Monday, March 12, 2012
Zeal for Thy house will consume thee...
We often enjoy watching as spectators things we don’t want to happen to us. We might enjoy watching the spectacle of Jesus disrupting the business of the Temple and seeing the smug and self-righteous Temple authorities getting their due. But we don't really understand it. In fact, it makes us uncomfortable. We are zealous people. We are casual folks – more live and let live people. As long as it does not directly affect us, well, we are fairly okay with most anything.
Zeal or extremism is frightening to us. Extremism is not a virtue today but a vice. We like religion but we get a little nervous around people who seem a little too religious. We like reasonable, flexible religion. Zealots are dangerous people to the modern mind. So while we might want to watch Jesus stick it to them, we don't want it to happen here. It would scare us. We want a reasonable and flexible Jesus and a reasonable and flexible church – one too zealous about what you believe or how you practice it.
If Jesus is anything, He is zealous. Zeal is not intolerance or arrogance. Zeal is born of faith. What makes Jesus zealous is that He trusts the will of the Father implicitly and completely. What makes Christians zealous is also born of faith. Zeal is absolute trust in the Lord, in the good news of our redemption, in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Jesus is zealous because He trusts the Father absolutely. Jesus calls us to such zealotry – trusting the Lord with all our heart, mind, body and soul.
Zeal begins with faith. For the zealot, faith is the highest thing. In other words, trust in the Lord is the highest and holiest of callings. It is for this we live and it is in this we die. Faith is not just something we juggle among our many other priorities. Faith is our highest priority and the most important calling – that which defines us as people, the people of God.
Zeal trusts in the Lord. Faith is not merely the highest thing, it is the only thing. Trust in the Lord is our everything. You can have everything else but without faith you have nothing at all. Remember last week when Jesus asked what profit there was in gaining the whole world and losing our souls? He was speaking of zeal, zeal for the Lord, for the things of the Lord, for the House of the Lord.
Jesus is nothing if not zealous. But we are not so zealous. We are casual. We are most comfortable with a faith of minimums, we dress down, we sing in muffled tones, we pray the "amen" only loud enough so that we can hear it, and we try real hard to fit in the world. In doing so, we only distance ourselves from Jesus and the grace that imparts to us forgiveness, life, and salvation. By living a faith of minimums, grace becomes merely one thing among many instead of the only thing. Can we ever be too zealous for the grace of God?
Jesus is zealous for His Father's house. He is offended when He sees how comfortable people became with the holiness of God. The less they felt God's holiness, the easier it was to turn religion into a business and life with God into a hobby. Jesus is zealous when religion treated sin perfunctorily and when worship became centered in people instead of the Lord. Jesus would not find our Christian world so different than He found the Temple so long ago. We need a zealous Lord to call us back to faith and to make us zealous for His Word and Sacraments.
Jesus is zealous about the Word because it is through this Word that God works. Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of the Lord, says Paul. If we take God's Word casually, then we are distanced from its grace, its gifts, and its power. In order for grace to find us, to justify us through the cross, to wash us in baptism, to absolve us from the daily sin of thought, word, and deed, and to feed us the Eucharistic food for our journey in life, we must take the means of grace seriously.
Jesus is zealous about the water of baptism because there we are united with Christ and His cross, there we die with Christ and rise with Him to new and eternal life. We could be casual about baptism if it was our work but because baptism is God's work we cannot be casual about it. Neither can we be casual about being the baptized children of God. This is not one of our many identities but the identity that defines us as people. We are God's own not by virtue of our commitment or promise but God's claim on us in baptism.
Jesus is zealous about sin. As soon as we become casual about sin, we become casual about the cross. What Jesus did for us there becomes trivial and peripheral to who we are and how we live. Confession and absolution are the means of God's restoring work in us, keeping us on the path of life and salvation. We cannot take mercy seriously until we take sin seriously.
Jesus is zealous about His Table. The Eucharist has nothing to do with what we think or feel and is all about the promise of Jesus in the bread and wine, "This is My body... this is My blood." He sets His table in the midst of our enemies and feeds us the only food that bestows life abundant and eternal. Jesus is not only zealous for the grace given there but that those who commune are able to receive the grace of His body and blood. Those who commune are those who believe His Word, who confess the historic faith expressed in the creeds, who repent of our sins and cling in faith to God's forgiveness, and who beg the aid of the Spirit to amend our screwed up lives. Jesus is zealous about His Table because it is the source and the summit of our spiritual lives.
Despite our protests we are pretty casual about God, about His Word, about His Sacraments, and about His House. We are too casual about these things. Church becomes a place we go – if we go – and not the defining identity of our lives. We are the Church by God’s actions in Christ. A casual Church, like a lukewarm Christian, is about as useful to God as a broken coffee pot in the fellowship hall. It offers nothing at all. Today we encounter a zealous Jesus who takes us and our need seriously, who takes the Word and House of the Lord seriously, and who teaches us by the Spirit to take them seriously – for in them is life and salvation, and apart from them we are but the walking dead doomed to have only the moment.... when God has provided us eternity. O zealous Lord, make us zealous for You. Amen!