Ash Wednesday – St. John 2:13-25
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
And with that, so begins this time of Lent.
Remember that you were nothing, and that you shall return to nothing.
But it has taken 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, 70 years, to build this life from that nothing into this honor roll student; or this college graduate; or this successful farmer or businessman; or these golden years of retirement.
Doesn’t matter; you are dust, you will return to dust.
If a massive temple, the very dwelling place of God in the midst of His people, a temple made of stone and wood and precious jewels built over 46 years; if that can be reduced to rubble, where all that stands today is the remnant of a wall, so to can you be returned to dust.
Sin does that. Sin makes you think that you have accomplished something; sin gives you glory and accolades and puts your name and your face up in bright shining lights. Sin makes you think that your accomplishments will stand forever.
Sin hates the idea of being torn down; hates the idea that your name will be forgotten, hates the thought that someone might not recognize you when you walk down the street.
But remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Adam was dust, and you are sons and daughters of Adam, ergo, you are dust.
What are those ashes on your forehead? Marks of your destruction; marks of your condemnation; marks of your lost state.
Those ashes are your only remaining trophies, rewarded based on a lifetime of sin.
And today, the call goes out once more, as it does every Lent, to tear down those sins; tear down those false idols; tear down those vain efforts of yours to make your name relevant. Tear down those false gods. Tear down all that which distracts you from the true and living God.
Even if that means tearing down the temple.
Yes, the temple stands tall in Jerusalem, a point of national pride, a point of power and prestige; a point where the people can say with confidence, there is our God.
And yet, whose temple is it that stands in Jerusalem?
The temple is supposed to be where people come and encounter God. The temple is where they come to make peace between themselves and God. The temple is where God is present, where God has chosen to make His name to dwell, where God distributes His gifts to His people.
But original intent and modern day practice tend to vary.
Despite the original being torn down, and the people returning from exile lamenting that the new one looks nothing like the old one, there is still a common perception that the temple was built by Solomon, although now they will credit Herod with extensive renovations.
Then there is the more complicated matter of who is in charge of the temple? The Pharisees are on the outside looking in on this one, relegated to the synagogues; the high priests are the ones who claim the guardians of the temple role. Whoever works the temple has the power, because you can do a lot in Israel, but ultimately if you do not control the temple, then you really don’t control much at all.
And what control you have if you are in the temple; Jesus is not mad that they are selling and exchanging in the temple; He is more angry that they are in the area designated for the Gentiles to pray, and that the exchange rates and the prices are highway robbery.
Which of course brings up the problem that was prevalent in the Old Testament regarding the temple: are these sacrifices being offered with a truly contrite heart, or are they being offered because that is what is expected, and that this will make things right with God so you can continue doing whatever it is you want?
And surrounded by so many false teachings and false practices and even false gods, Jesus says Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
Thank goodness there is no temple before us.
And yet, to you of 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, 60 years, 70 and 80 years, the same words are spoken to you: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
The temple of sports, where you lay down untold hours of time and devotion?
The temple of money, where you sacrifice everything and anything in order to accumulate more?
The temple of stuff, where everything is to be valued and nothing is to be sacrificed?
The temple of pleasure, where the only thing that matters is what brings you some fleeting moment of joy?
How can this be?
It has taken 46 years to build this temple; and you will raise it up in three days?
It has taken years to build these idols; how will you destroy and raise them up again?
You can almost forgive the Jews for not understanding what Jesus is talking about here; after all, they are standing in the temple, the same temple where Jesus just drove out the animals and moneychangers. What other temple could He be referring to?
If there is no temple, where will people go to make peace with God? Where will people go to receive the gifts that God offers to His people? Where will God dwell amongst His people?
Where do you go to make peace with God? After all, it has taken 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, 70 and 80 years to build up this life of sin; how will it be raised to life again?
You go to the same place the people of old are directed, to the cross.
On the cross, the temple of Christ’s own body is destroyed, beaten and killed; butchered with whips and hung up with nails.
The temple of Christ’s own flesh and blood is destroyed in plain sight for everyone to see. And that same body is buried in the ground, left to assume the role of dust.
And yet from the very dust you find yourself in, you hear the words that you shall rise again. For you were dust, and one day you will return to the dust, but there will come a day when you will rise again.
For that is the true message of Lent: you are dust, you will return to the dust, but from the dust you shall rise again, just as your Savior has risen from the dust.
Today, the temple is gone.
Literally. If you go to Israel, there is no temple. There is a wall; there are some rocks where the temple once stood. But there is no temple.
It was destroyed in 70AD when the Romans, tired of the rabble that Israel was continuously causing, finally came down and destroyed the temple and Jerusalem, and whatever else was in their way.
The temple has never been rebuilt.
One day, your temple of idols that stand amongst you, forever striving to lure you away from the one true God toward eternal death and hell, will also be gone.
For you will have no need for temples or idols. You have the new temple, Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again for you, for you are dust, you will return to dust, but you will not be dust forever, for you will live and reign in glory without end.