Sermon, 3 March 2024, Lent III – Ros Miskin

Is this country in decline?  This was a question raised in a Question Time I watched recently on television.  The general view was expressed that it is, and for a variety of reasons.  There has been the effect of the pandemic, some adverse effects on the economy post-Brexit, the war in Ukraine sending prices rocketing and I would add to this the earlier circumstance arising from the financial crash of 2008 from which there was recovery but it did not help to set the stage for future prosperity.

This heady cocktail of troubles has left many people struggling to make ends meet.  Even those who are a bit better off are finding it hard to pay for what they previously took for granted that they could afford and the soaring cost of renting a property has left many people wondering if they can keep a roof over their heads or afford a roof in the first place.

Looking at this unhappy state of affairs I ask myself; what is God doing in all this?  Why is God, who loves us all, allowing such suffering and not intervening to help us get back on the road to life in abundance?

I could sound an optimistic note at this point and say that suffering is not new to humanity but has been part of our existence since time began and that although the tide is right out now in terms of our well-being, it eventually returns.  This may be true if we take the long-term view of the economy but it will not ease the present day anxiety and depression felt by many as they struggle to make ends meet.  You could say that successive governments have taken some wrong turnings over the decades, sometimes with good intentions, and that this has led to a decline in our living standards but I believe that it goes deeper than that.  In my opinion it is in the hidden agenda that we find the cause of our economic malaise and this is where, I believe, we can find out what God is doing.

The hidden agenda is one of malpractice that can affect people in all walks of life.  If we look at today’s Gospel reading we can see that there is nothing new in this wrong doing.  When Jesus poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables in the Temple, it was not so much the business of the day that was the issue, it was the corrupt practice that the moneychangers were engaged in that was impoverishing those who entered the Temple.  In his commentary on the Gospel of John, David Pawson explains this wrongdoing.  He writes that to enter the Temple you had to pay the Temple tax and to do this you needed to go to the money lender to get your Roman money changed into a Jewish shekel.  The half-shekel allowed you to go in and you had to come in with an animal for holy sacrifice.  The priest then inspected the animal to see if it was without spot or blemish.  It is at this point that the malpractice began.  It was easy for the inspectors to say that the animal was no good when it was perfectly alright, which forced people to pay a great deal more, twenty times more, for an animal sold inside the Temple.  This racket was led by the priests, known as the Sadducees who loved money.  The moneychangers took some of it and the priests took the rest.  You had entered the Temple with your half-shekel and your animal, to get close to God and you came out robbed.  This incurs Divine wrath as Jesus makes a whip of cords and drives the moneychangers, and the animals with them, out of the Temple. Enraged, he then pours out the coins of the moneychangers and overturns their tables.

In this instance, through his son Jesus, God has intervened to punish the perpetrators.  Unfortunately, corrupt practice in financial dealings has remained across the centuries, continues today, and it is always the innocent and the well-meaning who suffer the outcome of financial loss.

As this is so, why does God not intervene directly now?  I believe that as the lesson has not been learnt, God is now calling upon us to push back against corruption ourselves to alleviate the suffering of the present moment.  Television is, I believe, playing an important role in this pushback.  Examples are the work of the scam interceptors and the recent detailed exposure of the Post Office scandal.  The hope is that if we fight the good fight against those who put profit before people this should eventually bear fruit in easing the acute financial burden felt at present by so many.

We cannot avoid the ill effects of natural disasters nor can we bring about the immediate cessation of wars.  We can work towards a better climate but we cannot avoid every disease that the body is subject to.  If, though, we make people before profit our creed, which many people already do, then I believe that God will reward us with the life in abundance that he wants for us.  In hard times people help each other out but if we also have the courage to stand up to wrongdoing that damages the prospects of young and old then we are saying to the new generations who, forgive the pun, have been very short changed, that we do not wish to give up when times are hard but strive for a better world for them to inherit.






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