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Third Sunday in Lent
Pastor Anke Deibler
- Exodus 20:1-17
- Psalm 19
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
- John 2:13-22
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have two vastly different Bible readings this morning, the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ action in the temple. Please bear with me as I will try to connect them for us today.
Let’s start with the Ten Commandments. Most people know about them, though few people could actually name them all. As I studied the text and some commentaries on it, several things stood out for me.
The first is that God does not call these rules “commandments”. The Bible says: “Then God spoke all these words.” Words. God is not labelling these statements as law, but as words. Interesting, isn’t it?
The second fact ties in with the first: There are no consequences given for breaking most of these words. Our laws always spell out what happens when you break them. You break the speed limit and it will cost you this much money in fines. You steal something and it will cost you this many years in jail. There is always an “or else”: Do this or else.
The only place where God includes such an “or else” is in the word about idolatry. God will not endure us adding other gods into our lives and priorities and morals. God demands to be the only one, and if we give God that singular place in our lives, we will be blessed for generations to come. If not, then punishment will ensue.
None of the other words have such an “or else” built in.
Which brings me to the third interesting fact: These words are indicative statements rather than commands. As commands, I would expect God to say “You must not kill. You must not steal. You must not covet.” Instead, God says “shall”. It’s an expectation. You my people shall behave a certain way.
And this takes us to the fourth and final thing I want to highlight: These ten words were given to a people that God was already in relationship with. The preamble says: “/ am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
This isn’t just anybody who expects the people to act a certain way. It is the God they know, the God who rescued them, the God loves them, the God who feeds them with manna every single day, the God who helps them find water in the desert, the God who is leading them towards a promised land. This God of
blessings is the one who asks the very people he has so richly blessed to behave in certain ways.
Following the ten commandments is the way the people of God express their
gratitude towards God. Living according to God’s guidelines is returning thanks to this God of freedom and salvation and hope.
When God called them as his people, he called them to be a blessing to the nations, a light to the nations. By following the ten commandments, God’s people become a blessing because they model a society where everyone is safe, valued, respected, and taken care of.
Now I am moving over to the gospel story. It is a startling story, indeed.
What got into Jesus?
One commentator compares Jesus’ action to performance art. It is meant to reveal a deeper truth. Even the Jewish authorities seem to get that, for they ask Jesus about a sign as to what this all means.
Jesus tells them to destroy the temple and he will rebuild it in three days.
The audience takes this literally and scoffs at it. But what does Jesus really have in mind?
Looking at two words a bit closer might help us. One word is “destroy”: “Destroy this temple. ” Prompted by one researcher, I looked this up in the Greek dictionary. Almost always, this verb means to losen something, to unbind something, to set something free. Only in some contexts does it mean to dissemble and take apart.
“Lose this temple and I will raise a new one in three days. ” That has a very different ring to it, right?
The other word I looked at more closely was “temple”. In the beginning of the gospel reading, John uses the word that means the whole temple complex.
Now, Jesus is saying “sanctuary”. Lose this sanctuary and I will give you a new one in three days. .
The sanctuary was the holy place where people and God met. It was the only
place in the Judaism of its day where people could come to meet God. Now Jesus is saying: Forget this place; I will give you a new sanctuary. When he mentioned the three days, all believers immediately know what he is referring to, but in typical fashion, John spells it out for us: In the resurrection, Jesus became the new sanctuary for us, the new place where we meet God. No longer do we need a
certain temple or a certain place; we can meet God any place any time, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the new place where people can encounter God. And the body of Jesus Christ in the world today is us, the church, the people of God gathered by the Holy Spirit and sent out for the sake of the world.
Just this week in my Lenten calendar, I read the words of a pastor who said: “The Bible tells me that God is blessing me. But I can’t always feel that from scripture alone. I need other people for that, who tell me and show me that God loves me. ”
What we, the followers of Christ, do in the world really matters. How we, the people of God, live in the world is really important. In fact, it is more important than ever.
When I listen to the news, I see a society and a world coming apart at the seams. Mass shootings and the ensuing, never-ending, never-resolved debate about gun control; bombing and killing in Syrian communities – doesn’t that make you long for a society where everyone fulfills God’s expectation to not kill?
Police officers in Baltimore arrested for stealing confiscated goods; millions of Dollars in business losses due to theft – doesn’t that make you yearn for a society where nobody steals?
So many elderly warehoused in nursing homes and rarely visited; cases of elder abuse and neglect on the rise – how different that would be in a society where fathers and mothers are honored.
Cyber bullying and trolling ruining lives and reputations; good reporting labeled as “fake news” and mistrusted – how lovely it would be to live among people whose word you can trust because they do not bear false witness against their neighbor.
Stress levels on the rise; people developing mental illness or addictions to escape the pressures of daily living; families hurting for lack of time together – how healthy it would be to live in a community where everyone takes a whole day as sabbath.
Divorce rates as high as ever; sexual misconduct cases in entertainment, government, and the business world – how blessed life would be among people who respect marriage and who do not covet another person.
That is the blessed life God wants all people to live. His ten commandments are given so we know what a godly life looks like. Having rescued his people from slavery, God is shaping them into a nation that lives in harmony with God and each other, so they in tum can be a blessing to the world around them. Having rescued
us from sin and death in baptism, God is shaping us today into a holy people that lives the godly life, so that we are blessed and in tum can bless the world.
We are called to model for the world what the godly life looks like. The world obviously has forgotten, by the looks of it. And even we need a reminder and encouragement boost now and then. We are called to be role models for our society, to show how life can be different, more fair, more peaceful, more blest.
It is among this holy people of God living according to God’s word that others can encounter God. This is a sanctuary, not because of the brick and mortar and the fact that this space is reserved for worship. Rather, this is a sanctuary because here people find safety, and support, and acceptance, and comfort, and help, and guidance, and hope, and love, and respect.
This is a sanctuary because this is the body of Christ. This is one of the new temples Christ created when he died and after three days rose again. This is one of the new sanctuaries where we encounter God and where we are nourished in order to live the kind of life that helps other people to encounter God, as well.
This time of Lent is the perfect time to re-familiarize ourselves with the Ten Commandments. Read them. Study them, Memorize them. And above all: Live them! They are our way to give God thanks for all he has done for us; they are our calling to shape this world according to the kingdom of God; they are our way of being Christ in the world, so that both we and others can meet God in very real ways. Amen.