Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It happens to everyone.  You sit down to write and you know what you want to say, but you just can’t seem to find the right words. The ending becomes confused with the beginning.  It’s like the reports people make when they describe what happened when they were involved in a car accident. According to Road & Track magazine, the following are actual statements submitted to insurance agencies as part of a claim:

“The guy was all over the road, I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”

“I had been driving for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.”

“The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run, so I ran over him.”

“I saw a slow-moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the roof of my car.”

“I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced back at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.”

“The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out of its way, when it struck the front end.”

And, finally, the one that people fear most:

“An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.”

Yes, endings become confused with beginnings.  It happens all the time, and not just in writing.  It even happens in scripture. In St. John’s gospel, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple takes place at the beginning of his ministry, right after the miracle of turning water into wine, and his disciples first believed in him. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, Jesus cleansed the Temple at the end of his ministry, when he declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”  It was the event that turned the Pharisees and priests against him. This inconsistency in scripture, however, has led some theologians to say that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice, and perhaps he did.

But my friends, what if the cleansing of the Temple has nothing to do with zeal against the money changers and animals. What if Jesus’ whole ministry was actually about overthrowing the tables that prevent us from experiencing a new beginning in him? That is the conviction that I would like to share with you today.

In the ancient Jewish world, the Temple in Jerusalem was regarded as the holiest place on earth. It was the sacred place where the God of Israel and his people met, and where they offered their animal sacrifices. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when Jesus ascended to the Temple Mount and found a menagerie of animals.  Animal sacrifices were a part of Jewish custom. For generations, the outer courtyard, known as the Court of the Gentiles was regarded as a bazaar. It was the courtyard where all people, Jews and Gentiles, the sinful and ritually unclean and animals were allowed to enter.  And since pilgrims from around the Mediterranean Sea weren’t often travelling with an ox, or sheep, or dove in tow, it was customary and convenient to have animals in the courtyard for the offerings.  Though not inherently evil, these practices had the potential for being abused and that is what angered Jesus. The merchants and money changers had monopolized that very place where God was prepared to meet all people. The abundant life Jesus proclaimed was hindered by greed, opportunity and false religious practices.  So, was the cleansing of the Temple the act that launched Jesus’ ministry, or was is it the act that brought it down? How easily endings can be confused with beginnings.

Of course, there are no money changers in the church today- as far as I can see.  Since the start of the pandemic, the money thrown into the coffee plate on Sunday mornings is the most cash I see in a week. Hardly an animal appears in church days apart from the annual blessing of the animals on the Feast of St. Frances of Assisi.  Christians, however, have found their own modern-day hurdles that prevent them from meeting Jesus.  The money changers may be gone, but their tables remain in place. Time, commitment, appearances and priorities all seem to be barriers for meeting God in the holy of places of life. Oddly, the most frequent table needing to be over-turned is the one called transition. We are afraid of what Jesus will bring to our lives.

My friends, if Jesus is to play an important role in our lives. we all need a good cleansing of our Temples and the places where we worship, Yes, if God is to enter in with all his joy and grace and peace, we  need to drive the excess menageries away and overturn the tables.  But how do start when we are afraid to let our endings become new beginnings?  And how do we deal with the awkward, painful transitions. Let me over three words of guidance to letting an ending become a new beginning.

My first word of counsel is that you must let go of the ‘old way.’  And in order to move on you need to make peace with where you have been.  You must make peace with the past.  That is not an easy task. Not all of life’s endings are negative.  I have known many a teary-eyed mother weeping- not for the beauty of her new-born child, but who was weeping for the loss of her freedom and independence.  I knew a young bride who wept because she knew the relationship with her younger brother would no longer be the same after marriage. Even accomplishments and achievement can make us mourn the past. Anne Wilson Schaef writes, “We begin to see that the completion of an important project has every right to be dignified by a natural grieving process. Something that required the best of you has ended. You will miss it.”  Making peace with the old means accepting its loss, and its ending.  Life cannot be the same. Relationships have changed and can never be duplicated in the same way. Making peace with the past is the only way to welcome God’s new beginning for you, for your life, for you family and for your friends.  And part of this new beginning is acknowledging your grief at the loss of the old and saying an appropriate farewell.

My second thought is this, take time to walk through life’s transitions. No one likes transitions.  M. Ferguson said, “It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change, or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between we fear… it’s like being in between trapeze bars.  It’s Linus when his blanket is in his dryer.  There’s nothing to hold on to.”   But you do not have to rush.

40 years ago, which is a very intimidating number to me, my supervising pastor J. Elmo Agrimson, offered me a piece of advice for the transitions in life. “You have to walk through the briars slowly. You can’t run- if you run, the thorns will pull and tear your skin.”  Many people prefer to pass quickly through life’s transitions.  They want to move on from one steady plateau to another.  They want to leave the fallow ground of emptiness and be comfortable on another height.  Perhaps, this has been your journey.  Over the years, I have discovered that life’s transitions are like the briars.  You need to walk through them slowly.  If you run, you will certainly be through them sooner, but the thorns will make even deeper scars.  You need to walk through your trials and tribulations, your regrets and sorrows, your winter of discontent slowly.  For it is that slow sojourn that something happens. Deborah Norbille wrote, “I think for anyone who’s gone through a crisis, there comes a turning point, an epiphany, that marks the beginning of the end.” And I might add, the new beginning.  So take your time. Jesus is waiting you.

Finally, take time to talk during life’s transitions. Most of us don’t like long transitions.  The reason being that transitions often involve intense feelings of many kinds: joy, sorrow, depression, elation, anger and sometimes, several contradictory feelings at the same time.  It would be so nice to move onto another place and catch your breath, How good it to share your stories with friends and each other. Yes, one of the most useful things that you can learn in these transitions is that the journey is best made in the company of others.  During life’s transition, you must take time to talk, and reflect and share your story.

Making peace with the past, walking slowly and taking time to talk, are all a part of God’s holy preparation for your new beginning.  There is an ending, and a transition, and then a new beginning.  It is a pattern found in life, but my friends, it is also a pattern built on the promises and work of Jesus Christ.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  God understands the pain and anxiety of transitions.  It’s why it is helpful to know the good beginning. The story of Christ’s death upon the cross and his resurrection, may appear as the ending, but it is actually the new beginning.  That is what Jesus’ disciples would come to remember. Know the new beginning and the ending allowed them live in that transition and be better equipped for a new life.  Be assured, God will not abandon you in your time of transition.

The late American actress Gilda Radner wrote of endings, transitions and new beginnings.

.”I wanted a perfect ending…
Now, I’ve learned the hard way that some poems
don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear
beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing,
having to change, taking the moment and
making the best of it,
without knowing what’s going to happen next.
Delicious ambiguity.”

My friends, you not may know what new beginning God has before you.  Like the insurance applicant you may occasionally confuse your endings with your beginnings.  But one thing is for sure.  Jesus will tear down every barrier, and turn over every table even death, to reach you and to meet you, and to comfort and encourage you with his abundant grace.  Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.