Jesus – the Angry Religious Man

Here’s what I said in the pulpit yesterday for Lent 3

Sermon preached by Kelvin Holdsworth on 8 March 2015 from St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow on Vimeo.

The door opened. That door at the back, with its annoying squeak. And I looked up and immediately I was afraid.

I saw someone come in and knew that I needed to do something and do it quickly.

I checked the clock and took off my headphones.

Either I needed to shout at everyone to evacuate the building or I had to try to do something myself.

I looked around and decided to walk forward and try to distract him and see what happened.

We were about to do a Radio Broadcast. A live radio broadcast and the clock was, well, not ticking because things like that need to be silent when we are recording, but the clock was moving inexorably towards 8.10 and the moment when the red light would go on and I would say, “Good morning and welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral in the City of Glasgow, a city that is still in shock.”

It was the day after the terrorist attack at Glasgow airport. Transport systems were in a mess. The airport was completely locked down and roads were closed all over the place. People couldn’t fly into Scotland. There was transport chaos and the police still didn’t know how many other people were at large who intended harm.

And that door right there opened right before an advertised liver broadcast and someone unexpected came in. Someone whom I didn’t know.

And in that instant I saw a stereotype walk into the cathedral. He was young and rather swarthy looking. I later discovered that he was indeed just back from Libya and he looked like it.

A thin white scarf around him. Khaki camouflage clothes. And a backpack.

It was the backpack that worried me most as I walked towards him.

Hello I said, welcome to St Mary’s.

These are the words that I use when I think someone is about to blow me and the cathedral up.

Hello, welcome to St Mary’s.

Hello, he said.

There was a pause as I looked him up and down and he did the same to me.

Do you mind telling me, I asked – do you mind telling me what’s in the backpack.

Oh yes, he said, it’s a bass clarinet.

And at that I relaxed. There may be people who think that bass clarinettists are terrorists, but at that moment, I knew I wasn’t one of them.

He turned out to be the then organist’s new boyfriend, come to hear him play live on the BBC. He grinned, sat down and joined in the service.

Now. What do we see coming towards us when we see Jesus in the temple gathering together his whip of chord to throw out the money-changers and those doing deals in the Temple courts?

I must admit that when I look at him at first I see something of a stereotype.

I see an angry religious man.

And I don’t much like angry religious men.

I’ve a feeling that the Jesus we get in this morning’s gospel is not at all to everyone’s taste.

He comes at us with his whip.

And it doesn’t feel terribly good.

But the question is, which bit do we find more frightening?

The bit about the whip and the driving out the animals – sheep, and even cattle were there – it is so visual that we remember it. But there’s more to this gospel reading than that.

At the end we get told that Jesus knew everyone. Not only did he know everyone but he knew what was in everyone.

Which is more frightening. The hotheaded young man causing a fuss in the Temple. Or the God who knows everything about you?

I know quite a lot about religious traditions which tend to use that kind of language to scare people into particular forms of religious conformity.

The idea is that God knows what’s in your soul and so you should be scared. The idea is that you are risk of being damned forever without putting things right.

Is that the God whom we really believe in.

Sometimes people come to places like St Mary’s for a bit knowing that they want to let go of those ideas but unable to work out how because there, the Bible tell us that God knows everything about us and that must mean some kind of condemnation or another.

Let us open things up a bit though.

Just as when I saw inside the backpack of the young man at the door I realised that I was seeing a musical instrument and not something that was going to blow up in my face, so it is with this idea that God knows us.

The gospel that I preach is that God knows us and still loves us.

It is that simple. Knows us and loves us anyway.

Knows us and desires our good.

Knows us from walking the world with us.

Knows our faults and failings and inspires our hopes and joys.

And loves us whatever happens.

I used to get het up about people buying and selling things in churches on Sundays. God loved me anyway.

I don’t now think that’s what this story is about.

For a long time I couldn’t see that this story was about making a statement about justice – for the moneychanging seems to have been a way of creaming off the money of the pilgrims to the temple in some way.

I saw the angry young man but I didn’t hear the message that justice and religion are bound together. But God loved me anyway.

God does.

Take a moment sometime over the next few weeks somewhere to imagine God walking in.

It might be here – you might hear that door squeak and someone walks in.

How do you encounter God. As a presence or as Jesus? As a feeling or as someone you can have a conversation with?

God loves you anyway – it doesn’t matter.

But give yourself time and space to imagine a door opening and God coming in.

If you fear for your life or your soul, it isn’t God who just showed up.

When the bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, it doesn’t’ mean the kind of fear I felt on encountering someone suspicious with a backpack.

It means something nearer to awe and respect. Maybe it means keeping open the possibility that God might turn up.

Give yourself time. Let the door open.

God is with you. You may talk to God. God loves you anyway. You may be silent. God loves you anyway.

Open the door. Breathe deeply.

Bidden or not bidden, God is present, anyway.

And loves you. Really loves you.

Anyway.

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