Sunday, March 7, 2021 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 & John 2:13-22
Almighty God, whose foolishness is wiser than the world’s wisdom, and whose weakness is stronger than human strength. Open us to foolishness. Overturn the tables that block us from following Your way. Amen.
Near the beginning of 2020, before we knew what 2020 would become, a quote by Marie Kondo—also known as Konmari—was circulating social media. Many of you may know Marie Kondo, author and decluttering guru, best known for her teaching on holding an item before you and asking yourself, “Does this spark joy for me?” If it doesn’t, get rid of it. The January 2020 quote was much on that same thread. She was quoted as saying that no one should have more than 30 books. ??What?? I wonder if you can imagine how that quote—intended as a New Year’s resolution challenge—went over among United Methodist clergy? We, the great collectors of many, many books? One of my friends responded to the posting of this Konmari quote by asking, “she means per subject, right?”
Well, believe it or not, she kept coming to mind for me as I spent time with both scripture readings for this week. Lent is a time of refocusing, a time of contemplation and introspection, a time of renewing our walk along God’s way of living. Today’s readings, both of them, challenge us to do some spiritual and literal decluttering of our lives, of our church home, and of the world—life saving decluttering. But Paul and Jesus challenge us to ask different questions than Marie Kondo, though joy is always important relationship with God.
Paul asks us to hold the ‘stuff’ of our lives out before us and ask, is this foolishness in the world’s eyes? Is this part of living a cross-shaped life? Paul dearly loves the people of Corinth. He is the founder of their faith communities. The news of their quarreling and the brokenness of their relationships breaks his heart. Here in the beginning of his letter, Paul reminds them of what they first claimed in their baptism—to die to their old life and to rise to new life in Christ. This looks as foolishness to the world, putting faith in One who died on a Roman torture and execution device. But that is just the point, God’s way is foolishness to a world completely focused on power and wealth, and calling it wisdom. Paul will spend much of the rest of the letter asking these beloved members of his faith family to hold up their lives and their living against the cross—the symbol of sacrificial love, the symbol of God’s Beloved Community.
If we find Paul a bit passionate in his writing to Corinth, then Jesus is a bit scary in today’s reading. Jesus barrels right into the spiritual places of our lives—or at least the places we like to think are spiritual—and begins cleaning house. Jesus, a bit grinch-like as we noted when talking with Noelle earlier, drives out and pours out and overturns all the spiritual accruements, challenging the people not only to see that they can still worship God without them. He also clears the way so that everyone can see that God isn’t found in the stuff, but in the One who stands before them, the true sanctuary of God’s presence. And in doing so, ultimately teaches that God’s sanctuary is here (hand over heart) within us, traveling with us wherever we go. Something we have learned intimately in this pandemic.
So on this third Sunday of Lent, we are challenged to clear the way. We hold all the stuff—material, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, societal, worldly—before us and we test it against the cross of Christ. Is it foolishness by the world’s standards? Does it truly point to God? Does it work toward God’s dream, the Beloved Community. And if not, then it needs to go. That is hard news, hard truth, like we talked about last week, but it is also good news. Such life decluttering leads us to fullness of life, and not just us, but all people, all creation.
So, beloved children of God, let’s overturn the tables. Not just removing some of the material accumulations in our lives, though that can feel so good. Let us overturn tables—tables that obstruct our path toward God and toward God’s kin-dom. While we upend the tables in our lives that distract us, pull us away, and put us down, we also turn our attention to the tables in our church, our community and our world. Together we overturn the tables of exclusion and marginalization, the tables of all the ‘isms’ of the world. Together we dismantle the system entirely, discern the pieces still usable, and then rebuild kingdom-style.
Here is your homework for this foolish, disruptive week. Sankofa. To balance our kondo-esque work this week, let us also embrace Sankofa. Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, which translated means “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” The symbol is a mythical bird with its feet facing decisively forward, heading into the future. Yet, the bird is reaching back to retrieve an egg, a vessel of life, from the past. Both Paul and Jesus stand firmly on the foundations of God’s teaching throughout history as they point to a new future, a new creation, God’s Beloved Community. So we are invited to spend time this week (and beyond) with this symbol and the questions in our bulletin for reflection. Christ shows us the way of life, a cruciform life. Let us walk boldly, clearing the way.
As we consider Jesus’ decluttering and the Sankofa call before us, let us give to God; give of our hearts, of our minds, of our souls, and of our resources, our very selves. Let us center ourselves in the spirit of giving as the music flows out to connect us all.
The African Akan Tribe’s principle of Sankofa (see image above) holds that it is not wrong to go back to get what you need from the past in order to move forward. This week let us take inventory: Where have we let other values encroach upon our spiritual identity? What everyday miracles and lessons do we need to revisit before we ask for new ones? Do we welcome the Savior’s authority even if it upends everything around us, and us as well?