Let us pray.

O God of peace, you have taught us that in returning in rest we shallbe saved. In quietness and in confidence shall be our strength. Lift usup by the might of your Holy Spirit into your presence, where we may bestill and know that you are God and that your son, Jesus Christ, is thebringer of justice and peace and love. In his most blessed name we pray.Amen.

Please be seated.

Good morning. It is indeed a pleasure to be here at the Cathedralthis morning as we celebrate District of Columbia Day, and I am gratefulto Dean Lloyd for the invitation to be in this pulpit and to celebratethis day with you. The District of Columbia is a wonderful place. It hasits issues, but it is a wonderful place and it consists of much morethan Capitol Hill and Mt. St. Alban. I bring you greetings from St.George’s Church, which is located in Northwest. To be exact, it is inWard 5, and to be more exact, it is in the Le Droit Park/Bloomingdalearea of the city, and so I bring you greetings from your brothers andsisters in Christ there. And may I add that we are also grateful, DeanLloyd, that we are receiving a grant for a program of ours. Thank you somuch for your generosity.

I want to begin by reading a text from Luke 19:45–48: “Then heentered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling thingsthere and he said, ‘It is written, my house shall be a house of prayer,but you have made it a den of robbers.’” My house shall be a house ofprayer, but you have made it a den of robbers. Now generally in theEpiscopal Church we don’t title our sermons, but if I were to title thisone—give it a title—my title would be this: Jesus is Coming to Jerusalemand He Isn’t Happy.

It reminds me of the story of a church secretary at a parish—we’llcall it parish St. Somewhere—the church secretary’s office was at thefront of the church, so she had an opportunity to see who was coming andgoing. So one day she’s looking out the window, a Volkswagen Beetlepulls up: not one of the modern ones, but a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle withplastic flowers all over it. As she’s watching this Volkswagen Beetlepark, she notices that a gentleman is getting out of the car. He has abeard, he looks like a hippie.

All of a sudden she thinks to herself, this must be Jesus, and so as‘Jesus’ is walking toward the church door, the rector is not there, itis his day off, she calls the sexton and says to the sexton, “It lookslike Jesus is coming. What should we do?” The sexton says, “Call thesenior warden.” So the sexton calls the senior warden and the seniorwarden says in response to Jesus’ coming, “Call the rector.” So thesenior warden calls the rector and tells the rector that “We think Jesusis coming to St. Somewhere’s. What should we do?” and the rector’sresponse is, “Look busy!”

Well, the people in Jerusalem, particularly in the Temple, wereindeed busy, but it was not the kind of busyness that Jesus appreciated.

You know, we have a tendency to water down Jesus’ message and focusonly on the gentle and lowly and inoffensive Jesus. The Jesus who justmakes us feel all cuddly and warm. But what we sometimes forget is therevolutionary Jesus who came into Jerusalem, who spoke truth to powerand upset the whole institutional and religious and political system ofhis day. Yet we are still sometimes looking for that politically correctJesus, and so we create at modern Jesus who fits that image.

As one commentator has put it, we are looking for the Jesus onProzac. The Jesus who challenges nothing, who upsets no one, and is nota danger to the status quo. But our scripture this morning shows us adifferent side of Jesus, doesn’t it? Now you know, by today’s standards,Jesus would not be a good politician, would he? He would not be a goodpolitician, and he wasn’t a good politician in the first century either.Generally, if you want to get your message across, you do not angerthose in power. You do not upset their apple carts.

A politician—not all politicians, but some politicians—I want to beclear, I see Councilwoman Alexander out here—has to say things thatpeople want to hear in order to survive in the political arena. Jesushad the habit of saying things that upset people. He was not trying tobe politically correct. Many politicians, not all, try to win votes bymaking promises that often twist the truth, give it a little spin, alittle nuance, and bring together people around not the interest of thepeople, but their own self-interests. You see, Jesus tried to win peopleby telling and doing the truth. By telling and doing the truth. And inhis cleansing of the temple, Jesus is giving in illustration of what itmeans to tell and do the truth.

Why did Jesus react so violently against the moneychangers and theanimal sellers in the temple? First we must understand what was going onat the time. At the time it was required for every male Jew to pay thetemple tax of one-half shekel every year, which amounted to nearly twodays’ pay for a working man. Now, while you can pay the tax in yourvillage, most people elected to pay the tax during their pilgrimage toJerusalem. There were many currencies in circulation at the time. Therewere Greek currencies, Roman currencies, Tyrian currencies, Syrian,Egyptian, and all were equally valid. But the tax had to be paid in halfshekels. Half shekels of the sanctuary are in Galilean shekels.

Now, the moneychangers were charging enormous fees to change thismoney over. Even if it was a coin of equal value. If a larger coin wasoffered, then a commission was charged for the required half shekel, andagain for the giving of change, so they were making enormous amounts ofmoney and making huge profits, and it was a deliberate swindle toseparate poor people who were coming to Jerusalem to do their religiousobligation because this was required of them. The moneychangers wereseparating poor people who could least afford it from their money.

It’s almost like the sub-prime loan debacle or maybe… No, I’m notgoing to say that. I was going to say nickle-and-diming those of us whofly on the airlines because of the enormous expense of gas. Why not justput us in the cargo hold and get it done with? As far as those who wereselling animals for the ritual sacrifices in the temple, they wereselling their animals for as much as ten or fifteen times more than thevendors on the outside of the temple. You had outside vendors, and youhad inside vendors.

It’s like at the airport. It’s better to buy things before you getinto the airport, because if you go into the airport to buy things,you’re going to pay ten to fifteen percent more. You ever notice that?That’s what was happening to the pilgrims on the way to the temple tooffer sacrifice. There were animals outside that they could buy, butwhen they bought those animals, the temple animal inspectors, who wereworking in collusion with the temple animal sellers, were deciding whatanimals were worthy of sacrifice. So you had a collusion, and so, evenif the animal was perfect that you bought on the outside, if the templeinspector asked the question, “Where did you buy this animal?” If theysaid on the outside, this is not a good animal, go see the temple animalinspector.

So it was a collusion—legalized. Legalized, institutionalizedvictimization of poor people, again, trying to fulfill their religiousobligation. The temple animal vendors in cooperation with the templeinspectors were legally robbing poor religious pilgrims, and it shouldbe noted that these booths where these animals were being sold were theproperty of the high priest of the temple. We see from this that Jesuscleansed the temple because helpless men and women were being exploited,were being abused. Jesus was outraged that the shepherds were notleading the flock, but fleecing them and taking advantage of them.

You know, while it is true that the meek might inherit the earth, itis also true that only the fearless—and Jesus was fearless—can carry outthe work of the church in the world. You see only the courageous can putan end to exploitation and bitterness and fear and greed and hatred andprejudice and violence that seem to dominate the world. Only those whoare not afraid, just as Jesus was not afraid to challenge the templeauthorities, can make a difference in a change in this world. You see,followers of Jesus are not called to retreat into the status quo of thesociety in which they live, but to confront that society head on withwhat is often an unpopular message.

It is not easy to stand up against popular opinion, especially whenthat popular opinion is comprised of arrogance and ignorance and power.A dangerous and lethal combination. Arrogance plus ignorance plus poweris dangerous. In the year A.D. 400—let me tell you a story going back to400 A. D., when Honorius was the emperor of Rome. The great coliseum ofRome was often filled to overflowing with spectators. People from farand near had come to view the games in the coliseum, and part of thesport consisted in watching as human beings battled with wild beasts oragainst one another until one or the other was killed. Those assembledtook great delight in the sport, took delight especially in the death ofa human being.

I don’t want to step on any toes, but do you know that, in additionto watching cars go around the track at NASCAR races and the speed, doyou know that some people sit in the stands waiting for an accident tohappen? It’s a curious thing about us as human beings, don’t you think?Well, people were taking great delight in seeing other human beingsbeing killed. But a Syrian monk named Telemachus, influenced by Jesus’cleansing of the temple, was appalled by the utter disregard for humanlife, and at one such event, Telemachus leaped into the arena in themidst of the gladiator’s combat and cried out, “This is thing is notright! This thing must stop! You must stop killing people for sport!”

You know what happened? Because he was interfering with theirpleasure, the authorities gave the command for Telemachus to be runthrough with a sword, which was done. Telemachus died. But in dying hekindled a flame in the hearts and consciousness of thinking persons.History records that because of his heroic action, within a few monthsthe gladiatorial combats began to decline and very shortly thereafterthey passed from history.

Why? Because one man put it all on the line and dared to speak forwhat he felt was right. One man put it on the line. Now if Telemachuswhere alive today, he might just jump into our arena and say “This thingmust stop. You must stop pouring billions of dollars into weapons ofdestruction while innocent people continue to die from hunger anddisease. You must stop this. You must stop striving to maintain astandard of living when others simply strive to stay alive. This muststop. You must stop blaming the victims of prejudice and racism andsexism and economic dislocation. You must stop blaming the victims andaddress the causes. You must do this.” You know, we seem at times to bemore concerned about property and profits than people, which is not ahealthy sign.

We have an association of churches in the community that I ministerin, called the North Capitol Street-Rhode Island Avenue EcumenicalCouncil, and we came together some twelve years ago to support eachother in collective and individual efforts to enhance the quality oflife in the Le Droit Park/Bloomingdale community. We are made up ofBaptists, Episcopal, Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches, and we loveeach other. We don’t always agree. One time we wanted to have streetfestival. The Baptists said, well we don’t dance in the street, so theEpiscopalians and the Roman Catholics said, in order to keep ourassociation together, we won’t dance either. We’ll wait until later on,when we go into our own churches, and then we will dance.

Our sister church in the association, St. Martin’s Roman CatholicChurch, they are currently in the process of trying to build affordablehousing units on property that they own. A property that currentlycontains a convent where a program is being run for homeless men. Thatis to get them back on their feet and to enable them to becomeproductive citizens. It has been a long and arduous process. Those ofyou who live and work in the District know that everything in theDistrict is long and arduous. Many meetings, there were many meetingswith members of a community that is rapidly gentrifying. That iscommunities that were once all black or predominately black are nowbecoming more diverse. But I want to add this—diversity does not makecommunity. Only engagement, the engagement of diverse peoples whorespect one another, makes community.

So we were going to these meetings. Now some people were concernedthat the affordable housing that St. Martin’s wants to build would bringin a whole lot of undesirable people. Now, affordable housing is a needin this city. Now, some people thought that people such as drunks, drugdealers, prostitutes, predators, all sorts and sundry criminals, wouldbe using the affordable housing. Somehow being a low-income individualhas become a pejorative word. To be classified as low-income has somehowbecome pejorative. Simply because you don’t make a whole lot of moneydoes not mean that you are not a productive citizen.

Now in the case of this homeless person—and the people also concernedthat it would lower their property values—there were some men in thehomeless program who were in this meeting while all of this is beingdiscussed, and they heard all of the things that were being said. Whengiven an opportunity to speak, one man had this to say about having theopportunity to live in a place of his own and he said this:

“There was a time when I stood on the corner as a homeless person andwatched people getting on the bus to go to work. Now, as a result of thehomeless program, I get on the bus and I go to work. We’ve all donethings that we are ashamed of and regret. All I want, all I want is tohave a decent place of my own that I can afford, and this project willprovide me that opportunity.”

A very poignant statement. When he had finished speaking, theconversation continued as if he had not been present or had anything tosay, and I thought to myself, how sad that this man’s poignant story wasignored and forgotten amid concern only, only about property values.

The good news is that the project got zoning board approval andground-breaking should take place before the end of the year, and thisman and others like him will have a decent place to come home to afterthey’re finished their hard working day.

You see, brothers and sisters, the Gospel is good news, but it alsoradically calls into question a world built without the recognition ofGod, and upon values foreign and now even contrary to his will asrevealed in the life and ministry of Jesus, who said that the love ofGod and love of neighbor were the two commandments which hung all thelaw and the prophets.

Two: love of God and love of neighbor. When one proclaims thismessage, confrontation is unavoidable. A Gospel that bothers no one andquestions nothing is no longer the Gospel, and sometimes it seems thatwe’re fighting a losing battle in a world that seems to ignore ordismiss as irrelevant the good news of the Kingdom. Even though we maybe disparaged as dreamers, marginalized, or suppressed, we must notyield to fear, and we must remember that Jesus cleansed the temple, andthat took him to the cross. But three days later he rose from the deadvictorious. You see, we must never forget that the unconquerablestrength of all—the prophet, the apostle, the Christian, the church—is agift from almighty God and no one can take that away from you. The Godwho never abandons us, all appearances to the contrary.</p