daily biblical sermons


HOW TO CLEANSE THE TEMPLE THAT YOU ARE
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, Third Sunday of Lent, March 04, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 18, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, John 2:13-25


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

In the temple he [Jesus] found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade'" (John 2:14-16).


Today, on this Third Sunday of Lent, when we are trying to purify our hearts, on our annual Lenten retreat, we read that Jesus purified or cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. We are also dwelling places of the Lord, in need of cleansing. St. Paul tells us that we are God's temple, and so we should keep our temple pure. "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).


And how do we purify the temple that we are? This is an extremely important question for today, for a new teaching is now spreading on the highest levels within the Church that is denying that everyone always needs to cleanse the temple that he is in order to be a good Christian, acceptable to God.


The cleansing of our personal temple, which we are, is a two-step process. The first step is to confess our sins and put our faith in Christ's atoning death on the cross to make complete reparation for our sins. To confess our sins we must have genuine repentance for them, which means that we must immediately resolve to stop sinning and then intend to amend our life and give up our sinful way of life.


If we have a true purpose of amendment, we can then confess our sins within the sacrament of reconciliation and receive sacramental absolution, which communicates to us the merits of Christ's atoning, reparation-making death on the cross for our sins. In this sacrament we call upon Christ with faith and receive God's decree of justification, that is, God's acquittal of us for our sins, because Christ's death, which pays for all human sin, has been applied to us by our faith in him, and so the Father can count his death as just payment for our sins.


The Father therefore justifies us, that is, declares us righteous and holy. And all of this happens to us in a powerfully experiential way within the sacrament of reconciliation, and we normally walk out of this sacrament with a tremendous sense of relief that a great burden - the burden of our guilt for our sins - has been mercifully removed from us. This is the first step of cleansing our personal temple. This step is called justification.


The second step of cleansing our personal temple is to now walk "in newness of life" (Romans 6:4) with the risen Christ and live a new and holy life, doing God's will by keeping his commandments, his moral law, which he has revealed to us in his Ten Commandments (our first reading today) and in the teachings of Jesus. This second step of cleansing our temple is called progressive sanctification. The first step was justification.


We can't even begin the first step of this two-step process of cleansing our personal temple until we stop sinning. If we are living in a constant state of grave sin, we must immediately intend to stop sinning and then actually stop sinning. Until we reach this point, the process of cleansing cannot even begin. And once we have completed the first step (justification), we then must begin the second step (progressive sanctification) by carefully keeping God's Ten Commandments and Jesus' refinement of them in his antitheses, where he says, "You have heard that it was said to those of old ... But I say to you ..." (Matthew 5:21-48 NKJV).


It is of the greatest importance to emphasize this today, because in our own day there is a deadly new view being taught, even in the very highest levels of the Church, that tells people to relax and not worry too much about their grave sins, and to not even worry too much about living in a constant state of grave sin, because God is so merciful that our sins don't bother him all that much, and he understands how difficult it would often be for many of us to get out of a gravely sinful way of life.


They say that God is actually quite happy with us just as we are if we seek him, even if we are living in a constant state of grave sin, and that he appreciates our desire to be united with him, and that that is really all that many of us need to do to be acceptable to him. They say that God realizes that it would be practically impossible for many of us to stop sinning gravely, and so if that is the case with me, he doesn't require actual repentance from me, and forgives me anyway, just as I am, and doesn't count my grave sins as really being sins in my case, because that is his individualized, custom-made plan for my life, for there are no longer any general moral laws, they say, that apply to individual cases anymore. Each person is a unique case with his own unique law that God reveals to him in his conscience and that he discovers through pastoral counseling by an up-to-date priest who is well informed about this new view.


So get some good pastoral counseling, they say, from an up-to-date priest who is clued in to this new way of looking at Christian morality, and he will help you to feel good about yourself again, even though you are not able to keep what they call "the high ideal" of the Ten Commandments and even though you can't stop living in a constant state of grave sin. And once you are at peace with yourself in your conscious about all this, through this up-to-date pastoral counseling, they say, you don't need to worry about anything else, because this is God's will and plan for your life, and he accepts you and is happy with you just as you now are.


This new way of thinking they call "a paradigm shift," "a new paradigm" in our thinking about Christian morality.


This, of course, is a deadly distortion of biblical Christianity, but it is very seductive to sinners who love their sin and can't bear to part with it, and so there are many that are falling for this seductive new view today, especially if their parish priest and the bishop of their diocese have fallen for this deadly distortion of true Christianity.


We must oppose this deadly new view with Scripture. Scripture, which is the true word of God, teaches the exact opposite of this new view - especially the texts that we are meditating on now at Mass and in the divine office during Lent, texts like the following:


Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good" (Isaiah 1:16-17 reading at lauds, Saturday, second week of Lent).


This means repent, change your ways, stop sinning, amend your life, and live a new life.


For us Christians this text means: stop sinning, confess your sins and let God justify you by the atoning death of Christ for your sins. Then start a new life of sanctification by carefully doing God's will as he has revealed it to us in his Ten Commandments and in the teachings of Jesus. Your justification will now give you the strength you need to keep his commandments.


Here is another Scripture: "‘Yet even now,' says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.' Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil" (Joel 2:12-13 reading at lauds, Tuesday, second week of Lent).


This is God's call to you now, especially during Lent. Return to the Lord means to turn away from your sins and your sinful way of life, no matter how hard it may seem to you to do so, for there is no other way to be reconciled with God, despite what this new teaching is saying. This new teaching denies the Scriptures.


The only way to happiness is to be with the Lord, to walk in his ways, and do his will, which means following his revealed moral law. This new teaching denies this truth. God's word is the truth, and it says in today's responsorial psalm at Mass:


"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 18:7-10 today's responsorial psalm at Mass).


This is the true path to follow to cleanse our personal temple - our heart - and to be reconciled and at true peace with God. There is no other way. We must genuinely repent of our sins and abandon them and put our trusting faith in the merits of Christ's atoning death on the cross for our sins to be forgiven and justified, and then we must live a new life of sanctification by doing God's will and keeping his commandments, which our justification now enables us to do.

 

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