A passion for church - Susan Bennett

Many times, when people are in a foul mood, you'll hear them say something like, "Well, it's not my fault! JESUS got angry. Remember when he turned over all the tables of the money changers in the temple? HE was really mad!"

Yep, this is the passage folks talk about as the time Jesus got angry - enraged, really. And certainly, Jesus is acting as if he's angry, I understand that. But I've noticed that nowhere does the scripture say Jesus was angry. In fact, he took the time to make a homemade whip of cords before he went to work on the money changers, and most times, when we're angry, we just rush right in and start fussing. But Jesus was very deliberate and intentional.

(Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with being angry. Everybody's going to get mad occasionally. It just all depends on what we do with our anger, how we handle it. And what's motivating it.)

It's Passover in this passage, and the temple is packed with people who've come to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices and fulfill their religious duties. The money changers had several scams going on here, but suffice it to say that the devout Jewish traveler, trying to do the right thing, could find himself swindled out of a lot of money.

So Jesus certainly had every right to be angry. People were acting in good faith, out of trust, and being taken advantage of. It makes ME mad to think about it! But something more was going on with Jesus, and we need to see that, too.

The disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." And Jesus WAS consumed - with that zeal, that passion. He knew the temple was to be a house of prayer, where those who love God can come to worship, give, serve, receive - and pray. Jesus erupted in a passion of protectiveness and love, because these money changers were destroying the true purpose of the temple and interfering with worship and prayer. This was the Father's house! And Jesus set to work defending it.

If this is any kind of anger, it's righteous anger - anger on behalf of someone else, defending people or ideals which are unfairly under attack. Righteous anger uses its strength to help and protect others. In fact, righteous anger can be a strong force for good in the world.

However, we're more likely to experience personal anger - we've been offended, we're hurt, we want to get even ... sometimes, we hold grudges, build up resentment, even become bitter. This is certainly HUMAN, but it's a far cry from the righteous, beneficial passion that spurred Jesus to want to restore the temple to its original purpose.

So let's redirect. Let's pay attention less to what the person in the next pew did to make us mad, and more to what we can do to encourage worship and prayer in the Father's house.

What's the very best reason for us to go to church? We should go because we love God, and we love each other. A congregation whose members truly love each other is a wonderful thing. I've been part of more than one church where there's more fighting, jealousy, and gossip than there is love for one another. Is THAT the place where God would direct his children to grow, be nurtured, and serve? Not likely. In a loving congregation, it's a little like being married! You have no illusions about each other, and lots of folks have idiosyncrasies and things that make you crazy - but you love one another, and you're committed to staying together and working it out.

Let's direct some of our passion toward loving each other, and, as scripture says, "Bear with one another." A passion for healing and reconciliation will help keep the Father's house a house of prayer.

Let's make the church as a whole our passion - the church that is called to proclaim the gospel, nurture the saints, protect the truth of Christ, reach out to the community and the world, and exhibit the kingdom of God to those around us. We can get so caught up in our personal agendas and our feelings about how WE want things to be, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that a DISUNIFIED church can't accomplish any of the jobs Jesus has given us to do. If we're too busy nursing hurt feelings and holding grudges, we lose sight of the big picture. And the devil smiles.

Do you have a passion for worship? Bring it with you on Sundays! Come to worship ready to focus on God, praise him, and thank him - all in the company of fellow believers, called to make this journey together. Put your passion into caring for those who need help, those who are ill or struggling or lonely. Put your passion into serving God however, wherever, you've been called to serve.

Jesus' passion for his Father's house is our example. That wasn't personal anger - that was a passion born of deep love for God and for his children. Let's ask God to give us that same passion, and work together to keep the Father's house a house of prayer.

Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.