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The sermon for week March 08, 2015

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Travel Light

Sermon “Travel Light” March 8, 2015

John 2:13-22 – Introduce as a turning over of tables, 50th anniversary of the civil rights march through Selma. An attempt to turn over the tables of injustice.

This scripture is a fascinating scripture to me. This story is told in each of the four gospels. In the other three gospels, it is placed at the end of Jesus life, during what we call Holy Week, the week that begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter. In each of the other three gospels, it follows the story of the entrance into Jerusalem with palms waving and hosannas being proclaimed. But John does something different than those three. John writes this story into the beginning of his story of Jesus ministry. In John, we have the Baptism, then the calling of the disciples, then the marriage at Cana where he turns water into wine, then this story, the story of the “cleansing of the temple.”
Why tell the story in this location? Clearly John has a motive for doing so. Why?

Some background. In the first part of that first century in Jerusalem, there was a very prominent family. They were a family of high priests by the name of Annas. They controlled the management of the temple. The business of providing livestock and doves for sacrifice as well as the exchanging of money, in today’s dollars, was worth $170 million. (Compare that to our church budget of $500,000. The management of the temple was like managing 34 Sylvania UCCs.) Prior to 30 AD, this exchange of animals and money happened on the Mount of Olives. But in 30 AD, this family moved the business from the Mount of Olives to inside the temple so that they became the beneficiaries of all of the transactions.

They had found a way to take advantage of the religious requirement of all people to offer sacrifices in the temple. This is another example of the 1% taking advantage of the 99% and creating more 99 percenters. For all of those who were managing the business on the Mount of Olives were now out of a job. This is the setting and the background for the story we read today.
John is making a bold statement about the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is about casting off all of those burdens that have been placed in our way of worshiping God, especially those placed there unjustly. John is telling us this journey of ours, if we choose to follow this Jesus, if we are serious about it will involve at some point a time when we are called to turn over a few tables to free God’s people to be who they are called to be.

I believe that John is challenging us to cast off as well all of the burdens that are in our way of coming close to God. John is challenging us to travel lightly.

When Luke and I came up with this title, “Travel Light,” it triggered a memory from my youth. I was at a youth event at my church, we were around a campfire and the adults were leading us in a thinking game. They would get a volunteer who did not know the game, to sit on the ground and then they would place a blanket over that person. They would then say, imagine that you are in a desert, a very hot desert, now take off something that you do not need that would help you feel cooler. Most often the first item to come off would be a sock, or a belt. Eventually the one under the blanket would realize that it was the blanket that was to come off. One young man, a German exchange student with a little different perspective on dress, did this, - a lot of commotion (we are all thinking he is taking off his belt) - out came his pants. Game over.

I enjoy watching Rick Steve’s travel shows when I get a chance. On a recent show, he showed the bag that he recommends using when traveling for a week or more in Europe. About the best way to describe it is that it is a glorified book bag. It easily fits in the overhead compartment on an airplane. For him, there is no lugging around a heavy suitcase. His case doesn’t even need wheels it is so small. He travels light. Most of us never quite figure out how to travel that light on trips to Europe let alone on this trip through life.

I am a backpacker, and long ago I learned that the more stuff I choose to take with me on a trip, the more uncomfortable and the harder the trip becomes. The same is true with life. The more stuff we cling to the harder this journey becomes.

For example, a true story as told by Glennon Doyle Melton, who will be speaking here on March 21. She writes this in her book, Carry On, Warrior, Thoughts on Life Unarmed. In a chapter titled, “Wherever You Go,” she tells the story of how she and her husband, Craig, chose to respond to a feeling deep down in their souls that they needed a big change. She writes, “We needed cheaper, simpler, and slower. I was drowning in the details of suburban family life: the PTA meetings, birthday parties, fundraisers, thank-you notes, athletics, playdates, girl’s nights out, and story times. I felt like a girl on a roller coaster who preferred to be pulled along gently in a red wagon.” (Do any of you feel that way.) They sold their home and picked up and moved to the Chesapeake Bay area to closer to family. After being there for a while and getting used to the rhythm of the place she wrote, “Sometimes, early in the morning, I sneak out to the back porch with my coffee and C. S. Lewis and listen to the bay wake up. I never get much reading done, because I find myself silently repeating, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” Something about water helps me feel grateful…Whether it’s a glass of ice water, a warm tub, or the bay.” She figured it out, ‘Traveling Light’ is about letting go and living into an attitude of gratitude.
She was about doing the “I work” of the three part journey in desert where we are challenged to do some I work, some we work and then some they work.

My friends, I can tell you from personal experience the more “I” work you do around traveling lighter, the lighter your load will be throughout life. One of the keys to a lighter load is coming to a realization that life is a gift. It is not earned. In God language, there is nothing that I can do to earn God’s love and grace. It is and was freely given. Once I grasped that, it changed everything. Once I understood that God’s love for me is not contingent upon my behavior, that changed everything. Once I got that, the ten commandments were no longer duties to be followed so that I could go to heaven, I was already in heaven, i.e. God’s love, and therefore I was more than willing to live out those commandments because I was grateful to do so. The burden of duties or commandments to be followed out of fear was gone. And when fear is gone my friends, a huge burden is lifted. When my life turned from one of duty to one of gratitude I took on a whole new perspective. I became grateful in small things. I became grateful in big things. And when really tough things came along, like the death of our second son shortly after birth, I was able to approach those few short hours with gratitude for the time that we had together rather than saying woe is me for the time I would not have Sometime after that event, upon reflection it dawned on me that never once did I question what did I do to deserve this. I had long ago learned that this question of ‘Why did I deserve this’ is based upon a false premise, that life is something deserved rather than a gift given.

As one preacher one time said, too many of us think of God as a vending machine, you put in sacrifice, offerings and good deeds and outcome blessings. That is not how God works, the blessings come out freely and our life can really be lived only in response to those many blessings that God has already given to us. With this understanding of gratitude, any guilt that we may have of things done or not done, we can release that guilt and drop it along our path. We need carry it no longer. We can travel much lighter without it. Once we live into this life of gratitude, fear has no power over us as well. The weight of it can also be dropped off of our shoulders. What joy there is in our lives when we can leave fear and guilt behind and no longer let it control our lives. When we realize that it is the blanket that not only do we no longer need, but we never needed it in the first place.

My friends, this Christian journey really is about traveling lighter. This time is the desert is a chance for us to let go of those things that keep us from realizing that God is so close.

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