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Lent 3 March 4, 2018 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
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Lent 3  Year B
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, March 4, 2018
The Rev. Janet Campbell
 
 
“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows [God’s] handiwork.”
 
All creation proclaims the wonder of the creator God,
          sings the psalmist,
 
the moon and the stars glowing in the heavens,
the day and the night marking time’s passage
          and its continuity
                    day upon day,
                             night upon night,
 
the burning sun racing across the skies,
bathing the earth in its heat and brilliance.
 
The psalmist
first praises God
          for the careful ordering of the creation, 
 
and then
          for the careful ordering of human life.
 

“The Law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;”
the psalmist proclaims,
“the testimony of the Lord is sure
          and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
          and gives light to the eyes.”
 
God’s judgments are pure delight,
“more to be desired . . . than gold,
more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.”
 
 
The Law
established a relationship,
God’s covenant relationship
          with the people of Israel . . .
 
a relationship initiated by God in love,
          and guided by the values set forth
                   in the Ten Commandments,
values at the heart of
          good and Godly living.
         

Abiding by the covenant
would bring wisdom,
enlightenment,
a joyful heart,
 
Abiding by the covenant would,
paradoxically,
set the people free,
 
free from all
that would separate them from God
          and from one another,
 
free to be completely God’s
          and fully themselves,
 
God’s holy community,
governed by goodness,
          a light to the nations:
 
 
A community
living in unity with the God who said . . .
 
Worship me only, not any other god,
          nor any thing of your own making or desiring.
 
Don’t lend my Name to anything unworthy of me.
 
Rest on the Sabbath
so you remember
          it is not your work
that sustains your life,
but my providence.
 

A community
living in unity with one another . . .
 
Honor your mother and father:
their values and traditions
          are the community’s continuity.
 
Do not commit murder:
          respect for human life
          is the community’s foundation.
 
Do not commit adultery:
          the integrity of the family
          is essential to the community’s stability. 
 
Do not steal; do not lie:
          honesty and trust
          bind the community together.
 
Do not covet anything belonging to another:
          envy tears at the fabric of the community.
 
 
Jesus grew up with the Law,
as did every Jewish child.
 
He was not at odds with it.
 

“Do not think that I have come
to abolish the Law. . .”
he said,
“but to fulfill.”                                  [Matthew 5:17]
 
But he was at odds with
rigid interpretations
          and applications of the law
          that were counter to its intent . . .
the establishment
          and nurture of loving relationship.
 
Criticized for allowing his disciples
to pick heads of grain on the Sabbath,
Jesus asked,
“Was humanity made for the Sabbath
or the Sabbath made for humanity?”      [Mark 2:27]
 
“Is the person made to serve the Law,
          or the Law to serve the person?”   
 
When asked
which commandment is the greatest,
he replied,
 
“Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and all your soul
and all your mind and all your strength.
This is the first and great commandment.
 
“And the second is like it,
love your neighbor as yourself.                   
 
“On these two commandments
hang all the law and the prophets.”            [Matthew 22:37-40]
The Law and the Prophets.
 
The collective term for the
Hebrew Scriptures.
 
The Law, as we’ve already said,
establishing and articulating the core values
          of relationship
          with God and with others.
 
The Prophets,
whose writings so
forcefully and heatedly challenged
the failure of the community,
time and again,
          to abide by those values,
 
to practice kindness, mercy, and justice . . .
to walk humbly with God
          according to the covenant
          God had established.
 
 
Law and prophecy.
 
Both are necessary for the well-being
of God’s people
and the thriving of the human community.
 

Without the guidance of law    
to articulate values,
teach and enlighten,
sustain order,
         
any society,
any human institution,
any faith community,
will sooner or later
disintegrate into disorder and ignorance,
losing its proper focus
and its capacity
          to serve God.
 
Without prophecy
          to question,
          disturb and challenge,
 
any society,
any human institution,
any faith community,
will sooner or later
become set in its ways,
complacent,
stagnant,
closed to new life,
more invested in self-preservation
          than in serving God.
 
In the tension between the two,
law and prophecy,
stood Jesus,
in the courtyard of the Jerusalem Temple.
 
 
The Temple,
the central place of worship
          for God’s chosen people,
for the prayer
and ritual offerings
                   at the center of
                    Jewish religious life.
 
At the time of the Passover,
pilgrims came
from the cities and villages
of Palestine,
and from faraway places
where Jews
          had migrated and settled 
          after their captivity in Babylon.
 
Temple offerings required flawless animals . . .
(only the best for God . . .
          and only a true sacrifice for the pilgrim) –
a sick or injured animal,
          an animal with no value,
                   would not do.  
 
But it was hard to get an animal
all the way to Jerusalem unblemished,
so sellers of cattle, sheep and doves
set up their stalls at the Temple entrance.
 
There, pilgrims could buy
what they needed
for their sacrifices.
 
 

Moneychangers were there also,
because the Roman coins
          commonly used in the marketplace
                   were stamped with Caesar’s image . . .     
                    (unacceptable
                   for payment of the Temple tax).
 
Money-changing
was also a service
to pilgrims
          just arriving at the Temple,
but rife with cheating.
         
Aggressive competition
and loud hawking of wares
turned the temple courtyard
into a noisy, chaotic marketplace,
a confusing gauntlet
of chaos and corruption
through which pilgrims had to pass
to get to the temple’s sacred inner courts.
 
Jesus’ furious and violent response
was the cleansing action of a prophet
condemning the contamination
          of God’s holy house
and the exploitation of God’s holy people.
 
for he had said,
“I have come
not to abolish the law or the prophets . . .
          but to fulfill.”                                    [Matthew 5:17]
 
 

The Temple police,
charged with keeping order,
rightly challenged him.
 
“By what authority do you do this?
What sign can you show us?”
they asked.
 
Then Jesus made a claim
that seemed utterly foolish.
“Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up.”
 
Incredulity and scoffing:
“Are you out of your mind?
This temple has been under construction for
forty-six years and will you raise it up in three days?”
 
His disciples, too,
          had no clue
          where he was going with that.
 
But after the resurrection,
          John’s gospel tells us,
          they remembered and believed.
 
And understood that Jesus was speaking
of the temple of his body,
and the foolishness of the cross.

“The message about the cross
is foolishness to those who are perishing,”
Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth,
“but to us who are being saved,
it is the power of God.”
 
The fickle Corinthians
were questioning
what they increasingly saw
          as the foolishness of Paul’s teaching,
 
seduced as they were
by false apostles
whose proclamation was
more appealing to their
          philosophical bent,
          intellectual pride,
          love of sophisticated rhetoric.
 
“Has not God made foolish
the wisdom of the world?”
Paul demanded.
 
The wise one, the scribe, the debater of this age –
those who rely on human understanding,
those who rely on their own strength,
these are the truly foolish.
 

“. . .  God’s foolishness
(as revealed by the cross)
          is wiser than human wisdom,
and God’s weakness
(as revealed on the cross)
          is stronger than human strength.”
 
“. . . Christ [crucified and risen is]
the power of God
and the wisdom of God.”
 
 
The Church,
the community of the risen Christ,
was founded,
not on worldly power or worldly wisdom,
          but on the folly of the cross.
 
We, too, are a covenant people
called into a relationship
          initiated by God in love
 
and effected
by our baptism into the death of Jesus,
          into the cross,
 
so that, rising newborn
          from the waters of baptism,
we may live with him
          and with one another
                    a crucified and risen life.
 

A life whose values,
established in the baptismal covenant,
          are those of the cross . . .
 
devotion to God at any cost,
self-offering for the world at any cost . . .
 
life re-oriented
          to love and service,
          to kindness, mercy and justice,
         
 life in the tension
          between law and prophecy . . .
 
a life foolish in the eyes of the worldly
but to those who see with new eyes,
the wisdom and glory
of God.
 
 
Last Sunday,
we enrolled our candidates
for baptism, confirmation
and reception
          into the Episcopal Church at Easter.
         
Enrolled them
          not into a legal system
          or a bunch of rules,
but into this way,
          into these values
          of a goodly and Godly life,     
into this covenant relationship
          with God
          and the Body of Christ, God’s Church . . .
Enrolled them
into a life governed by God’s goodness
and love.
                  
 
As we share by prayer and fellowship
in their Lenten journey
toward new and deepened commitment
to this life,
 
may we find ourselves,
as persons and as a people,
renewed in our own commitment
to this way
          of foolishness that is wisdom,
                    of weakness that is strength,
 
renewed in our own commitment
to this life
          in the tension
                   between law and prophecy . . .
 
free from all
that would separate us from God
          and from one another,
 
free to be completely God’s
          and fully our selves,
 
God’s holy community,
governed by goodness,
          a light to the nations
                   for the life of the world.