Maybe some of you remember the movie of about 20 years ago titled "Network." It was about the workings of network news programs. In it, a newscaster that the corporate heads were going to let go, suddenly becomes popular because he connects with the viewers by something he feels
and acts upon. He becomes fed up with lots of different things going on, not only at the station but things he's reporting in the news, and he tells his viewers he's fed up and why. So during one of the live broadcasts, he heads to a window and tells the viewers to do the same. He
throws open the window and sticks his head and upper body out and shouts, and I'm quoting here, but changed one word in the title of my sermon, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." Well, viewers all over the broadcast area do just what he tells them and people
are hanging out of their windows screaming what he told them to say. Of course this gets back to the corporate heads. And the next night he does the same and so do the people. Suddenly his ratings are way, way up, and the corporate heads can't get rid of him because of his
popularity. Unfortunately the story continues and the only way they can get rid of him is just that-to get "rid" of him. It's quite a story-worth renting the video. It's timely for today.
In our Gospel story today we see a side of Jesus that we don't see elsewhere. He's fed up and isn't going to take it any more. It isn't that the people in the courtyard of the Temple were selling things-that's where they sold cattle, sheep, pigeons and doves to folks who
traveled a distance to get to Jerusalem and couldn't bring with them anything to sacrifice. They also changed money there. What made Jesus angry is that lots of other things were being sold there AND the sellers were taking advantage of the buyers by charging exorbitant prices, and
in changing the money they were practicing usury, overcharging for exchanging money. In some translations, ours today says 'marketplace', Jesus says they are turning the Temple into a 'den of thieves.'
So he drives the animals out with a whip made of cords (no where does he say he hit the folks selling them or even meant to-his anger was against what they were doing), and he grabs the bags of coins of the money changers and dumps them out and overturns the tables.
He was angry, we are told, and the disciples recall Scripture that says, "Zeal [that's passion, fervor, expression of deep caring and concern] for your House will consume me." He cared about the Temple, the House of God. He cared about what happened there. He had a passion for
God's house. But in chasing out the cheaters, he incurred the wrath of the Pharisees because he hit them in their cheating pocketbooks. They were making money off the money changers and those selling the pigeons and doves and sheep. They got their cut from it, and Jesus was
interfering with that. This was the turning point. It made the Pharisees plot to get rid of him.
Not only were the sellers and money exchangers cheating the people they were cheating God. Jesus would be angry today, too. He would accuse Christians and point out their self-righteous, empty piety that so many bring to worship in God's house. He would make Christians angry
because they would be ashamed and the common reaction to being ashamed is not to change the shaming action, but to get angry and turn one's anger on others.
You know what would make Jesus angry today, right here in this church as well as so many other Christian churches around the nation? It would be the attitude of people coming to worship-coming with a false sense of self-righteousness, a false, empty piety, an attitude that is
cheating God. That is, so many worshippers just come, just show up, and they cheat God because they come not really to worship God, to give God praise, to thank God, to give their full attention to God, but they come wanting to take something away without giving anything like their
praise, their thanks or a tithe of their blessings.
I mean giving in many ways. We sing "Here I Am to Worship" and other months we sang "We worship you." But most folks don't come here to worship God. That's not their chief reason for coming. They come expecting to be entertained. They expect to be made to feel good inside. If
they have done something worthy during the week, they expect a pat on the back for it from God. They don't want to be challenged. They want to be made to feel good, and leave worship with a good feeling and a sense of righteousness.
Most Christians in our churches today, even the ones that boast large numbers in attendance; they don't really come to worship. That's what it's called, you know-what we do here-it's called worship. It's not a play; it's not a concert or choral performance; it's not a place to
give money to pay the bills; it's not self-help seminar; it's not a place to whisper about some other worshipper; it's not a place to sit with your friends and chew the fat and give little or no attention to the worship service.
It's a place to worship God. That doesn't have to be in solemn tones or with a look seriousness as though that was going to please the Lord. It's a place to focus on God, a focus that should bring joy to one's heart. It's a time to leave other stuff behind and focus on God.
Everything in this sanctuary should bring your focus to God-not reverence for a flag or for secular things-but a focus on God. The focus should not be on the glorious structure of the organ, but on the cross.
This is a place where the distractions of the world are not present. This is a place to focus on God. This is a place to listen to and read Scripture-the Word of God given to us to help us and guide us. This is a place where you are honest with God.
This is a place where you give back to God. This is a place where you TITHE back to God. This is NOT a place to cheat God. Don't you think that the Lord knows how gracious and generous he's been with each one of us? Don't you think that it's an insult-don't you think that it's
cheating God to not be as generous in giving back to the Lord as the Lord is in giving to and blessing us? Especially with regard to what Christians give back to God in terms of finances? It's like God giving us a thousand dollars and we give God back one dollar (a tithe would be
ten percent-one hundred dollars; one percent would be ten dollars; but most Christians return to God only one or two percent of the money with which God has blessed them. Offerings are an act of worship. Offerings are an act of love. God wants us to give back in love, because the
Lord first loved us.
But it's not just about the money. Folks come to worship here and in other Christian churches ill prepared to worship. They don't study God's Word, probably don't even read it during the week. They don't work on their communication with God during the week-that is prayer. They
come ill-equipped to converse with God in prayer on a Sunday morning.
They don't come to share in worship, but to take. They don't come to give, but to take. Christians who come for any other reason but to worship-that is, to give themselves entirely over to Jesus in praise and thanksgiving, in adoration and prayer, in confession and repentance
asking forgiveness, come giving back to God in the same generous fashion God has given to them, in having passion for God's Word as recorded in Scripture, having passion for being in God's house-if coming for any other reason but to focus on God the Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit-Christians are not coming to worship God, but to cheat God because of coming ill-prepared to worship God, coming without having passion for God's house. It would make Jesus angry.
I'm teaching the Confirmation class today. I'm focusing on the Ten Commandments. You have one of the places it is recorded in Scripture printed in your bulletin. Go home and read the Exodus passage from your Bible. And also read the passage in Deuteronomy. And then read Martin
Luther's explanation in the small catechism. If you don't have one of those there are copies in the library. Martin shows us that keeping the ten commandments in not just a matter of 'not doing', but also a matter of DOING-i.e. not just a matter of not stealing, but ALSO that one
should help a neighbor keep what is his or hers, help them protect what is theirs from those who would want to steal it.
I'm handing out a cartoon to the youth about the Ten Commandments. People have zeal, have passion about whether they can be displayed in public, government owned buildings or on government property, but 99% of those folks with such passion could not even tell you what all Ten
Commandments are. Do you really think God cares about your passion regarding placement of the Ten Commandments in some public place rather than that you know and understand them and adhere to them? God tells us to write them upon our hearts-to talk about them with others while
walking along, while having a meal with your family. That's how well we should know them; that's the kind of passion God wants us to have about the Ten Commandments, which include a passion for worshiping God and taking a day to focus only on God and praise God and give thanks to
What God is concerned about is being cheated-concerned about two-faced people who say one thing but do another-who profess to care, but really don't care enough to know, or to practice. So many Christians have passion about displaying the Ten Commandments, but no passion to know
them or to follow them; they have great passion about prayer in school or public places, but no passion about praying except on Sundays or when they want something from God-no passion about knowing how to pray so that they are excited about being called upon to pray out loud,
excited about it rather than have dread about it.
In the cartoon I'm passing out to confirmation today we have characters claiming to be able to recite the Ten Commandments. Each section of the comic strip progresses from one person to another and ending with children. The first section the characters say, "Recite the Ten
Commandments? That's easy! There's thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not….uh…." and the other person says questioningly, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ox?" The next section: "Thou shalt not look at craven images (as he is looking at porn magazines). The
next section: "Then there's that one about early to bed and early to rise." The next section: "And do unto others before they do it to you." And the next section: "You can't always get what you want…so ask not what your country can do for you." Next section: "Just do it." And the
last section: with children holding trays of fast food, "One day at a time. With Liberty and Justice for all! Amen."
The cartoon takes the matter to the extreme (as cartoons often do in order to make a point); but it's not really extreme. The point being is that people bring in secular sayings that sound good-sound like they belong in the Bible-but in fact don't really know if they do or don't
belong in the Bible.
So where are you situated in all that I've said? Are you here to worship? Are you here to focus on Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit?
Are you here to give yourself entirely over to Jesus?
Or are you just here, hoping there are some good hymns to sing, hoping the sermon will be one that you can stay awake through, feeling safe because you won't be called upon to pray aloud anything but the Lord's Prayer and that is prayed aloud with others? Are you here to sit
through the Scripture readings but not really absorbing their total meaning and not going home to read it again and see if you can get more out of it? Are you here to put something in the offering plate to help pay the bills but not giving that offering as an act of worship and
gratitude in proportion to what God has given you? So are you here to worship?
Frankly, I think Jesus would be angry at what he sees in Christian churches today-and he sees right into each one of our hearts. I think he would be angry. I think it is not a side of Jesus you would like to see. I think you want to keep a mild mannered forgiving-fellow in your
mind. I don't think you want to see Jesus, angry or Jesus as the agitator, the radical.
And frankly, that's what we all need to see. Even me. I need to see Jesus as angry with me, too. I need to be prophetic in my preaching; I need to lay it on the line; I need to agitate, not regurgitate platitudes; I need to acquaint you with the radical Gospel; I need to focus
more on your loving Jesus and his teachings, than your liking me.
Jesus would be angry with me and angry with you. He would not come in here as a happy camper. He would shout at us, dump out our offering plates, turn over the tables of our complacency, shun the empty trappings that adorn this place of worship and tell us to get our lying,
cheating butts out of here until we come here ready to worship.
He would be angry and he would show it. And just so you have a real image of Jesus' anger in your mind this is what it would look like. (take off rope alb cincture and swing it like a whip; take off stole and throw it down and as I do those two things, shout "This is what Jesus
anger would look like; Jesus would be angry with you and with me, angry for not having a passion for God's house and cheating God by coming here with reasons other than to worship." Or words to that affect. Then storm out and don't come back until the end of the service.)
[As a postscript to this written sermon-the congregation was stunned. Some were even frightened. It took a few minutes for them, and the Associate Pastor and organist, to realize I wasn't coming back. By Monday morning folks who had not been at worship knew about the sermon, and
more specifically, the END of the sermon.