Festival of Hope Overturns the Tables
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Every November, the Gathering Place at Chapel Hill is filled with beautiful, fair trade products from around the world for Festival of Hope Weekend. For many of us, our Christmas shopping begins and ends at Festival of Hope. But Festival of Hope is not an opportunity to beat the holiday rush, and it is not a promotion of consumerism by the church. The heart of Festival of Hope is the recognition that, as followers of Christ, we are called to seek out justice for the oppressed, to care for the poor, and to stand up for the vulnerable. We believe each person is created in the image of God and that each person is known by God. By purchasing fair trade goods, we affirm the dignity that we all deserve as image bearers, and we tell our brothers and sisters around the world that we see them, and we believe they are of great worth.
“The heart of Festival of Hope is the recognition that as followers of Christ, we are called to seek out justice for the oppressed, to care for the poor, and to stand up for the vulnerable.”
We find a passage in the Bible about Jesus caring for the oppressed of the world in an unlikely place. Mark 11:15-17 tells the account of Jesus cleansing the temple of merchants and moneychangers. Every year at Festival of Hope, I hear people reference this passage as a reason we shouldn’t be holding a marketplace at the church. But when we take a closer look, we see that the cleansing of the temple is very much aligned with Festival of Hope:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Let me set the stage. First century Jews awaited a messiah, a savior. Popular belief held that this messiah would free them from Roman oppression and cleanse the world. They anticipated a conquering hero. When Jesus entered the capital city of Jerusalem just prior to this passage, people were throwing palm branches at his feet and crying out that he was the one they had been waiting for. He was the Messiah. But this Savior didn’t go to the palace or places of power. He made his way to the temple. And he didn’t go to the holiest place in the temple. Jesus walked into the Court of the Gentiles, the only place in the temple where non-Jews were allowed. And he looked around this outer court of the temple, crowded with merchants and moneychangers, and he started throwing tables, driving out the vendors.
This Messiah was not what the people expected. They expected him to cleanse the world of Gentiles, instead he goes to the temple and quotes a well-known text from Isaiah about God’s heart for all nations, declaring the crowded court a place of worship for all people. They expected him to come in as the triumphant victor, ushering in a time of power. Instead he overturns the seats of the pigeon sellers who were taking advantage of the poor by overcharging them for the birds they would sacrifice inside the temple. He upended the moneychangers tables—tables which were set up to exchange (for a substantial fee) the foreign guest’s unclean currency into temple-worthy shekels in order to pay the mandatory temple tax.
In cleansing the temple, Jesus showed that he came as the champion of the powerless and the savior of the outsider and foreigner. This was a savior of not just one group, but of nations, of the poor, of the affluent, of the Jew, of the Gentile, of you, and of me. Festival of Hope is a celebration of the hope we find in Jesus, the savior of nations, the one who seeks justice for the oppressed.
“In their own way, those church ladies were overturning tables, saying that they stood with a God who so loved THE WORLD that he sent his own Son as the Messiah no one expected…but everyone needed.”
If we look back on the history of fair trade, we find that the fair trade movement began with groups of church ladies in the late 1940s. These women saw an opportunity to empower the materially poor while building community in their churches and decorating their houses with beautiful handicrafts. The stories of these women who started sales from the trunks of their cars and church fellowship halls are intertwined like a tapestry with the stories of artisans around the world whose lives have been changed. As the Fair Trade Movement has grown, more and more businesses have responded to consumer demands for ethical practices. In their own way, those church ladies were overturning tables, saying that they stood with a God who so loved THE WORLD that he sent his own Son as the Messiah no one expected…but everyone needed.
Over the years, Chapel Hill has added our stories to this tapestry. We see our own church ladies pricing and inventorying boxes as they arrive, lovingly setting out merchandise in the days leading up to the sale, inviting friends to come and see what the Lord is doing at Chapel Hill. So, please, join us this weekend! You won’t regret it.