Exodus 20:1-17 & John 2:13-22

Is Your God Too Small?

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

Gods come in different sizes.
Lent is a good time to consider
the size of the God we are here to serve.
In the name of this God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are wrong if we see our time
as one with a shortage of belief.
There is no shortage today.
There is considerable belief,
today as always,
in gods that are no gods,
in gods that are too small.
These small gods are potent, however;
they reduce the stature
of whomever worships them.

The Ten Commandments,
those laws God gives to Israel through Moses,
constitute a series of warnings
against the most popular of the small gods.

For example,
the Sabbath commandment warns us
against the small god of Work,
whose worshipers–
and they are numerous–
resort to frenetic activity
in order to feel they have a right to exist.

• The commandment against murder warns us
against making our enemy into a small god,
for strangely enough,
that is what happens
when hate comes to run our life,
and our opponent becomes our obsession.

• The commandment against coveting
warns us, on the other hand,
against making our neighbor into a small god,
for that is what happens
when we regard our neighbor’s possession,
our neighbor’s lifestyle,
as somehow indispensable for our existence.

The Ten Commandments
are not simply law in the conventional sense,
concerned with what is right and wrong.
These commandments are about loyalty,
our loyalty to the one true God,
rather than to small gods of our own devising.

None of the small gods can give us life.
All they do is imprison us.
What the commandments warn us against–
hatred and lust and falsehood and all the rest–
are the traps
set for us by these small gods.

It is from these traps
that the one true God ventures
to set us free!
He rescued his people from slavery in Egypt
in the time of Moses.
He raised up Jesus from the grip of death
on the first Easter morning.
And this same God strives
to deliver you and me
from the narrow prison house,
the hell on earth that happens,
when we stumble into the trap of some strange god.
Yes, the Lord has come.
God has come to set us free!

We see this liberation take place
when Jesus provokes an uproar
in the temple at Jerusalem.
In he goes one day
brandishing a handmade whip,
and he starts making trouble!
Noisy, stampeding animals;
angry, shouting merchants;
tables overturned and coins rolling away
in every direction.

That area of the vast temple complex
is usually a bustling place,
but the outrageous actions of Jesus
reduce it to mayhem.
For weeks afterward
they keep talking about it
at meetings of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce.
The uproar Jesus causes that day
does not make him popular
with the powers that be.
It may even help to get him killed.

What do you think it is that prompts him?
It’s not that he opposes trade in the temple.
These dealers perform a necessary service.
They provide worshippers arriving from far away
with appropriate sacrificial animals
and the right kinds of coins to use for donations.
They help the temple to function smoothly
as a center for sacrifice and a house of prayer.

What Jesus rejects
is the excessive profit these dealers make,
and the way their trade obscures the temple’s purpose
as a place where people of every sort can offer worship.
Once the means to a legitimate end,
this trade has become its own justification,
so that profit has strangled devotion.
The temple of the God of Israel,
the Liberator of his people from Egypt,
has become a place to serve
the small gods of greed and arrogance,
gods who reduce the stature
of whomever worships them.
No wonder the anger of Jesus
causes him to tear the place apart!

Jesus stands today
at the entrance of our hearts.
He knows that
“we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”
He knows we cannot keep from falling short
of the commandments.
Yet he is ready to cleanse our hearts and lives
of gods that are too small.

The process is not an easy one.
Moments come
when we are reduced to chaos and confusion,
when animals stampede and merchants shout,
when tables are overturned
and what seems valuable ends up lost.

Yet in this way
Jesus turns our hearts into a true temple.
He delivers us from the tyranny of small gods
that we may grow in every way into his likeness.
Through the language of Scripture,
through the eucharistic feast,
through our gathering together as a Christian assembly,
Jesus appears among us this morning,
eager to reconsecrate the temples of our hearts
so that we may offer true worship
during the days to come.

This coming of Christ
the Liberator of our lives
does not square with
the dominant thought patterns of our age.
It is an insult to every ideology of human composition.
This Christ
who stands at the entrance of our hearts
blinds us with his brightness
for his light is love,
and his love takes the form of a cross.

In this light
the failings of every age
and every school of thought become manifest.
For human wisdom, however marvelous,
must yield to wisdom that is divine,
though divine wisdom appears foolish
by the standards of the world.
In the end, and even this morning,
the weakness that saves us
is stronger than human strength.
It is the downfall of the shrines
of all the false gods,
and the cleansing of every true temple,
the setting straight of our very hearts.

This weakness that saves us
is the orthodoxy of heaven.
Stronger than human wisdom,
it is the foundation
for the praise we offer.

And so,
to the Father,
whose law is perfect and revives the soul;
to the Son,
who cleanses us from every stain;
and to the Holy Spirit,
who fills our hearts and our lives with gratitude;
be ascribed, as is most justly due,
all might, majesty, and dominion,
now and for ever.

  1. From the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent.

Copyright 2015 Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.