Sacred Spaces Transformed: Living the Gospel of Inclusivity and Strength-Third Sunday of Lent

Sacred Spaces Transformed: Living the Gospel of Inclusivity and Strength-Third Sunday of Lent

Year B, Third Sunday of Lent
March 3, 2024

Year B: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 18-25; John 2:13-22

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I went back and forth and couldn’t decide whether to focus on the second reading to the Corinthians or the Gospel. It was a little difficult because the message about the cross is so essential, and it’s a message that is underscored in today’s epistle. We hear the last line: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength?”1 My first thought was – is God weak? Of course, this is written by Paul after Jesus’ death and pertains to how death on a cross was perceived. Many perceived death on the cross as ‘weakness,’ but Paul assures the Corinthians that it shows strength. 

Ultimately, I came down on the side of the Gospel message of the temple because it’s one of those bible stories for grown-ups, as it were.2 It’s Jesus flipping tables in the temple, Jesus being angry. Is that how we hear it now? How did we hear it when we were younger? What changes in our perception of it? 

I think the first thing to say is to remember that Passover is near. Pilgrimages were being made; if you were a pilgrim, you had to make sacrifices. You’re traveling from afar. It’s not at the corner, Town Hall, or the Courthouse. You’re traveling 10, 20, 30, 100 miles, and you need somewhere to procure the sacrifices. The temple was the place where you did this. I think the problem is, and we have a hint of it, that it’s gone from that to becoming a marketplace. I suspect that if the chicken for a sacrifice was seven cents, suddenly, seventy cents was being charged, and the temple was instead being used as a moneymaking operation, which made Jesus angry. Think of that sacred space and how Jesus felt about that. 

The idea of sacred space is the other thing that made me want to focus on the Gospel. Many of you know there’s a website, Semons that Work, a repository for sermons in The Episcopal Church that’s been around since the 1990s. I’ll sometimes consult with it to gather ideas for a Sunday sermon. Sometimes, they’re very good – sometimes, not so much. This week’s was pretty good, especially the beginning of it. 

It’s about sacred space. I don’t recall hearing about this story when it happened, but in 2008, in Jerusalem, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a fistfight broke out – between monks. 

The church is the traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Here’s the BBC report: “Israeli police had to restore order at one of Christianity’s holiest sites after a mass brawl broke out between monks in Jerusalem’s Old City. Fighting erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Two monks from each side were detained as dozens of worshippers traded kicks and punches at the shrine”, said police. Shocked pilgrims looked on as decorations and tapestries were toppled during Sunday’s clash. Dressed in the vestments of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations, rival monks threw punches and anything they could lay their hands on. The Greeks blamed the Armenians for not recognizing their rights inside the holy site, while the Armenians said the Greeks had violated one of their traditional ceremonies.” 3 

Can you imagine 100 priests brawling at Shrine Mont? 

But Marian Windel told me after the Saint Andrew’s service this morning that it was not unusual because the space is tiny. You’ve got the Armenians here, the Greek Orthodox over there, and the Franciscans trying to run it all. 

It’s happened more than once in sacred spaces. Three years later, it happened again when priests brawled at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 2011.4 

This is sad. But is it really so surprising? Because it’s been happening for millennia that we’ve fought over sacred space. I remember visiting the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and realizing that this had been a temple, a Christian worship space, and a mosque, all at some point, and we’ve all fought each other over that space at some time.So, Jesus is worried about the temple, this sacred space. He’s also telling us something new that we hear in that scripture. He’s telling us that this temple is his body, this body Incarnate. Sacred space is in Jesus because Jesus is, in fact, our Lord and Savior. 

The temple was a quintessential sacred space. In ancient Israel, it was thought to be the place where the special presence of God dwelled on earth. Solomon says he built God a dwelling place, a home where God will live forever. However, even though the temple was the center of religious life, the general population had access only to its outer courts because of its sacredness. Even the clergy did not circulate freely within the building, and the holy of holies’ inner sanctum was off limits to all but the chief priest and to him only on one day a year. 

That was the kind of sacred space they were talking about. But Jesus says, “I am sacred space; my life is sacred space.” Jesus sees the temple as a sacred space and an important place, but he also sees a moneymaking operation taking over his father’s house. The irony is that all the sacrifices that were being asked for were set up to protect the holiness of that temple, but Jesus sees it as becoming desecrated by that. 

And Jesus says something much more radical. He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”5 There’s no hidden meaning in John today; we hear it right there. Jesus is talking about his body. He will be raised up in three days. This crucified body, this risen body, will replace that magnificent edifice of stone that had been built. So what the temple had been in Israelite life, Christ himself will be for what will become the Christian community, he will be that sacred space. 

According to one writer, God’s presence in the world is no longer identified with a place but a person.6 I’m not so sure I agree with that. We all love our buildings. We know we love our buildings. But what we have to be sure about is that our buildings are serving God’s glory. The purpose of the building is to serve God’s glory. 

So, Jesus is the sacred space where heaven and earth meet. Emmanuel Church and Saint Andrew’s Church are where heaven and earth meet and where we glorify God. Think of who Jesus invites in. Jesus invites everyone. Jew, Greek, male, female – all are welcome in this space. All are welcome in Jesus’ space. When the disciples tried to tell Jesus not to have dinner with tax collectors, he had dinner with tax collectors. When they told him not to have dinner with prostitutes, he had dinner with prostitutes. 

Jesus opened it for all of us, and that is what we’re called to do. We’re called to let people know that The Episcopal Church is Jesus’ church, is the church of Jesus Christ, is the church of God – Father, Son, and Holy spirit – is a place where all are welcome. 

I think that challenges us to consider what we do in our lives. Are we maintaining a status quo, or are we a living testament to Christ’s inclusive love and transformative power? The other night, I looked around at the potluck, and I think we’re doing it right. There were many different people – there were GAP families, people from the food pantry, parishioners, and people from the community. That’s what we’re called to do. And we’re called to continue to do that. 

As we move forward, let’s commit ourselves to continue to embody the church in the image Christ envisioned. Let’s define ourselves by our commitment to living out the Gospel, to having this space where everyone is welcome, where grace prevails over judgment, and where the love of Christ is part of our personal and communal transformation. 

So be that church. Be that church of Jesus. Be that church that stands as a beacon of hope, unity, and love, countering the divisions of our time with the power of the Gospel. Because then we will honor Christ and continue to actively participate in God’s kingdom on earth, where every heart is a sacred space. Amen. 

1.1 Corinthians 18:25, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

2. A take off on the current book study, “Bible Stories for Grown-Ups” by Josh Scott

3. Monks Brawl at JerusalemShrine,, Accessed March 2, 2024.

4. Priests brawl in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity,, Accessed March 2, 2024.

5. John 2:19, NRSV

6. The Rev. Joseph S. Pagano, “Sacred Spaces, Lent 3 (B) –March 3, 2024,, Accessed March 2, 2024