Sermon Title: Laying Down the Law
Generally, we don’t like it when someone lays down the law.
I remember my junior year of high school. Our football team was state ranked for the first time in God knows how long. We had a roster full of returning veterans. The sky looked to be the limit, but that was before the injury bug bit. And he bit hard. Our star running back was lost for the season when he tore his ACL in the first scrimmage of the year. That was a decimating blow, but it didn’t stop there. No less than three other members of that team (if I remember correctly) suffered the same sort of injury during the season. And that is devastating to a small school team. It had a major impact both on our performance on the field and to our team psyche.
Early in the season, we lost a heart breaker of a game. I think it was to the town of San Diego, TX. Afterward, I found out later, several of my teammates had gathered at a party over the weekend and had a few drinks to cope with the loss. Apparently, our coach found out about it as well. I remember what he did to lay down the law. During athletics that Monday, he made us dress in full pads. Normally, we only wore our shoulder pads and helmets, but not this time. For about 45 minutes, he put us through utter hell. He made us do every exercise that existed to make us miserable. From Green Bays to running and doing a somersault every five yards. During the entire time, he kept saying, "Was it worth it? Was it worth it?"
At the end of that session, I personally was ticked off. I hadn’t partaken of the partying. I certainly hadn’t drunk any alcohol during the weekend. And now, I was having to undergo all this stuff because of what other members of the team had done. Never had I quit any team sport in my life. Once I made a commitment, I finished out the season, but this circumstance was too much. I wasn’t about to take all the garbage because of the actions of my teammates. I asked to meet with my coach after school.
Before practice that afternoon, I told my coach in no uncertain terms, I was through. I hadn’t partied. I didn’t drink, and I wasn’t going to be subject to that kind of stuff again. I didn’t like it that my coach had laid down the law.
My coach looked at me from across his desk. He said, "Please, just be patient. I did that for a reason. Don’t quit just yet."
At that instant, I saw something in my coach’s eyes and in his manner that told me to trust him. I decided to give my coach a chance to prove that what he had put me through was worth it, and that afternoon, he addressed the team.
I wish I could remember exactly what he said to us at that moment. I wish I could remember his words, but as he explained to us his reasoning, everything fell into perspective. He was pushing us to get us to rise above everything that had been happening. He was pushing us to make us dig down deep within ourselves to see what we were made of. He was laying down the law to challenge us to be better football players on the field and better people off of it. I knew I wouldn’t quit after hearing him. I didn’t like having the law laid down, but after my coach’s comments, it all made sense. Coach wasn’t so much trying to punish us as he was trying to help us. He didn’t hate us; rather, he wanted what was best for us as individuals and as a team. I know this now, but I still didn’t like it then.
And I imagine there are still folks who don’t like the picture of Jesus they see this morning in our Gospel lesson from the book of John. I mean, when people think of Jesus, they picture a man who loves God and loves people. They think about Jesus healing the sick and giving hope to the poor and marginalized. They think of Jesus forgiving His enemies while dying for them on the cross. They think about Jesus the Good Shepherd who takes care of the sheep, who leaves the 99 to look for the 1, and who tells us to do the same. They think about Jesus the good teacher who teaches us what it means to live in harmony with God and with one another.
Rarely, do folks think about the picture of Jesus with steam pouring out of his ears, grabbing a whip and tossing tables and chairs and money in the temple. Rarely do they picture Jesus screaming at the top of his lungs, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!" Rarely do they picture Jesus laying down the law.
Or, if they do see Jesus in this manner, they see him as pointing his fingers at someone else. They see him chastising those who don’t agree with him. They see him calling others into account and not themselves. After all, they are the ones with the problem. They are the ones who don’t follow Jesus’ commands. They are the ones that need the tongue lashing so they don’t end up in hell. I’m saved. I don’t have to worry about Jesus coming down on me.
Oh how short sighted we tend to be with our picture of Jesus. Oh how we miss the complete picture of who Jesus is and how he looks at you and me. Oh how we shudder to think that when Jesus picks up the whip to cleanse the temple, that he also picks up his whip to cleanse his other temple as well. Now, what do I mean by that?
Remember St. Paul’s words regarding our bodies? Do you remember that little snippet from the book of 1 Corinthians? Let me give you a refresher. Chapter 6 verse 19 is the critical verse as Paul writes:
19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. He dwells within you.
And if that’s not enough, let’s look at Ephesians chapter 3 verses 16 and 17:
16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
Paul prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Yes, our hearts are a dwelling place for Christ himself.
And so we must ask ourselves this day, what is in our hearts? Are our hearts filled with goodness and the grace, mercy and love of God. Are our hearts tuned to God himself? Do our hearts beat in sync with the Father’s heart so that we look at the world through His eyes and treat His children as He would treat them?
Or do our hearts need cleansing just as the temple needed cleansing? Do our hearts need to experience the law of Jesus as He looks with anger upon our greed, our lust, our jealousy, our anger, our contempt, our pride and all the other things that make us less than perfect? Do we cower in fear as we watch him unwind the whip to drive these things out? Do we think about quitting this faith to which we adhere?
Or do we stop and think that perhaps Christ has a bigger plan as He lays down the law? Do we stop and think that Christ has a purpose in cleansing us too? Do we think that perhaps as painful as it may be when He unleashes His anger that He is trying to make us into a better Church and into better people? Is it possible to see Jesus laying down the law not as a sign of His hatred but as a sign of His love for you and for me?
We generally don’t like it when someone lays down the law, but perhaps in the big picture, it’s a good thing when they do. Amen.