Tidying Up: ending marketplace Christianity

Marie Kondo leads a decluttering, simplification, or tidying trend that invites people to hold every possession in their hands and only keep objects that spark joy. Connie and I have largely managed to resist the tidying movement. Once-important furniture and rows of moving boxes ring our unfinished basement; some from our downsizing and some from the sales of both our parent’s homes. Marie Kondo offers that “the ultimate goal of tidying is to really cherish everything you have”. (Netflix: Tidying Up) On a slushy February Saturday, I began tidying up three filing cabinets. I found the instructions for our 23 year old kerosene heater right next to the original copy of our wedding license. Why is it hard to let go of the Hoosier Cabinet we bought with wedding money? Can any material possession spark eternal joy? Was Jesus talking to me when he said, “Take these things out of here: stop, making God’s house a marketplace!Is my house God’s house, too? Is my soul God’s temple, too? Is my wallet God’s wallet, too? How do the marketplace gods tempt me? Can God’s kin-dom coexist with our allegiance to materialism? Do we remember in Jesus’ parable of the sower how “the cares of the world and the allure of wealth” choke out the word of God? (Mark 4) 

“Get this stuff out of here: stop, making God’s house a marketplace!” John places Jesus’ rebuke of market-place Christianity much earlier in the Gospel than Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Jesus cleanses the temple in John 2. I wish John had not begun his telling with “the Passover of the Jews was near.”  Jesus was a Jew drawing near to the temple to worship God as a Jew. John, Peter, and Mary were all Jews, too. We need to remember Jesus’ Jewishness. Jesus’ Jewishness is a guard against even subtle or accidental anti-semistism. Forgetting Jesus’ Jewishness allows us to ignore our own culpability, imagining that we or our priests, legal experts, and civil rulers would never crucify a prophet like Jesus.  When the story has a villain we may not remember that we could be the villain.  Blaming others, we might never pray, “Jesus forgive me for sitting at tables, you would have flipped over!” (Steven Price on FaceBook) If we judge the bishop, the culture, the church, or the denomination, we might never get around to asking ourselves how we serve the marketplace gods with our time, talents, and treasures?  When do we pull up the lovely weeds that keep us from experiencing God’s deeper joy? What do you and I need to toss out? 

John tells us that Jesus went up to the Temple. The Temple complex was massive. King Herod hauled in tons of rock and fill dirt to build the 35 acre Temple Mount. Today, seventy foot limestone retaining walls still ring the plaza that once housed beautiful porticos and gardens. The Temple complex could house over half a million pilgrims. Keep that scale in mind.  Entering  the Temple courts “Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, Jesus drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.” I imagine Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calmly walking through the Temple feedlots. The herds of sheep and cows know Christ’s gentle voice and lo softly as Jesus passes through. Arriving at the far end of the cattle pen, Jesus motions to Peter who opens wide the sheepfold gate. Arms outstretched, Jesus gently commands the cows whistling and clicking, whooshing them along with the loosely woven whip:. “Whoo cow, git-git- gitta-cow, git moving.” Jesus drives the herd out into the Temple. If the cattle were all year olds, they would weigh about 400 to 600 pounds, so imagine several thousand pounds of hooves and horns moving through the Passover crowd!  Did the Jerusalem Times headline read: Sanctuary Stampede: authorities seek Galilean Rabble Rouser?   How could such non-violent civil unrest bring about the kin-dom of God? We might want to remind our legislators that Jesus led an extremely disruptive non-violent protest in defiance of marketplace values and civilized idolatry. 

Two points about Jesus’ outrageous symbol-act. Jesus does not burn down the Temple, but seeks to cleanse it of marketplace idolatry.  Second, no one is hurt. Jesus teaches non-violence. Friends, non-violent forgiveness is the message of the cross.  (Luke 23:34, Matthew 26:52)

“Get this stuff out of here: stop, making God’s house a marketplace!” John tells us that Jesus flips over the counting tables of the money changers. The money changers took the people’s hard earned Roman coins and for a fee exchanged them for temple dollars of no value anywhere else. Why the money exchange? The Temple banned all images of Caesar or any other “lord” inside the sacred space! This is not a story about selling girl scout cookies in the foyer but of baked-in economic exploitation! I imagine Jesus saw this churchy money changer scam as the worst kind of often unnamed systemic injustice! Jesus does not steal the coins, but pours the coins out onto the floor. Mark tells us “that Jesus would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” This peaceful protest was planned. It takes a coordinated movement to shut down every Starbucks inside a 35 acre temple park. Let’s not forget that the offended powers will attack and crucify Jesus instead of addressing the systemic economic injustice that Jesus sought to cleanse from the church.  

Church! Flipping over the Temple tables is as sure a sign as Jesus walking on the water, dining with outcasts, or healing people! How do we follow Jesus, who comes as Activist? 

 In our amazement, excitement, anxiety or anger about Christ’s protest, let us not lose Jesus’ message: “Get this stuff out of here: stop making God’s house a marketplace!” Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus kept teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.” Do not let photos of sheep munching on the altar flowers distract us from Jesus’ message to end consumer driven Christianity. “Get this stuff out of here: stop making God’s house a marketplace!” 

So let us linger over Jesus’  words- reading the protest signs. “Get this stuff out of here: stop making God’s house a marketplace! End consumer Christianity! Make God’s house a safehouse of prayer for all the nations! Don’t rob people with high exchange rates and unnecessary fees! Welcome all nations. Welcome all people! End transactional your faith. Stop serving market gods.  Tidy up your souls and wallets. 

Oh, dear ones, let us pick up our signs, orchestrate non-violent marches, pour out ill-gotten coins, and flip over some tables. Let us remember our baptism vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form or system we it in. But let us not think that is all God calls us to do. No! The harder work might be the interior as we allow Jesus’ words to move through our souls and wallets: “Get this stuff out of here: stop making God’s home a marketplace!”

So let us tidy up our inner spiritual homes for this is Lenten work.  Let us remember that the allure of wealth and busyness of life choke out God’s better plan. Hold onto only the values, habits, and things that can spark eternal joy.  Hold every habit, value, and possession in your prayer and ask does this spark joy, faith, hope, love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness or self-control? (Galatians 5; 1 Corinthians 13) Does this help me Love my neighbors as myself? If not, perhaps we need to thank it for its past service and lay it down. We must break the marketplace’s hold on our lives to experience Easter’s joy! Stop following marketplace gods!  Seek first the kin-dom of God ( the kind-dom) and somehow that will bring order to everything else. (Matthew 6) Amen.

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