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Zealot can be a compliment!

Lent 3

John 2. 13 – 22

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Diocese of Norwich, Norfolk, England


I was called a zealot once,

long before I realized it was a compliment.

The rector at my church used that word to describe my behavior

when I tried to convince the parish that the Journey to Adulthood program endorsed by the Episcopal Church

was an excellent way to raise our young people in the faith.

We brought the authors of the program to the parish to teach about it and to help us implement it.

The premise of the program is that gender is a gift from God,

but adulthood must be earned.

Based on the themes of Self, Society and Spirituality,

the program offers classes and activities for young people from ages 11 – 18.

Young Adults in the church the last phase of the program

follows Confirmation,

at which point the young adults are invited to serve as

lay Eucharistic Ministers,

serve on vestries and other committees

and even preach at times.

As one who had been in youth ministry for 10 years or so,

I couldn’t imagine anything better and was adamant to get it going in our parish.

However,

this was at a time in our world,

our nation,

and our church

when people were afraid of sexuality and

the word gender was not supposed to be used in public. (unbeknownst to me)

Also when the author of the curriculum spoke about Jesus in blue jeans as a teenager,

some in the parish called the program heretical.

When the rector called me a zealot, he meant I was flipping over the tables

of the commonly held fears and confusions

about who we are as people of God, the Body of Christ and people of the Way.

Tears came to my eyes with his words; I was shocked.

I didn’t want to be a troublemaker,

I thought what I was doing was what God was calling me to do,

for the good of the Church, for the good of the world.

I spent years down a rabbit hole of anger and guilt,

all the while frustrated

that the powers that be did not understand something that had so much potential to make a difference on so many levels.

Zeal for my beliefs consumed me!

Here we are over 20 years later, and I think I get it!!!

In the book what were you arguing about along the way?,

Pádraig Ó Tuama, Irish poet, writer and speaker,

whom many of you know,

comments on our gospel for today from the perspective of

The Spirituality of Conflict Project, of which he is a member.

He reminds us that the Court of the Gentiles where Jesus flipped the tables,

was a gathering place for the faithful who couldn’t afford to participate in rituals,

a place where the clean and the unclean intermingle,

where women are present with men and as Pádraig says,

“There – in the theological and political and civic imagination- is where you’ll find God.”

And instead, Jesus found it turned into a marketplace,

making the poor and unclean feel even more so,

extorting the already excluded.

Jesus was you know what! No wonder.

Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me, comes to mind!

In his comments on this passage,

Pádraig says, “In this important text, we see Jesus making a point.

And he is not afraid to raise hell with the conflict he creates.

Neither should we be.”

I wanted to help the youth in our parish find God in a safe and sustainable way. 20 years later I pray that some of them have.

I made many people angry with the tables I flipped;

my zeal led to years of frustration and disappointment.

But today, I realize that what I was doing was God’s work,

and I am honored to have had the chance to do it.

That great disappointment led me on a journey down another rabbit hole,

this one ending in the great Epiphany

that Beloved Community is worth fighting for and ultimately it is all there is.

We are all called to move through outrage to turning over tables and making a point

and there are opportunities everywhere we turn to do just that.

Just remember

What would Jesus do?

At the end of his comments, Pádraig included this prayer which I would like to offer in closing:

Feeling-filled Jesus,

you believed that prayer was a courtyard

with open doors,

welcoming all.

And when the courtyard started charging

you started charging.

Charge us, Jesus of Nazareth,

to change; to change towards a citizenship

of inclusion, not of profit.

Empty the coffers of our toxic valuations of value.

Because you believed in the worth

of true community.

And were willing to die for it.

Amen.



what were you arguing about along the way? Gospel Reflections For Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, from The Spirituality of Conflict Project

Edited by Pat Bennett

Introduced by Pádraig Ó Tuama


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