Lent 3 Sermon


Lent 3 Our readings this morning show us that just as we are on our own individual journeys through Lent, seeking a clearer understanding of God’s purpose for our lives, and seeking to find and overcome those things which prevent us being all that God intends us to be, it was ever thus. Exodus this morning brings us to the famous passage of the 10 commandments handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai, stones that would be placed in the Ark of the Covenant, and be the holiest point as the Jews traveled for 40 years toward their promised land. Later those stones in the Ark would be placed in the great Temple itself, into what was called the Holy of Holies, where only the Chief High Priest entered, and that only once a year on the day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. It would be the stealing and of the Ark in the late 580’s bc by the Babylonians that would forever change that, with the Holy of Holies remaining empty ever after. The commandments are the basic law handed to Moses as he prepared to lead God’s chosen people, recently freed from slavery in Egypt. They are a mixture of religious and secular rules. So we learn there is one God, the God who freed them, and they are to have no other God. This extends to not making images which might in time become objects of worship, and the name of the Lord God is sacred and shall not taken in vain. The sabbath day is one of rest, should be kept holy for all, servants and slaves, beasts of burden not just those who can afford to rest. If these laws are kept then God will show love to thousand generations, if not he will punish to the third and fourth generations. Then the rest are more basic rules for a peaceable and coherent society, where you have respect for your elders, especially parents, you don’t murder, steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, and you shall not covet or be jealous of the goods and possession of others. All sensible things for building up community, and setting a base level of human behavior. Over the hundreds of years that followed these basic laws would be added to, not least the book of Leviticus and the teachings of the first 5 books of the bible, forming the Torah, and after that generations of teaching and exposition of the same which are known as the Talmud. By the time of Jesus it was believed that the study of this law and the traditions of the Talmud, plus the keeping of the detailed rules for living – dress and food, circumcision, sacrifices and so on, were the way to ensure living a life acceptable to God, this is a righteous life. Paul in the Epistle is writing to the Corinthians, who like many in the ancient world held great store by the wisdom and teaching of the philosophers, and thinkers of past ages. Paul, a very educated man himself is keen to make clear that just as the Law of Moses in itself cannot be what makes us right with God, we will never find all we are looking for by the exercise of the mind, by learning, philosophy, rhetoric and so on. Paul had no doubt discovered this the hard way, as initially we know he persecuted Christians, believing them dangerous heretics. However, with the humility Paul’s many trials and tribulations brought him, came to know the contrary truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That at its heart are seemingly foolish claims, foolish to the wise world at least – that there is strength in weakness, that service of others brings fulfilment, and that life can come out of the tragedy of death. Others may claim their high thinking can save the world and themselves, but Paul cautions Christians don’t want to compete in the rush to know more or be seen as clever, we preach Christ and Him Crucified, truths that neither Jews nor Gentiles see sense in. In Christ is the godly wisdom the generations have sought, for God’s seeming foolishness is wiser, and his weakness stronger than all the world can offer. And our Gospel is the scene when Jesus in Jerusalem for the Passover, loses his temper with those selling animals for sacrifice and various other things including money exchange in the vicinity of the Temple. He scatters the tables, and folks make the connection with scripture and zeal for God’s house. Then when asked to prove he has authority to act in this way, he says destroy the Temple [ which would in fact happen in ad70], and in three days he would raise it. Clearly Jesus is referring to his own Passion and resurrection, the Temple one of the wonders of the world had taken half a century to build – this would only be understood after His resurrection, looking back. There are lots of ideas about what is going on here, the behavior isn’t what we associate with Jesus. Some have suggested he was angry about the distraction all of this was, that trade and worship aren’t easy partners. Others have suggested these dealers were not fair, and that the poor who needed a pigeon or small animal to sacrifice ended up being ripped off, likewise the money exchangers who could well be taking advantage of Jews coming from all over the near east. I think our lectionary setters today want us to consider if this Gospel sits alongside the other readings, that like them it shows a response to things that were once thought of as routes to closer access to or understanding of God, and now in the person of Jesus himself that is changing, as scripture always said it would when the Messiah appeared. I think that is right, and given the structure of John’s Gospel, where everything is moving toward Jerusalem, toward the point of the Cross, perhaps the passion and the anger we see here is as much to do with Jesus’s frustration at the slowness of the world around Him to grasp what it is He is saying, and who He is? It is becoming clearer to Jesus what Jerusalem will mean for Him, what price and cost may need to be paid to finally show the world what God intends them to hear. So three fascinating readings, I am only sorry not to hear what Archdeacon Catherine would have said – but that is a treat for time to come. Amen