Sermon based on Exodus 20: 1-17 and John 2: 13-22
Decluttering. How do you feel when you hear that word? Decluttering is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ thing – you either love it or hate it. Most people, I find, are polar opposites. You either love the thought of decluttering or it fills you with dread. Some people love the thought of a spring clean, particularly at this time of year, to go through the cupboards and clear out all the things that haven’t been used for over a year or are simply no longer needed; to rearrange the cupboards and to make sure that everything is in its right place and easy to get at.
Then there are some people who would prefer to keep hold of everything because, who knows, it may come in useful again someday. They will find a gap in the cupboard and find the room, no matter how small, to squeeze it in rather than let go of it. A quick slam of the door before it falls back out and all is well again.
Whichever type of person you can identify with I think most of us realise that decluttering, whether we like it or not, is inevitable. There’s only so much stuff we can squeeze into that cupboard or we realise one day that we can’t get to the good stuff in the cupboard because it is hidden behind all the unimportant stuff.
Jesus’ action in the temple when he overturns the tables and throws out the money changers was much more than a spring clean of the temple!
The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism. It wasn’t just a church on a street corner. It was the centre of worship and music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning. But, most importantly of all, it was of course the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, had promised to live in the midst of his people.
God was in residence at the temple. It was the focal point of the nation and of the national way of life but this was where the then unknown prophet from Galilee, Jesus, came in and turned everything upside down. We are so used to this Bible story that we can sometimes forget how shocking Jesus’ actions must have been.
Jesus is angry. We feel Jesus’ passion in this story. Jesus was angry in the Temple because of the commercialism and corruption. The Jewish people had built up an elaborate system for dealing with sin. You name the sin and there would be an appropriate sacrifice or ‘sin offering’ that would deal with it.
Jesus was angry because the buying and selling was misrepresenting the freedom, generosity and unconditional nature of God’s love for us. It exploited the people God loved and that had to change.
It is by no accident that this story is placed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John’s Gospel, rather than during the final weeks of Jesus life in the other Synoptic gospels.
This story gets to the heart of Jesus’ mission – Jesus had come to replace the Temple as the place of atonement and to bring the people back to God. Things were about to change.
Jesus’ anger in clearing out the Temple is real and vivid. He sweeps away the rules and regulations, the fuss and the clutter that crowd out access to God. So the thought for us today is, how can we clear away the fuss and the clutter in our lives and in the life of the church that crowd out our access to God?
What obstacles are there in our lives that prevent God from working with us? Is it time for us to be doing some decluttering in our lives; to reassess how we spend our time and do some spring cleaning to get our priorities right? How can we unblock our own path to lead the full life that God wants for us?
Earlier on we looked at how easy it is to fill our lives with the unimportant stuff. If we aren’t careful we can end up being without the most important things in our lives.
What is important to us as individuals and as a church? It is time for all of us to think about how we spend our time to make sure we make the important stuff a priority?
Is it time for us to let go of some of the things that may have been important to us or the church at a point in time but it is time to move or shake things up a little.
Jesus swept away all the religious practices of making sacrifices in the temple for our sins. He took away the burden of living a life under the rule of countless Jewish laws. He took away any bargaining with God and any expectation of payment for the forgiveness for our sins. We cannot earn the gift of life that he offers to us. We cannot build up enough credit in terms of good deeds or selfless actions. All we can do is humbly accept what he offers – the greatest prize of all.
How we respond to the greatest and most gracious gift we will ever be given is to make room for the will of God. For the will of God to be at the centre of everything we do. Placing God’s will at the centre of all that we do will even give life to the small stuff in our lives that surrounds it.
We need to get our priorities right. We need to live according to God’s will.
And it’s a win-win. To live a life in accordance with God’s will is the best way for us to give thanks for all that he has done for us but discerning God’s will also enable us to live life in all its fullness, the life our loving Father God has planned for us.
So our priority needs to be to discern God’s will. How do we do this? We discern God’s will through prayer. We need to be a church that prioritises prayer. Only after prayerful discernment of God’s will can we then act according to God’s will.
We start with prayer but then I was thinking about ‘What next?’ How do we plan to ensure we get our priorities right and how do we make them happen.
I was reminded of something that I often do at work, which is to help a client to write a business plan. A business plan is needed when the client wants to work out how to get the sales they want for the next few years or how to make the money that they need.
There are two main ways to compile a business plan. The first way is incremental budgeting. In Incremental budgeting you assume you will do the same as last year give or take a bit of a tweak. Whilst in the second way, Zero-based budgeting, you start with a clean sheet and don’t assume that anything is done the same as in the previous year.
There are advantages and disadvantages of both methods but I think we naturally go for the incremental way of working out what we will do each year as both individuals and as a church.
We’ll do the same as last year give or take a bit of a tweak. We definitely try to add some new stuff in but we rarely face up to the challenge of stopping doing some of the things that we’ve always done.
In zero-based budgeting there is no assumption that you do the same as what you’ve done in previous years. It takes longer to work out your plans but with a clean sheet you can make sure you put plans in for your most important things first.
If we only tweak what we’ve always done, well there is the saying, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you always got’. I would even challenge that this would be the best case. We may not even get what we’ve always got!
The people in this church do such wonderful work, both seen and more often unseen. It is wonderful to be part of such a loving community. However our numbers are decreasing and there have been a number of people in our congregation who have suffered from ill-health over the past few years.
I raised the concern at Leadership Team that we do not really know what everyone does for the church. It all amazingly comes together but we need to work out a way to ensure that the wonderful work that we do continues if someone was to leave or was ill.
I suggested that we all write down, as a bare minimum, a brief description of all the roles we each undertake for the church and it was also agreed at Church Meeting for people to write down if they would like to find out more about other roles in the church. I volunteered to draw up a template that could be used to collect the information.
It wasn’t until I was half-way though writing this sermon that I spotted the connection.
Today we are thinking about how we prioritise our time for God and how do we declutter those to-do list to ensure we do the important work first. Is it time to rethink what we do, rather than assume we need to absorb between us everything that we have always done as a church plus more.
Human Recourses within our church are currently decreasing. We may get an influx of people in the future but at the moment, whether we accept it or not, we are in a time of austerity, human resources aren’t what they were, and at a time of austerity you cut your cloth accordingly and you work out your priorities. Then when we come out of that time of austerity, and we pray we will, we will be all the better for it.
Perhaps a fresh look at our priorities and roles in church is what we need if we are to move forwards rather than backwards.
A fortnight ago Chris Robinson challenged us ‘How do we do good….and do it well? So whatever we decide to do as a church we need to do it well. Quality not quantity.
I have therefore adapted the form which have been given out today to include questions to make us think about what we currently do – What do you think God wants you to do differently in your current role for the church? Where should resources be focused?
It is a question which requires prayer for discernment but don’t be phased by it. See it as the opportunity to not assume that God wants us to do the same as we have always done, to only incrementally plan for what we do as a church, but instead to think about the blank piece of paper. What would happen if we didn’t do that role in the church? If we discern that we do need it, then what needs to change in that role?
We aren’t to be busy fools. God even designed us to need rest and earlier we read how God instructed us on rest and discernment within the Ten Commandments.
What needs to change in our church? What shall we plan to do unitedly as a church going forward?
Jesus passionately and sacrificially swept away all the rules and regulations. He took away the burden and has promised us peace and life in all its fullness if we follow him and live our lives according to God’s will. He swept it all away, he declutters our life, but have we, despite all good intentions, managed to clutter up our lives and the church with the unimportant stuff.
Let’s clear the way. Let’s clear the way to the full life that God wants for us and let’s clear the way for God’s will to be done in and through this church. Amen