Words for the Third Sunday of Lent – 7 March 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: Stop making my Father’s house a market-place! (John 2v16)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
When we first returned to England at the end of the year 2000 we lived in the Vicarage next to St Peter’s Church Holton. St Peter’s is one of the (then) twelve churches which made up the Blyth Valley Team Ministry. Please keep them in your prayers as they prepare to welcome my friend Dominic Doble as their new Rector in the Summer.
St Peter’s Church and vicarage was a wonderful place for us to settle into England. It was were our boys grew to become young men, fell in and out of love (as the young are apt to do) and discover their British heritage. The congregation was wonderful and we still have many friends there. However there was one oddity in parish practice. We could hold coffee mornings in the Parish Room inside the church. We could have groups of teenagers visiting from Stoke for a seaside holiday sleep over in the church. We could have some very memorable ‘entertainments’ in the church where wine made glad our hearts (Psalm 104v5). But we could not sell tickets for, or hold raffles in, the church itself. There was a dispensation however for raffles to be held so long as it was only inside the church porch!
This is not an uncommon practice and even applies to some churches in our deanery of the Colneys. Beginning as a strict observance of our Lord’s complaint that his ‘Father’s house had been turned into a market place,’ it seems that certain parts of the church are completely averse to handling money in church. A survey of the paucity of the contents of collection plates may bear this out…. 🙂
A brief examination of worship practices in the Temple in Jerusalem will reveal that Jesus is not per se upset with the practice of selling sheep, cattle, and doves for sacrifices in the temple. (After all his own parents bought and gave to be sacrificed a pair of doves (Luke 2v24) when they came to the Temple soon after his birth). The problem was not that trading was going on but an early form of Insider Trading had been arranged between the priests making the sacrifices and those selling the requisites for said sacrifice.
People came from all over Israel and Judah to offer sacrifices in the Temple and they could not always bring their animals with them. For a ‘good’ price (with the priests taking a cut) sacrifices would be sold to pilgrims. If they lived close enough to bring a healthy animal ‘without spot or blemish’ (Leviticus 3v1-11) to the temple a priest would often reject it as unclean and direct the pilgrim to the market stalls.
It was not selling the sacrifices to which Jesus objected, it was making a killing out of selling the sacrifices that angered him. The temple had ceased to be a place of celebration and thankfulness for God’s generosity and had become a place of greed and self-service robbing the pilgrims of the joy of being able to give back to God a tithe of all that God had so generously given to them. No wonder Jesus was upset.
What difference does this understanding of our Beloved’s attitude to money and money making make to the way churches and Christian should handle their money? There are several.
Faith is a ‘not for profit’ venture.
We are not in it for, as Jessie J sings, the money money, ‘when the sale comes first and the truth comes second’. Faith should at least be a break even affair. If we believe that God whose ‘power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine’ (Ephesians 3v20-21) why are we fussing over pennies in the collection plate or whether a £1 a strip raffle is allowed to take place inside the church or only in the porch?
Faith has a different sort of economy.
The faithful are called to use their money in a different way than those around us.
Money has absolutely no morals. It does not care if the venture in which it is invested is good and godly or defiling and devilish. Money only cares that it increases.
Money goes where money grows.
This is why our Beloved commands us to make ‘good use of unrighteous wealth’ (Luke !6v1-9) and why the Church Commissioner’s work is monitored by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group so that we do the best we can by disinvesting from fossil fuels, investing in Carbon Neutral industries, and refusing to invest in the Arms Trade. Money is meant to be our servant but if we are not careful we easily end up worshipping at the altar of Mammon (Luke 16v13).
Faith is a Bitcoin Business.
It has often been said that a shroud has no pockets. We all go to the grave with a different sort of treasure than the one which has consumed so much of our time and energy whilst alive. It is interesting that Jesus speaks more about our relationship to money than any other topic. (11 of his 40 parables deal with money).
This was brought home to me when, aged 16, I went on an outing from the Royal Hospital School to visit London’s West End for the very first time. With the school chaplain we went to see David Essex star as Jesus in Godspell. some of the lines that have lived with me since that nigh. Before the ‘disciple’ Lindsay sings ‘God bless the Lord my Soul’. (Her song follows the story of the Rich fool). Lindsay ends the parable with the chilling words, ‘You fool this very night you must surrender your life. You have made your money. Who will get it now?’ (It is presciently filmed on the roof of the Twin Towers in New York).
Friends, the currency of heaven is not Pounds and Pennies or Dollars and Cents it is deeds of righteousness. To purchase the Bitcoin of heaven – a currency that transcends physical boundaries – we must learn again and again to ‘Make purses for ourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys’ (Luke 12v33) nor market forces affect!
Occasionally as I weave my way through the boxes and crates of food and toiletries set aside for the Parish Pantry in the Choir Vestry, am dismayed by yet another pile of empty boxes for recycling in the Clergy Vestry, and tiptoe my way through the toys, children’s clothes, and Baby-Gros of the lovely Pushchair Pitstop in our Meeting Room, I wonder what Jesus would make of it all and am assailed by pangs of guilt. I wonder if those who endowed our parish and built this beautiful building would approve of our actions. Would Jesus be overturning our tables of second hand books and day old bread or would he, as he did over the Widow’s mite, smile and say of us ‘they gave all that they could’ (Luke 21v1-4)
I have been privileged and humbled again and again during this time of pandemic and Lockdown to see so many of our congregation buying the Bitcoin of heaven through your generous gifts of your time, your treasure, and your talents. Please let us not stop now but instead gird up our loins and continue to store up ‘for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. (Matthew 6v19-21)
(P.S, Because I love Godspell here is another of my favourite songs from the show which reminds me to try always to be thankful and generous. A reworking of a familiar Harvest Hymn, All Good Gifts Around Us. Go on give it a listen they even get to use the recorder we all learnt to play at Primary School. 🙂 )
[This blog ‘Bitcoin Believers’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]
 When my family emigrated to South Africa I was saddened to find that performances of Godspell (and Jesus Christ Superstar) had been banned by the Apartheid government. Not because of their ‘hip’ theology but because the cast included both Black and White people….