When you look at these crosses what images come to your minds? (show a series of different styles of crosses) They represent our faith and Christ’s sacrifice. They don’t represent the horrible form of execution that the cross actually was. They don’t represent death but rather they represent the life that Christ’s sacrifice brought to humanity so we might gain a reconciled relationship with God. For the early Christians though, this was not always the case as we can see with the passage from 1 Corinthians. They struggled with what the image of the cross represented and when they formed their churches they brought with them the focuses and what they found to be important from their cultural norms. Some of it was good but other parts made the religion exclusive, hard to understand, and difficult to maintain. In short, some of the doctrines, rules, and regulations were hindering people from truly experiencing a relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus.
We are still struggling with this today. We are still trying to understand the ways of God from our human desires and cultural norms. What are some ways that we might restrict our relationship with God? For many, our striving to make logical sense out of spirituality gets in the way. For me, my desire to research everything and to know everything there is to know about God and the Bible at times gets in the way of connecting. But what we are shown is that knowledge, control, and rules do not bring a single person closer to God. Rules, doctrines, and knowledge do not mean faith or salvation.
When I was in seminary, I had an Old Testament professor who is the leading mind in Old Testament history in the world. She is often interviewed for books, papers, and television programs. But my first day in class with her she said, “I am not Christian and I do not believe in God”. A little shocking to say the least for a professor of a seminary. But she was the most brilliant woman to listen to and she did know her stuff. However, this showed me that just because you have knowledge and textual understanding doesn’t necessarily translate into faith and into a relationship with God that will build you up. Faith is more about what those crosses represent. Faith is about making life more manageable because we trust in the work of the Lord, because we trust in the love of God, even and especially when we don’t understand it.
Jesus fought for those who were suffering. He was a revolutionary Messiah, not because he fit into the definitions of the Messiah because he didn’t. He was a revolutionary Messiah, not because he followed the rules because he certainly did the opposite. Today’s scene where he flips the change tables and drives out the animals and their herders, was just a dramatic example of how Jesus worked to show the world that how they had worked to “know” God; to have godly “wisdom”; had not revealed anything new about God. And in fact, their doctrines and restrictions prohibited good people from having a relationship with God. Once rules and human institutions get in the way of our relationship with God then they are no longer serving their purpose but rather have become a hindrance to the faith of the people.
These hindrances can be external like the money changers and the selling of sacrificial animals but they can also be internal as well. They were issues in Jesus’ time, in the time of Paul and the early church, and they are a problem for Christians today. Sometimes in life and in faith, we become distracted and restrictive of our faith experiences. We do this for various different reasons. I think sometimes this happens the most when we are desperate to experience God more clearly and we think that if we restrict and follow a perfect set of rules or understandings then that will somehow open the mystery of God to us. But in reality it often does the opposite because it closes our minds off to the diversity of the God’s mystery all around us. Symeon the New Theologian a monk and poet of the Byzantine church wrote, “When men search for God with their bodily eyes they find him nowhere, for he is invisible. But for those who ponder in the spirit he is present everywhere. He is in all, yet beyond all”.
Knowing God is about having a curious soul, a desire to connect and to learn, and a mind open to the possibilities of God. When we are open, when we cast aside all the restrictions that we use to try to connect and just let our souls be open to being touched by the miracle of God, then we will begin to see him everywhere. Then we will be able to connect more easily, being built up in spirit with each new day. Christ knew this to be true because he abhorred anything that prevented God’s people from truly searching out God with their hearts and souls. We saw this when he said, “And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade”.
In this Lenten season, let’s cleanse our bodily temples and the temples of our mind from all the things that hinder us from a relationship with God. All those things that turn that temple into anything less than what God has created it to be. Let us seek only to feel the true grace of the sacrifice that Jesus represents in our lives and in the world. So we might come to know the true grace and comfort we associate with these crosses. Let us open our hearts to wide variety of ways that God is reaching out to us and our world seeking to reunite with us and lead us in life. This is our challenge in week three of Lent. But it is a life long struggle for all people; a struggle that Jesus knew all too well. So let us go forth and work to know God simply by pondering him in our hearts.
 Symeon the New Theologian, Byzantine Christian monk and poet from Turkey. 949AD to 1022 AD.
 John 2: 16, RSV.
(Based on John 2: 13-22 and 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25)