Saturday, a week ago, we held the Memorial Service for Kay Philips.
Kay was the wife of former DPC pastor and seminary president, Davison Philips.
Davison and Kay were an integral part of this congregation for six decades,
and we have recently hung their picture in the foyer just behind the sanctuary.
As Kay’s family and friends can attest,
Kay Philips had a way of maintaining high expectations of behavior for herself and others,
while, at the same time, exhibiting tremendous hospitality and grace.

Kay’s nephews confessed that when they were rowdy young boys at family gatherings,
they were afraid of her, or at least afraid to disappoint her,
but then she would look at them, turn her head just so, and give them a wink and smile.
Kay could make others feel welcomed and at ease
while still maintaining her commitment to high standards.
She made this delicate balance look easy.
At least a part of Kay’s ability to maintain this balance
was through her mastery of non-verbal communication.
Kay had a unique way of rolling her eyes when something untoward was spoken.
She had a feisty way of clenching her fists when she was resolute about something.
And her turn of the head with a wink and smile communicated welcome and grace.

Some people are experts at non-verbal communication.
A recent movie included an awkward scene in a kitchen
between a woman’s former boyfriend and her current boyfriend.
Not a word was exchanged in the entire 30 second encounter,
but there was no doubt exactly what had been communicated.
A well-placed grunt with a swelling of the chest and a straightening of the back,
a decisive movement of the chin and a narrowing of the eyes,
all convey a world of meaning, if the eyes and ears are attuned to it.

When we read today’s gospel story,
we recognize a powerful instance of Jesus’ non-verbal communication.
When a man overturns a table, there can be no doubt as to how he feels.
When a person takes a whip of cords and drives not only cattle and the sheep,
but also money-changers and dove-sellers, out of the Temple courtyard,
the non-verbal language speaks volumes.
When Jesus in righteous zeal poured out another man’s coins onto the ground,
he was staking a claim on what he considered unacceptable in the house of the Lord.

Imagine the chaos that ensued as Jesus cleared the temple courtyard –
cattle mooing, doves in the rafters, coins clanging.
This is not the fair-skinned, unblemished European Jesus
that we find in the old paintings hung in Sunday School rooms.
This is a lively, passionate, angry prophet filled with zeal for the house of the Lord.

Hear the word from John 2:13-22.

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 market-place!’ 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.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Jesus was not just trying to tidy up the Temple courtyard and do things decently and in order.
Jesus was challenging the entire temple system, the whole system of animal sacrifice.
Jesus cried out, “You are making my father’s house a market place!”
You are making devotion to God a matter of a simple financial transaction.
You are seeking reconciliation with God by ineffective means.
This temple and its system will no longer be the way to access the presence or forgiveness of God.
These old forms of worship will now be obsolete.
“I am the way, the truth, the life”, he later said. “If you know me, you will know my Father also.”

Ever since homo sapiens began walking the earth,
we have sensed an innate need to connect with the Divine.
And, inevitably, as human beings broke relationships with each other and offended the Divine,
we have sought to make things right again.
In ancient days, some population groups would offer an innocent child, an infant,
as a sacrifice to God. Other groups would take a young virgin and throw her off a cliff –
an outrageous act meant to appease an angry or offended god.
Old Testament scriptures reveal that the Hebrews would take an unblemished ram,
wrap a red ribbon around its horns, and then drive it off into the wilderness
where it would wander and die.
This tangible, sacrificial act symbolized the physical removal of sin from the community.

Human beings have always needed some outward demonstration
in order to demonstrate the inner reality of seeking peace with God.
Whether an infant or a young virgin or a ram, or, in the case of the Temple courtyard,
a bull or a dove, these outward demonstrations were meant to make peace with God,
meant to settle an account, to make things right.

By the time Jesus began his ministry,
it appears that the outward demonstrations no longer held the inner reality.
People were just going through the motions.
They came to the Passover festival, bought whichever animal they could afford,
handed it over to the priest to offer for sacrifice,
then went back to living just like they had lived.
There was no inner change or transformation.
There was no repentance, no turning from sin, no reorientation of life towards God.
They were just checking off the list of religious duty.

Micah 6:6 proclaims,
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before God with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my first born for my transgression or the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” “He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

The prophet Amos: “I hate, I despise your festivals, I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them. And the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals,
I will not even look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs.
I will not listen to the melody of your harps, but let justice roll down like waters
and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

Jesus stood firmly in the tradition of the prophets who denounced empty ritual
and who sought inward change.
Jesus cried out that the common people “are like sheep without a shepherd.”
They are wandering astray, not being fed, not being led to still waters or green pastures.
The leaders of the temple enjoy great luxury, he pointed out,
while the common people struggle with little physical or spiritual nourishment.

This ancient religious problem is a real danger for today’s church,
particularly churches with many middle to upper middle income parishioners.
Churches can begin to seem irrelevant to secular people when they enjoy fine buildings
and wonderful music and nice clothes, but then seem to ignore the deep pain of the world.
There is overwhelming need in our community and nation today, not to mention the world.
People are physically and spiritually starving; people are hungry for hope and for help.
Far too many people are going without, without caring parents or able caregivers,
without safety in their own home or neighborhood, without basic human needs,
Secular people begin to ask, “What are the churches doing to help?
What are so-called Christians doing to make a difference? Do they even care?
Where is the connection between deep human need and the ministry of the churches?

I am sure this congregation could do more, but I am glad to say that Decatur Presbyterian Church
is engaged in the needs of the world. Some of you will serve a Hagar’s House meal tonight.
Others will meet just after service to talk through Threshold Ministry policies.
Still others will meet later this week to plan a stewardship strategy
so that we will not have to cut our missions or ministries.
Nearly all of you are engaged in some way in addressing the needs of the world.

Our recent memorial services and receptions are another way
that this Church is responding to deep human need.
Many of you are aware that we held six memorial services in the span of just 3 weeks.
It is truly a holy privilege to walk with families during the most meaningful times of their lives.
It is holy privilege to serve alongside our other pastors and staff and volunteers
as we care for those who are grieving.
The words we say are less important than just being there for one another.
Our ministry of presence has been evident lately, not only in our pastors,
but also in your visits and the receptions you host and your delivery of food and flowers.

Some of our recent funerals have been joyful, when a loved one like Kay Philips
dies at the end of a long and full life of over nine decades.
Other memorials have felt like a real mixture of feelings – relief from suffering,
sadness from grief, and also deep gratitude for memories shared.
We had one recent funeral of a young woman, an amazing young woman, that was very heavy.
We were all saddened, and yet all of us felt buoyed by a packed sanctuary,
by the whole-hearted support of the wider community,
and by learning what a unique and special person she was,
and what she had meant to her family and others.

Memorial services and receptions are tangible expressions of the love and grace of God.
They are a reminder that whatever else we do in this place,
we love people when they are hurting. We stand by them when they are grieving.
We turn to God in hopeful prayer as we stand side by side before the grave.

Even so, there are surely some tables that Jesus would want to overturn today.
There may be cherished church traditions,
habits that go back to our grandparents and great grandparents,
that may need to be overturned, transformed, changed.
If any of our regular habits and practices as a Church do not respond to the deep human need
that surrounds us, then we must begin to seek and find other means.

We have said before that hundred years ago the great mission field was across the ocean
with people who did not know the name of Jesus.
Today we only need to walk a quarter of a mile to find children who do not know who Jesus is,
who have never heard of the Ten Commandments.
People from all over the country and even the world walk by on the sidewalk.
They are aware that we gather in this beautiful sanctuary.
They notice our nice clothes and fine music and wonder what this is all about.
They wonder what is the connection between their deep need and this God whom we worship.

One of the holy privileges of being a pastor is to stand at this Table,
to stand in the place of the host to invite people to gather around.
Every time I stand at this table, underneath the cross, and invite people to gather,
I am reminded that the love of Jesus extends far beyond these doors.
I am reminded of those scriptural words that “from east and west and north and south
they will gather at this table.”
We are reminded that as far as the east is from the west,
so far will God remove our transgressions from us.
Jesus came to break down any barriers that separate us from God or from one another,
open wide the doors, and welcome friend and stranger.
Jesus turned over the tables in the courtyard so that this table would be a place of welcome for all.
Whether or not one can afford a bull as a sacrifice,
whether or not one would be deemed righteous by their peers,
whether or not one is able to dress today to honor God,
Jesus says that you can find God here. You can be made right with God here,
not by any action or sacrifice that we take, but by what he has already done on the cross,
by the unmerited favor of God.

A graduating seminary student once asked a wise professor for some advice as she entered
her first call. The professor told her, “Preach a sermon every day…”
which obviously surprised the student by the expression on her face,
then he continued, “and use words if necessary.”

Jesus preached a powerful sermon that day in the Temple courtyard.
And he preached a far more powerful sermon that Good Friday that he was nailed to the cross.
At this Table, we will remember his deeds, we will give thanks for his sacrifice,
and we will be strengthened to go and preach our own sermons,
with our deeds and occasionally with our words.

To God be the glory as we do so.


Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
March 4, 2018