(Scene: "Clean" trash is all over the church and on stage. Two large trash cans are down front for the participatory part of the sermon. Then the preacher walks out in a janitor's uniform — a work shirt and jeans are fine — pushing a broom. Over the sound system the old Rock and Roll song, Yakety Yak, is playing. Let the music play for about thirty seconds while the preacher sweeps trash with an expression of disgust on his face. The music fades.)
Goodness Gracious! What happened here? Don't you people ever clean up anything? This place is a mess. Doesn't this make you mad? It should. Doesn't it upset you that you have to sit here among all this trash? A place of worship, the house of God, God's holy church shouldn't get in this condition — paper on the floor and Coke cans littering the isle. How can you worship in a mess like this? There is trash everywhere. Haven't you ever heard of a trash bag? We need to take out some trash out of this church today.
This place is a mess. But, believe it or not, this is not the worse mess in a church I've have had to clean up. Nope. One other time I had to clean up a mess worse than this in a church. You will never guess who made it. Jesus.
It seems Jesus had been looking forward to going to the temple since the Passover was at hand. That's the holiday when the Jews celebrate when and how their ancestors were delivered from Egypt by Moses. The treatment and cruelty they had experienced in Egypt under the hand of Pharaoh was terrible. So you might think this would be one of the greatest celebrations and worship services ever. Can you imagine what Jesus was expecting to find?
I imagine He was expecting to see a major celebration and a major worship service where people were singing and praying. There was also a very special ritual whereby Jews would bring the best of what they had to be sacrificed as a sin offering for payment of sin committed during the year. This ritual was very important because that is how the Jews knew that they were right with God.
But when Jesus walked in this is not what He found at all. What should have been a spiritually sensitive time had been turned into a place the Pharisees could turn a profit. These religious legalists were selling oxen, sheep, and doves to be sacrificed, and they were selling them at outrageous prices. Can you imagine how much more money these Pharisees would make by telling those who had come to worship, "You are not going to be right with God unless you buy our animals. These animals are better than the ones you brought from home. Your animals are not good enough for God." A good Jew certainly wanted to be right with God. So the profits started rolling in.
There were also money changers there. You see, Jews from far off, especially Jews from Rome, had a different type of money. The Jews from Rome had Roman coins that had the image of Caesar on it. As you can expect, this was not a very popular coin in a Jewish temple. So the money changers would exchange these coins for a Tyrian coin so they could pay the half-shekel temple tax. All this was done for a fee, of course. They had turned God's church into their money-machine. O that day there was some trash that needed taking out of the church.
When Jesus walked in, He witnessed all of this and found the values of the world had become the values of the church. This struck him at his core. It should strike us at our core when the values of the world outside of the church become the values of our worship inside the church. Values where making a buck becomes more important than worshiping our God. Where we trust in our money more than we trust in our God. Where we take advantage of others just because we can. And we do all those things in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. No wonder he's mad.
My goodness, if Jesus walked into this church today, what would he find? Look at all of this trash that we let come in our church. If he came in here, what would he find? Being His church, he should expect to find people who are so grateful of the saving grace that he had given to all who would receive it that they would be living lives sold out to Jesus. On Sundays, this church should be filled with people who long to sing praises to our Lord. It should be filled with people who long to hear a man of God break open the word of God and experience it in a way that they would be changed into the image of God. That's what Jesus ought to find.
But what would he find? I'm afraid he would find a good bit of trash. I'm afraid he would find people with selfish attitudes who are more concerned about looking out for number one than searching after God. You know these people who come to church and give lip service to God, but never offer him a dime in tithe. I'm afraid he would find gossips that would open their mouths just as soon as trouble arose. When what they out to be doing is bowing their head in prayer. I'm afraid he would find friends who had broken relationships who had let worldly situations get in the way of Christian love. This is such a beautiful place, but it is filled with so much trash. We want our church to grow, but God is not going to grow a trashy church. Doesn't this make you mad? It ought to make your blood boil. The church is a holy place, and Christians should keep the church and themselves holy. I'd say its time to take out the trash.
Let me tell you what! Jesus got upset about the situation that he walked into that day. And he took out the trash. He put together some branches or whatever else he could find in the temple that day and he cleaned house. He didn't do it with Ajax, Windex, or Lysol toilet boil cleaner. No he cleaned it with godly anger. He drove out the oxen, the sheep, and the dealers that were selling them. When he got to the people with the doves, he told them, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise."
I know what some of you are thinking. "Where does Jesus get the gall to go in and disrupt all that is going on in the church? And where does Jesus get the authority to tell us how we need to run our church? Well, the Jews were wondering the same thing. So they asked for a sign. And Jesus said, "Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days." Now they thought that he was talking about Herod's temple. They thought, "How are you going to raise in three days what took 46 years to build?" But he wasn't talking about Herod's temple. He was talking about the temple of his own body. You see when Jesus died on that cross, the temple veil was rent from top to bottom. And from then on, there was no need for a priesthood. The last sacrifice had already been given. There was no need for a holy place like the Holy of Holies. For when Christ rose from the grave on that third day, the Spirit of God left the temple gates and Jesus Christ entered our hearts. Now the true temple isn't the church building. No, it's our bodies. In
We are such hypocrites! We get so upset when anything is out of place in the church building. But we never even considered that we have been trashing up our lives with sin. And the Holy Spirit is tired of living in a trashy home. It is time we take out the trash. They tell me that at the cross, many people believed because they remembered Jesus had took time to clean out the church. Let's follow his lead. Let's take out the trash.
Taking out the trash is really not difficult. It first requires us seeing clearly the state of our hearts. It requires a time of evaluation where we realize that we are never going to take the trash out of the church, until we first take the trash out of our lives. There are two trash baskets down front. If you want to start today getting your life clean, trash free, then when the music plays I want you to take a piece of trash and come throw it in the trash can to symbolically showing you are ready for Jesus to clean up your life. Then bow at the alter and confess the sin to the Father and ask Him to clean up your life. (The preacher picks up a piece of trash at his feet.) Maybe this piece here is your language that you need to get clean. It's time we take out the trash. (Preacher throws the trash in the can. The can will ring in response. The preacher picks up another piece of trash and continues to name sins with witch those in the church are dealing and repeating, "It's time to take out the trash." At this point the preacher may choose to include one of his own struggles.) This piece is mine. It's apathy toward Christ in my own life. Whatever you need to get clean in you heart, do it now. Why don't you come and help me take out the trash.
(The preacher throws the last piece of trash in the can and turns to kneel at the alter and deals with God himself. Soft worshipful music begins to play and the congregation begins to come to the front and deal with God.)
Bradley Rushing is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Amite, LA.