“Zealous” – Sermon for March 8, 2015

Categories: Sermons

Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple (fresco, detail), Giotto, c. 1305, in Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple (fresco, detail), Giotto, c. 1305, in Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy


A Sermon on John 2:13-22 for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year B; preached March 8, 2015, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister


“It was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”

The famous American architect of the last century, Frank Lloyd Wright, was well known for his zeal about houses and their proper design. “No house should ever be on any hill or on anything, it should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and house could live together each the happier for the other,” he would write in his autobiography.[1] Such a statement, though, while it captures the some of the position that Frank Lloyd Wright had in regards to architecture in his time, it doesn’t quite convey the passion, the fervor, the zeal he had. He was widely-regarded in his time not only as eccentric, but as self-centered, pompous, and tremendously difficult to work with. His obsession with a particular vision for what made a house meaningful and natural and real—in the landscape of America, and in the landscape of modern life—made him both much maligned and much sought-after, much celebrated and much despised.

‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’

In the way that the Gospel of John tells its story, when Jesus set his first foot into the temple courts, he hadn’t really been on the scene long enough yet to be either celebrated or despised. Really, he’s just gotten started… he’s gathered some followers—Andrew, Peter, Phillip, Nathanael—and he ends up at a wedding where he turns water into wine. That’s all that’s happened thus far, reason enough to be intrigued, perhaps, but not much else yet anyway.

That, of course, doesn’t last long. A whip is made, sheep and cattle are driven away, tables are thrown about. Soon enough Jesus has raised hackles and eyebrows plenty enough that it would be hard to be merely intrigued anymore, much less neutral. This Jesus was well on the road to being either much celebrated or much despised—or probably both.

Many of us who hear this story in modern times aren’t quite sure, though, which side of the fence we would rather fall down on. Those of us who were hear last week, we heard a story from later on in Jesus’ journey, the time when he first tells his disciples that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed”… and we heard how that message just didn’t sit well with Peter. The Messiah isn’t supposed to suffer, he’s supposed to conquer, or so Peter thought.

For us today, though, hearing this week’s scene of Jesus clearing out the temple, “just as we don’t want to see a suffering Jesus, we don’t really want to see an angry one, either.”[2] There aren’t very many cutesy pictures in children’s bibles of this scene. When we think of Jesus’s virtues, rage isn’t typically one of them. When people ask “what would Jesus do?”, making whips, throwing hissy fits, and flipping tables probably aren’t the answers they were looking for. Angry Jesus just doesn’t fit with our popular notions of who Jesus was.

But I for one am glad that Jesus was zealous for his father’s house. I am glad for the passion on his part that is willing to turn up the temperature on behalf of all that dwells in the place God calls home.

I am glad for Jesus’ zeal for this house, this Meeting House. You know, as a brief aside, it’s interesting that we here in this congregation—and, of course, plenty of other New England congregations—call our church buildings “meeting houses”. Part of that, as some of you know, draws from the history of New England local town government, back in the day when the church building was used as the meeting place for the town as well. But I think there’s something theologically significant about calling this place a meeting house; after all, as Jesus once said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”[3] The church exists wherever it is that we meet together. This place is the church building in as much as it is the house in which we meet together in Jesus’ name… nothing more, nothing less.

Anyway, all that said, I am glad for Jesus’ zeal for this house, this Meeting House… for his zeal for us—you and me and all of us together-gathered as the Storrs Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. Jesus cares about us together; he has a zeal for what we do together here in his name. It matters to him whether the side shows and the distractions, the programs and the administrative overhead, whether they have taken over importance from the central things, from the real reason for which we gather.

I’m glad for Jesus’ zeal for another house, the house of our very own hearts. As we sojourn through this season of Lent, these weeks of reflection and prayer that lead us to the cross of Christ, we remember that Jesus’ zeal for the house of our hearts was so much that he humbled himself and did not shy away even from death, in order that we might know just how loved by God we are. Indeed, Jesus died not to convince God to love us, but Jesus died to convince us that we are loved by God. In Jesus’ zeal for our hearts, he cleanses the things that defile, he drives out the forces that would rob and cheat us of our full humanity, he turns over the tables at which every choice becomes nothing more than a dollar sign.

And finally, I’m also glad for Jesus’ zeal for yet another house God has claimed as home, the house of this whole world. From the earliest days, when God walked beside Adam among the trees of the garden, to the final day, the day foretold by Revelation when the voice declares “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them”… this whole world, all the created order is God’s house. And God loves this world with such fervor, such zeal, that the days are numbered for tables of the money-changers at which God’s people face exploitation. God loves this world with such passion that the systems of bartering and wheeling and dealing and meaningless sacrifice stand no chance before the One determined to clear the way for justice, for mercy, for peace, for love.

So woe to you, all who would oppress. Woe to you, all who would profit at another’s expense. Woe to you, all who turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor, the lonely, the one who is different. Woe to you, all who stand in the courtyards of God’s house, setting up barriers to the ways and wonders of the Lord.

For Jesus is coming, with an architect’s vision of a house built out of pillars of justice, and bricks of mercy, and the mortar of love. Jesus is coming, with the architect’s zeal, unwilling to accept any compromises to the vision of fullness for all the places where God dwells. Jesus is coming… and he may even have a whip.



[1] Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, bk. 2 (1932); quoted in Fred R. Shapiro, ed., The Yale Book of Quotations (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 841.

[2] Beverly Zink-Sawyer, commentary on John 2:13-22 for 8 March 2015, in Lectionary Homiletics 26:2 (February – March 2015), 41.

[3] Matthew 18:20, NRSV.

One Response to "“Zealous” – Sermon for March 8, 2015"

  1. Pam Posted on March 17, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you for posting the Sermons.. Did you know that we are distributing some print copies from the web site to a few folks who are receiving Call to Care outreach? They have given us such positive feedback that we have made it possible for them to enjoy the sermon in bits and pieces as they study it throughout their days when they can not attend church.
    I think some folks don’t know to look here for the sermon. We need to make the posting of the sermons known as a resource of the church. Not sure how, but maybe in bulletins or in the newsletter? Reality is, the visible pieces might be there already and I, just as others, have not noticed. So THANK YOU Pastor Matt.

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