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  • Writer's picturePastor Jimmy Cason

The Angry Jesus



Please remain standing, as you're able, in honor of the reading of God's Word that comes to us today from the Gospel of John, chapter 2, verses 13 through 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 marketplace. 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 said this temple has been under construction for 46 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. 


This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Please be seated. 


As always, Lord, I pray that you would deliver me from me, hide me behind the shadow of the cross, so that people see Jesus instead of me. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


The angry Jesus. 


I realized as I was preparing this sermon that in 44 years of ministry I have never preached a sermon on this text, but it's the lectionary, one of the lectionary texts for today. Now, for those of you who may not understand what the lectionary is, many mainline denominations follow a three-year cycle of Scripture readings, and each Sunday there is a psalm, there is an Old Testament reading, there is an Epistle reading and there is a Gospel reading.


I'm not a slave to the lectionary. Sometimes it just depends on the Sunday. But one of the things about the lectionary is that it forces me to preach on some text that I would just rather not preach on, and today is one of those days. 


This is not a feel-good sermon. It's also not a sermon for someone else. It's amazing to me how many times someone has met me at the door after a sermon and said, “oh, I wish so and so had been here to hear that.” And I've looked at them and said “you mean, the sermon didn't have anything to say to you.” So it's not time for you to think about someone else, it's time for you to think about what is the message saying to you. 


I was taught in seminary that sometimes you have to comfort the afflicted, but other times you have to afflict the comfortable. 


I remember back in the 80s, when I was an associate pastor at Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah, that the lectionary text for that day was Matthew 25, where Jesus said I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. When did we do any of that? If you did it to the least of these, you've done it to me.


Well back then, and I realized that some of you were not even born during that time. But back then Ethiopia was getting all of the attention for the famine and the need for people to send food, nations to send food to Ethiopia. It was also time when many singers got together and composed the song We Are the World, We Are the Children, and that particular Sunday I had the organist play We Are the World for an offertory. 


And then I preached on Matthew 25, bouncing off the fact of what was going on in the world. And in the sermon I said now Ethiopia is a communist country and some of you think we ought not to send anything to Ethiopia. But even if you believe, communists are the least of all people. Jesus said if you do it to the least of them, you've done it to me.


Well, when the sermon was over, I was met at the door by a wealthy individual who handed me a check for $1,000 for world hunger. I thought I had preached the best sermon that had ever been preached in the history of the world. 


But then I looked up and I saw this young man. His face was red, I could see the vein in his neck throbbing and he said that was absolutely the worst sermon I have ever heard. I can't believe that I would come to church and hear you say some of the things that you said in that sermon. Well, I immediately forgot about how great my sermon was and we talked a little bit and I said is there any way that we could get together and talk about this? And we agreed to have lunch that next week and we did. 


It turned out that he was a member of the John Birch Society. He was very offended when I talked about Communists and he said to me he said “I think we ought to go over there and kill all of them, kill the children, because they're gonna grow up to be Communists.”


And I looked at him. I knew that I wasn't gonna change his mind. He certainly wasn't gonna change my mind. But I looked at him and I said okay, if you were a preacher today and you had that text given to you and you were gonna try to preach a sermon that was relevant to what was going on in the world, how would you have preached that sermon? And he got quiet and finally he said I don't know that's what bothers me. And I said well then, your problem is not with me, it's with the Word of God. And we left it at that. 


But as I had days and weeks and months to think about that, I finally realized, even though it was unintended, he was giving me just as much of a compliment as the man who gave me the check for $1,000 because he was saying your sermon disturbed me. Most people would have gone out and thought oh, that naive young guy. He didn't know what he's talking about, but they would have never confronted me like he did. But he was so disturbed to the point that he couldn't keep quiet and actually it was a compliment. 


In this text it is obvious that this scene of Jesus cleansing the temple took place toward the end of the ministry of Jesus. This is exactly where the other gospel writers placed the text, and Matthew 21:12-13, mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48. But John does not care about chronology. He writes in the 20th chapter, verse 30 and 31, that there were many things that Jesus did that he did not include in his gospel. But he said these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you might have life in his name. 


So John was very careful about what he chose to include and there's a reason for what he includes in his gospel. 


This passage follows the miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine, and for some reason I found several occasions to preach from that text. By the way, it was real wine. 


But this text, The Anger of Jesus, is more pronounced here than anywhere else in scripture. So there are four questions that I want us to ask about this text. What made Jesus angry? What makes Jesus angry today? What makes us angry? And how can Jesus help us process our anger? 


First of all, Jesus was not arguing against fundraising in the church, and I know churches that have used this text to say that fundraising in the church is preached about in this text. No, Jesus was concerned about injustice and abuse. 


You see, the money changers were doing business in the court of the Gentiles, the only part of the temple where a Gentile, a non-Jewish person, could be present. Now you might say well, why did the Gentiles even want to go to the temple? There were God-fearers. There were Gentiles who were God-fearers. They admired the Jewish religion because of their belief in one God instead of many gods.


The sheep was for sacrifice. The doves were used to sacrifice when the family could not afford to purchase a lamb to sacrifice. When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple, they could not afford a lamb, and so they purchased two doves to sacrifice for Jesus. Persons needed to get enough change to purchase the required sacrifices, but the money changers should have been outside the gates of the temple. 


What made Jesus angry was that the religious leaders of the day had given permission for the money changers and the sellers of animals to fill up the court of the Gentiles. Then no one but Jews would be able to get into the temple. So the Gentiles, that's you, that's me. They were shut out of the temple. Jesus always took up for the underdog, the sinner, the excluded. 


We can look at the woman, at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, and the Jews were right to have her stoned. That's what the law said. But over and over and over, Jesus would say I know it was written, I know it's in the Old Testament, but I say unto you, and you know, in that particular. I won't probably preach on that text while I'm here, but in that particular text it says that Jesus was writing stuff in the ground, words. 


The text doesn't tell us what those words were, but I can just imagine that here these religious leaders were ready to stone her and Jesus says the person that is without sin should cast the first stone. And then he started. And I also want to know where the man was in the text, but that's another issue Liar and gossiper, and he writes down the sins of the people who are wanting to cast the stone. And as he writes a word, this one looks and is ashamed and leaves. And one by one, by one, they all leave. 


And Jesus said neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more. So the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, the traveler on the road to Jericho who was beaten by robbers, Zacchaeus, yes, even the rich can be excluded as well as the poor. 


Jesus always included the excluded and became angry at those who excluded certain groups. I would rather be excluded for who I choose to include rather than be included for those that I choose to exclude.


I have two favorite Christmas carols. The first one is Oh Holy Night, listen to these words, I'm not going to sing it. Truly, he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains now he breaks, for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease. 


And then my second favorite is Away In A Manger. But there's one line in Away In A Manger that I don't like. You know, the cattle are lowing. You know the poor baby awakes. Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes. I don't like that. A baby is supposed to cry? I mean, we love putting Jesus, would rather, instead of looking at the angry Jesus, we would rather keep Jesus in the manger, little, cute little baby. No crying he makes. I want to say that much crying he makes. 


What makes Jesus angry? Injustice and abuse, exclusion, taking God's name in vain.


Now, I don't like to hear a curse word that includes the word. But we limit taking the Lord's name in vain to just that. But taking the Lord's name in vain is when we either put God on our side or we blame God for something that he is not. But we blame God for something that he is not. 


You know, all throughout my ministry, occasionally this doesn't happen very often, but occasionally I'll have someone come into my office and say the Lord told me to tell you this. Now, I'm not beyond believing that the Lord can tell you something, but sometimes it is just the most offhanded, weird, wild thing that you know. It's just, it's unbelievable. And my answer to that is you know, I found in my life that the Lord doesn't tell you something that involves me without informing me, up until this point he has not informed me about this. I'll take this under advisement. But maybe it was indigestion. 


We need to be careful and there is a rise today of white Christian nationalism that has invaded the church and I could say a whole lot more about that and I won't. But there is this movement in politics today where God is on our side and God believes certain things and that we ought to take over as the church. We ought to take over the government and restore white supremacy. 


You know, I've been reading two books that are not comfortable readings. 


The first book is “Born of Conviction: white Methodist and Mississippi's closed society.” In the sixties, many white Methodist congregations took votes that said if a black person tries to enter our worship services, the ushers will be at the door and will forbid them from coming into the sanctuary. And you know what? There were 28 Methodist ministers in Mississippi that signed a statement born of conviction where they disagreed with the action that many churches were taking and the bishop of the Mississippi Conference did not support them. Many of them, because of their outspokenness, they got small church appointments. 


I think it was 18 of these 28 that left Mississippi and have never come back. This area lost some great pastors who were willing to go against their bishop and to go against congregations. Crosses were lit in their front yards, guns people would come to their houses packing a gun threatening to kill them. 


I'm also reading another book written by Presbyterian. “Transformed: a white Mississippi pastor's journey into civil rights and beyond,” the author's William G McAtee. These books really go together because both of them talk about the other. There were Presbyterians and Methodists who took stands to their detriment. 


Many Methodists left the churches and they used the Bible. They used the Bible to promote segregation. They used the Bible! Some of that's still happening today over issues about gay people and issues over who we should exclude. One of the themes of the United Methodist Church is open hearts, open minds, open doors. 


We don't have to agree with each other on everything, but I was taught when I was growing up that you could disagree without being disagreeable. And yet in politics and in churches today, we don't have any civil discourse. I've never seen a time when people were so mad at each other Over the least little thing. You can agree 98% with somebody, but if there's one litmus test issue that you disagree with them, then you're not as good of a Christian as they are. I could go on and on and on, but I won't. 


I think Jesus gets angry about the abuse of children. There was a time when not only did Jesus say let the children come to me, don't forbid them, for just such belongs the kingdom of God, but there was one time he said it would be better for someone to have a millstone. 


And I've been to the Holy Land and I've seen these huge stone millstones. They might weigh 200 or 300 pounds. It would be better to have a millstone tied around one's neck and thrown into the sea, which means you would automatically sink, than to hurt one of these little ones. And the issues of physical and sexual abuse of children that we're seeing today, we should get angry about it. 


Do we get angry about the same things that makes Jesus angry? 


Now, if we were Jesus, we would get angry about the ridicule and the suffering and the persecution that Jesus experienced. We never once see Jesus angry about it, except for one time, and I'll share that in a minute. 


And look at what a motley crew that Jesus assembled with his 12 disciples. There were zealots, Simon the zealot, and it's believed that Judas was a zealot. I'll talk more about that on Palm Sunday. Uneducated fisherman, a tax collector, Peter, who sliced off the ear of one of the Roman soldiers, who arrested Jesus, and disciples who argued over who would sit closest to Jesus in his kingdom. 


And yet, at the Passover, Jesus gave Judas the seat of honor, as he was allowed to sit by Jesus. What makes us angry, and how does Jesus, this is my last point, how does Jesus help us process our anger? 


On Palm Sunday, I'm going to be preaching on the seven last words of Jesus on the cross and you'll hear me say what I'm about to say again, but it won't hurt you to hear it again. 


The word, the phrase that Jesus uttered on the cross, that has come to mean more to me than any other word. That he said is when he felt physically and spiritually abandoned by the Father and he yells out my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? I could tell you and I don't have time to, I could tell you several incidences where some tragic tragedy has happened and someone has said to the family, when they say, why, why did God let this happen? Is God punishing me? Why, why? 


And someone has said, oh, no, no, no. You ought never to question God. If Jesus on the cross could yell out my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? If Jesus could ask why, certainly he has given us the permission to ask why, and at least during conversation with God. So don't ever tell anybody that it is wrong to ask why. That's what I call stinking thinking. It's okay. Now you can't get stuck there. 


And Jesus, the last words that he said was a Jewish children's bedtime prayer that they prayed, talked to pray every night. Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit. 


Jesus was able to travel from the question of why to be able to say whatever I put it in your hands and that's how we process our anger is that it is okay to be frustrated, it is okay to question, and it may take weeks and months and even years, but somehow we have to reach the point of where we're able to say God, I still don't understand. I still don't understand why you allowed this to happen, but I'm willing to put everything, even my doubts and even my questions, in your hands. 


And that's how we deal with anger and questions and doubt. We can't stay angry, but we need, we need, in processing our anger, to ask ourselves we angry about the same things that Jesus is angry about, or do we dismiss those things that would make Jesus angry, because somehow it makes us feel uncomfortable? Lord, help us, amen. 



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