Sermon: Remembering is a Practice of Faith

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22

My sermon from the Third Sunday in Lent (March 3, 2024) on John 2:13-22.


When we read the Bible, one thing we might try to do is put Jesus’ story in chronological order. We attempt to take all the things he said, did, and lived through and place them on a mental timeline we can follow along. This kind of work feels pretty relevant to us since we have four versions of his life in our sacred scriptures as well as a bunch of letters and sermons that flesh out a bit of what his life was like. It’s reasonable to want to hold onto all of Jesus’ story while spending each week in worship only dealing with a sliver of who Jesus is. And this is something we’re especially mindful of during the two big religious festivals that anchor our church year. We do all we can to make sure the shepherds, magi, and angels are visible on Christmas morning while making sure to include the last supper, Jesus’ arrest, and his cooking breakfast on the beach when Holy Week comes. Keeping tabs on Jesus’ timeline is one of the ways we discover what it means to follow Jesus in the here and now. But our very human desire to harmonize Jesus’ story can be rather complicated when we discover an experience that appears in two different moments in Jesus’ life. And today’s reading from the gospel according to John is one of those stories. All four gospels include a version of Jesus driving people out of the Temple with each one providing details that the others don’t. This diversity in reporting allows us to paint a fuller picture of what this event must have been like. However there is one major detail in this story that we can’t easily reconcile together. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this incident at the Temple came near the end of Jesus’ story, serving as the final act that forces the religious authorities to finally do something about Jesus. John, though, took the incident of Jesus flipping over a few tables and driving out a bunch of animals from the Temple in Jerusalem – and placed it at the very beginning of his public ministry. All attempts at trying to make our mental timeline match all four gospels would leave us twisted in knots. But instead of trying to fix this problem, I wonder if it would be more fruitful to notice how John and his community used this story to explore a practice of faith we can’t always see. 

Now when we talk about practicing our faith, we usually lean to things we can do that others, if asked, could watch and witness. We might, for example, read our Bible, spend time in prayer, or volunteer at a local food pantry. These actions are not only visible, if we want them to be, to those around us – they’re also actions that show up in our Bible all the time. Our sacred scripture is full of people worshiping, praying, feeding the hungry, and making sure everyone, including strangers, are welcomed and loved. Faith isn’t always locked in our heads and our hearts  since what we do often reveals what we truly believe. Yet there’s one practice of faith that isn’t as easy to point to because it requires us to do the difficult thing of being honest about ourselves, our past, where we were, and what we were doing. It’s a kind of journey that acknowledges we are rarely the most trustworthy narrator to our own story. We’re invited to ponder all that went into who we are while acknowledging just how vulnerable that kind of work can make us feel. It’s the difficult yet incredibly faithful practice of remembering: of taking not only an authentic look at the role we played in our own story but all the events and experiences that shape what our remembering might mean. Our Bible regularly tells us to remember but we don’t always get an example of what that kind of remembering might look like. That, I think, is why today’s reading from John is so interesting. This passage wasn’t only written as a recollection of what Jesus was doing during a passover celebration in the place God promised to be. It also showed how his disciples in the years and decades after Jesus died and rose from the dead, used these same stories to interpret whatever they were living through. They did not act as if these words were primarily a news report about the past but recognized how it served as an illustration of what continues to happen when God’s love moves in the world. They remembered not only Jesus’ story but let that story become a lens that interpreted their own stories too. Their joys, their losses, and their sorrow all became an opportunity to ponder, wonder, reflect, and notice the God who was already in the midst of it all. They practiced a kind of remembering that drew out, noticed, and uncovered certain themes, words, and experiences that seemed to speak into what they were going through. And when the community around John lived through their own actions, inactions, or those things that happened to them that caused their world to come tumbling down, they remembered the promise Jesus uttered in a place that would eventually come tumbling down too. The community remembered the trauma, the worry, the anxiety, and the fear could only be lived through by clinging to the promise that another chapter in their story was already being written. Jesus’ incident in the Temple became, for them, not some event that started his journey to the Cross but a manifestation of the hope and love that was always at the center of Jesus’ story. 

When John wrote his version of Jesus’ life, sixty-five or so years after the Resurrection, his community had been remembering for decades. They looked back at everything that made up their personal and communal story and saw how Jesus’ story always intersected their own. They saw Jesus not only in the lives of the stories they shared but also saw him in the lives around them. And when it became too difficult to remember either because the experiences were too much or their ability to remember had started to fade, they had a community reminding them that, in God, they were always home. Taking an authentic look at where we’ve been, what we’ve done, or what’s been done to us is never easy. It’s a struggle being honest about our own story since we never are the objective observer we pretend to be. We also, as we live our lives and live through different experiences, we then gain new insights or thoughts that then inform those memories we thought we already fully understood. Our attempts at harmonizing our own story let alone the story of God is an ongoing challenge that we can never quite finish. Yet when we remember in the way the Bible wants us to, we discover how Jesus has, all along, been harmonizing us with the kingdom of God. Sometimes the most faithful thing we can do is to simply remember; we remember we are a beloved child of God; we remember we are, in faith and baptism, united with the One who claims us as His own; we remember that the Cross isn’t the end of the story and that we won’t be defined by the worst part of our story. Instead, when we remember, we do more than take a nostalgic trip down memory lane: we begin to grow into the new future God is already bringing about.