Third Sunday after Lent
Are We to Do?
on Community, Compassion and Comfort
Dr. Robert R. Hansel
Gospel: John 2:13-22
(This sermon is also available in audio)
nation is at war. Bombs and rockets are falling. Soldiers on both
sides are being wounded and killed. In the face of that reality,
our hearts and minds are torn. We want to believe that the cause
is just and that there will be greater freedom and security throughout
the world because of this military involvement. Still, we find
it hard to believe that the nations of the world can't seem to
come up with any effective way to settle these things besides the
use of violence. People of conscience and good will are divided
and separated on these issues. We can't help but wonder what God's
word is for us.
our nation, the world, our community, each one of us faces potentially
dangerous times, days filled with concern and unpredictability.
War and terrorism can and will touch any of us in a variety of
ways, personally and geo-politically. One would have to be an utter
fool not to recognize all that and to take it seriously. And, while
it's true that we all have to accept and deal with reality, HOW
we do that makes all the difference.
can grip our hearts and minds. Fear can paralyze us, preventing
us from doing anything
at all. I'm sure you've heard the same kind of expressions of
helplessness this week that I have: "What can one person do?" "It's
all beyond me!" "It's all in the hands of the government
and the military." On the other hand, fear can just as easily
propel us into angry attitudes and actions of hatred and suspicion.
This week the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported a story
of Middle-Eastern profiling—the intimidation of Iraqi grocers
in the little northside Memphis community of Frayser, in which
innocent immigrant citizens were victimized by ignorance and
prejudice. This is but one of the negative consequences of fear.
But, as Christians
we have a word from God that relates directly and specifically
to situations just like this one. We are assured that "perfect
trust CASTS OUT fear."
is "perfect trust?" Most of us would say that our Faith
in God's capacity to bring meaning and resolution to all this turmoil
is more like what Isaiah describes as "a dimly burning wick." We're
a long way from "perfect trust." We're nervous and unsure
about what's going to happen. We just hope against hope that somehow
it will turn out OK. Perfect trust is the exact opposite. It's
when we admit our lack of confidence, take it in hand, and turn
it over to God—asking God to show us how to let go of our fears
and anxieties and move forward with some degree of confidence.
That kind of trust is a gift; not a last resort. It's a matter
of recognizing that some things are beyond our control and there
are some issues that just don't have clear-cut answers. But life
goes on. No one is ever
COMPLETELY certain—that's why another
word for trust is "faith." But, like everything else,
faith gets stronger when it's exercised.
at the example of Jesus. Do you think that he had no doubts, no
fears? He lived in first century Palestine—a place of incredible
political turmoil, warfare, and oppression. The people were in
constant fear of torture and death at the hands of those in power.
Jesus had no political clout, no army to back him, no protesters
to take to the streets in demonstrations. Still, he didn't just
give up, shrug his shoulders and say, "Well, what can I do?
Instead, he placed his trust in God and proceeded to move into
the very heart of religious and governmental hypocrisy—to
confront, challenge, and change those problems that he had the
power to address.
didn't set out for Rome to try to start a worldwide political
revolution. Rather, he went to work right where he was. Look
at his decision to cleanse the Temple, to drive the crooked
from their tables. Here was a situation that he knew first-hand.
These were his own people. These were circumstances for which
he shared personal responsibility. He trusted that God would
such dishonesty and exploitation. Jesus was being called to show
courage, compassion, and comfort for those who were closest to
himself - to demonstrate that God's people far from being destroyed
and divided by fear, are brought more closely together in the
face of powerful and impersonal worldly forces. God moved with
of his perfect trust. God cast out his fear because of his perfect
want to suggest that the "perfect trust" displayed here
by Jesus is a model for each of us and for the People of God
today. It is a model that we can see in all sorts of biblical narratives
such as the trust of Moses that God would deliver the people from
the bitter yoke of slavery under Pharaoh. When we are confidently
trusting in God's purposes, our actions as a community of faith
are characterized by three basic components:
COMMUNITY with which we surround ourselves is one of humility
and respect. In these difficult times we, as members and
leaders of the Church, are called to be a non-anxious presence,
living through troubling times with purpose and direction, knowing
that—no matter what—this is God's world and God is
the One who, ultimately, brings things to their purposeful conclusion.
We don't have to have all the answers.
that community needs to be characterized by increased compassion. I
believe that the church is called to offer understanding and
forgiveness, to reach out to people with whom we violently disagree.
To say, "In the trust of God I love and embrace you." In
these tough days in which we will be shocked by destruction and
death, there are lots of peace movements, there are lots of patriotic
rallies out there on the street, and if you want to join in those
expressions within the wider community, God bless you. But they
should be left behind when you come into [the church].The church
should be a place of reconciliation, a place of community, a
place of compassion. Because we know
that whatever the outcome, there will be no reason for giddiness
and joy. There are no winners in war. We are all losers, because
people will die. And families in this country and in Iraq will
be saddened at the loss. And so we gather together to offer compassion
for all of them and for ourselves. To weep, as Jesus says, "not
for me but for yourselves." Why do we find ourselves time
after time in situations where we have no response but to take
up arms? Our job is to pray that the end of violence and hostility
will come at the earliest possible time. And our job is to hold
this nation to the promises that have been made to us that there
will be healing and rebuilding for those who suffer loss.
third component is comfort. The comfort that we offer to each
other and to the world must be without any limits. We
need to join our prayers with anyone who wants to join us.
Our intent in worship
needs to be to seek The Peace of God, to look to increase
and broaden peoples' understanding and appreciation of what
is. I'm convinced that most people know more about the planet
Pluto than they do about Peace. You can't make peace unless
you KNOW peace.
Compassion, and Comfort—those
are the things that we have some say about. These are ministries that matter and that we
can cause to happen. We can't change the world and we have no
magic wand to wave that will stop violence and bloodshed, but
we can make a big difference right here, among ourselves. If
you feel like there's nothing you can do about this whole business
of war, then you need to think again. I believe that God is calling
us not to stand idly by but to work hard at making a difference
in these difficult days ahead. The call is clear:
build stronger ties of love between ourselves so that our trust
in each other will strengthen our trust in God.
show in direct, practical ways our compassion for everyone by
listening, forgiving, accepting, and praying, and to
continue to press for the ending of death and destruction.
comfort those who are burdened by anxiety and fear, making our
church even more truly a Holy place of sanctuary, healing, and
can and will make a difference during these difficult days. You
can be an important part of making sure that happens.
The Rev. Dr. Robert Hansel
Preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN
Reading: John 2:13-22
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 Fathers house a marketplace!"
His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will
me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show
us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and
three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple
has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three
days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After
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. NRSV
Revised Standard Version)