Sometimes life takes a surprising turn. That can be a good thing. Think of Captain Tom Moore who at almost 100 years old started pottering about in his garden and then raised millions for the NHS.
But it can a bad thing too. Think of the last year, and the how plans made have been postponed or abandoned altogether.
Sometimes we can be surprised when but then things don’t quite work out as we expect, and here we turn to our Gospel this morning as we think of the PTC.
The PTC, the Parochial Temple Council who thought that a few tables selling things would both help those who went, and make a bit of money too – to help pay for the new roof or whatever it was.
But then it all got rather out of hand. A few tables became a thriving marketplace. And so coming to the temple became less about worship and more about an exchange of money.
Jesus sees this and though the PTC might have said “Now look here Jesus, look at the balance books – the temple is in profit” – He is indignant, overturns the tables and drives them out.
Now as far as I know there was no PTC but we can probably all recall times when we have started something and we have ended up somewhere we didn’t expect.
When we closed church for public worship last March, few of us could have imagined that almost a year later we would be livestreaming our worship and had an appeal for cameras.
And as we look to the future, alongside the personal stories of sadness and loss, the church, across this city and diocese and country will have to make not least about our use of buildings and how we are to ‘A Christian Presence in every Community’.
And whilst we are a people not a building (something I will return to in a moment) the need for sacred spaces – as the temple was – remains. A sacred space of shelter and rest from a sometimes cruel world.
Going back to the Gospel perhaps this was what annoyed Jesus most. That a sacred place had been contaminated. Maybe he had seen the pervasive hold that money could have over people, and whilst he recognised its necessity – surely there could be some place that was free from it.
And here I am convicted of standing here sometimes and talking about money, whether it be through your regular giving, or an appeal for cameras.
And I do so because we need to pay the bills. Yet our budget, even as a National Church compared to the millions and billions of pounds being spent by Government at the moment is so small. This pandemic has highlighted just how fragile the church really is.
But maybe this is a good thing. Helps us remember that we are not interested in power and influence, more to pick up the imagery of St. Paul looking ‘foolish’ as ‘we proclaim Christ crucified’.
And in a way this building is a symbol of that fragility. So, as I look at the plaster falling off the walls. At a floor that is imperfect and uneven. At the cracks and gaps in the plasterboards above me.
Perhaps surprisingly these flaws in our walls are a kind of gift. For just as we are not perfect individuals, nor is this building beautiful though it is.
And this helps remind us that we do not need to be perfect when we come here. We are welcomed just as we are, with all the cracks and the flaws of our lives. We come this sacred place of shelter.
Maybe the PTC set off with the best intentions but ended up putting up barriers. For example, what if you had no money to exchange, or to buy anything, what if you had nothing to sell would you feel welcome and able to take shelter then?
And so, Jesus drives them out, overturns tables, the marketplace had no place in the temple. A temple where all were welcome.
Paul knew something of this too. He had preached Christ crucified in Corinth and yet they were as the letter tells us they had lost their way. They were divided some seeing themselves as being more important than others so that some were excluded from the table where all were welcome.
Paul reminds them from the outset of his letter that living for and through Christ will never be about power, and some being more worthy than others. All were welcome.
And what of those first followers of Jesus? Well at first there were no buildings in which to shelter, and so I suspect they were’nt too worried about bricks and mortar; they were not an institution (that came later) but a movement. Where all found shelter through the embrace of their fellow pilgrims.
And they lived expecting the God who surprised them in Jesus, to keep on surprising them. Just read the Acts of the Apostles, a book we could subtitle the surprising acts of God.
I wonder what they might make of what the movement they began has become, an institution with balance sheets and mission plans and all that. And though we are institution, we do have bricks and mortar and do need to plan for the future as we seek to continue to provide places of sacred shelter for the communities we serve.
That needs to be held alongside that sense that we caught up in a movement that is dynamic and changing because we live just like our forebears expecting to be surprised by the God of surprises.
So, dear friends we journey on through this Lent and beyond in the knowledge that even with the right intention’s things will not always turn out as we expect and sometimes, we will get things wrong. The Parochial Temple Council did and Jesus surprised them.
And if we follow him then we too know that there will be times when we he will turn over the tables. Maybe this pandemic that has caused such pain and sadness has done that for us – given us a chance to think and re-imagine.
Sometimes life takes a surprising turn. Things never quite work out as we expect but that’s ok – for as we look to the cross, and beyond there we see that the God of surprises is at work whose ‘foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and (whose) weakness is stronger than human strength.’