot of prayer.

The slip-on shoes with the paint spatters belong to Mike Kauffman.  He said these shoes began as a foundation casual outings, meetings and family gatherings. They were still a good foundation, but as time went on, they started to show their age.  They became work shoes for handyman jobs, around the yard, and in the Creekside garden.  Now their in a more relaxed role to slip on the feed the birds or ride the mower, or walk out to the mailbox.  They don’t get worn for as long a time as they used to, but they are still very useful.  These shoes have been a good foundation for different needs.  These shoes are like many people; we change roles and paths, but God can use us whatever season of life we are in.

I want to thank Mike for writing my sermon for me this morning. In case you haven’t figured it out, I have been using shoes as a metaphor for the Christian life and our walk with Christ, and Mike explained that beautifully.  He even hinted at what it means to have a foundation which is both sturdy and adaptable — which was where I was already headed with the sermon this morning.  We are all shaped by our experiences and by how, when, and if we are willing to let other people hear them.  I appreciate these shoes and the people whom they represent.

In our text today from John, Jesus is trying to tell his disciples what is going to happen to him at the end of his ministry on earth, and as in our text from Mark last week, the disciples don’t want to hear it, and don’t understand.  John fills in the story more than Mark did.  Jesus tells the story with a metaphor, which John helpfully explains at the end.  The metaphor is not shoes, it is the Temple.  Specifically the Great Temple of Jerusalem and Jesus’ own death and resurrection.

John sets the scene in Jerusalem, just before Passover, at the Great Temple — the epicenter of Jewish worship and economic activity.  In the outer area of the Temple, where women and non-Jews were allowed, merchants have set up a business selling live animals: cattle sheep and doves.  These animals would be ritually killed, sacrificed, as a sin of repentance and to gain forgiveness from sin.  John doesn’t tell us that the merchants are cheating the poor, but the implication is that a lot of money is changing hands.  We know that this infuriates Jesus, who makes a scene by turning over tables and driving out the sheep and cattle.   Although this passage has been used to justify being angry in public, at least under the guise of “righteous indignation,” I think it makes more sense in light of what comes next.

When Jewish leaders challenge Jesus’ behavior, Jesus says, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  Jesus is speaking of the Temple of his body and his own death and being raised from the dead in three days.  This metaphor goes right over the heads of those who are questioning Jesus, and they scoff, “This Temple has been under construction for forty-six years.  Are you kidding?”

Jesus understood that the Temple was where people came to offer repentance, and to make sacrifices and to experience forgiveness and redemption.  He stood in the long line of prophets in the Old Testament, and even his cousin John the Baptist who condemned religious leaders who took advantage of that sacrificial system by using other people’s need for forgiveness for their own economic gain.  Jesus took that function of the Temple: sacrifice, redemption, and forgiveness, into his own body.  The location of forgiveness and redemption was no longer a place, it is a person. His sacrifice on the cross granted redemption and forgiveness to all who believe in him for all time.  He broke the economic burden and economic exploitation of Jewish Temple sacrifice and replaced it with self-sacrifice and amazing grace.  In order to do that, the previous center of sacrifice, the old Temple had to be destroyed and reimagined se we can have a new way to repent and be redeemed, Jesus had to die and be raised to life.  No wonder Jesus’ listeners were confused — no one had ever done anything like that before, and of course, no has since.

We may not have the power nor the mission which Jesus did, but I believe the Christian life is about adapting to change; we are all under construction in one way or another.  Hopefully we are being built into the image of Christ, rather than being torn down, or knocked around.  I don’t know anything about actual construction — that is, building or fixing structures — I know there are people listening who do.  But if we think of ourselves or our lives as a structure: what are we building?  What is the foundation?  What is the plan?  Is there a plan?  In terms of the Christian life, we more often talk about this as formation, rather than construction: what is sturdy and true that we can build on, and what is unsound and should be de-constructed or torn down?  Are we brave enough to take down the things which aren’t working, or do we double-down because this is my house and no one can tell me what to do.  The Temple of Jerusalem had been under construction for forty-six years: many of us have been in the process of formation for longer than that.  The idea that we might need to change anything: our opinions, the way we save our money, the way we spend our money, even the little details in our house, may be too intimidating to consider.  It’s no wonder that Jesus didn’t get a very warm response when he suggested that the Jewish Temple system was broken and needed to be deconstructed and rebuilt.  It takes courage to be open to being rebuilt.

I’ll give you a small example.  I had coffee with a friend this week, I’ll call her Rosanna, because that’s her name.  In fact, that’s the basis of our friendship.  She’s the only other person I know who shares my name, and she even spells it the right way.  We have known each other for years, and have a lot in common.  She’s a committed Christian, cares about her family, cares about the world.  We both love  good fruit pie.  I rarely bring up politics, but Rosanna invariably does.  I’m not sure why: maybe she’s trying to change my mind or save my soul, but there isn’t a lot of common ground. I try to remember the old adage: don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  I work intentionally to listen respectfully and disagree respectfully, but I confess that sometimes I recall the addition to that old adage, the one which goes: don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes — because by then, you’re a mile away, AND you have their shoes. 

It might be easier if all the other travelers on the road shared my convictions, and were formed by the same culture and social forces and news outlets as I am, but that is not the case.  I believe I am a richer person because of my friendship with Rosanna, and because we value our friendship enough to keep getting together for coffee to talk about our lives and our families, even though we will almost certainly be voting for different candidates in the 2024 election.  Whatever we as individuals or we as a church are constructing together, I believe it will be stronger if we build in tolerance and flexibility.  Wherever the path is leading us, if we cannot listen to others with respect for a variety of backgrounds and opinions, we’ll find ourselves walking alone.  We travel together with the conviction that Christ loves us and has gone before us; I pray that we also believe that Christ is with us, not to validate our opinions or to push other travelers off the road, but because we all need Christ to show us the way.  Jesus is the Way, and we pray that as we follow in his footsteps we can help each other walk the mile and bear the load.  Amen.