Preached on 8 March 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Church, Tacoma.
Third Sunday in Lent, Year B.
A story about leis – they are always passed along.
Love is like that. Blessing is like that. We are blessed so that we may bless others. Blessings can’t be kept or hoarded; they must be passed on.
In God’s covenant with Abraham, God promises to bless Abraham in order that he and his offspring would be a blessing to all nations. We’ve been hearing a lot about covenant. Two weeks ago, we heard the story of the covenant with Noah, in which God vows never again to destroy life on earth.
Last week we heard God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, promising them progeny and land. And today we come to the covenant of Sinai; a covenant within the covenant of Abraham. Let me read to you how the story begins.
(Read from the Shocken Bible)
God speaks directly to the people at Sinai and says….
(Read from the Shocken Bible)
This is a covenant about identity and vocation. I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a land of slavery. Centuries later, it will be out of the land of slavery and exile in Babylon. If we look at the Decalogue through the lens of the experience of a people who have been redeemed by God; a people who are already in a relationship with God, we can see it as a gift from a gracious God.
While it is addressed to the individual, its concern is not for the private welfare of that individual. The focus is vocational – to serve the life and health – the well-being – of the community. The first commandment lays a claim. How you think about God deeply influences how you think about and act toward your neighbor. The Decalogue teaches the people (and us) what Freedom truly is. Living a life of freedom means allowing other to be free; it means freeing others. God blesses them to be a blessing.
And the sign of the covenant is Sabbath. Sabbath sets the people apart from the other peoples. Have you ever kept Sabbath? It’s a time to remember who God is and who we are and our place in relationship to God. It’s a time to experience knowing that we are loved and cherished by God, not for what we do – how clean our house is or how hard we work, or how much money we make or how many things we checked off our to-do list, – but simply for who we are.
Now, what’s up with Jesus cleansing the Temple?
Here they are, crowds of people in Jerusalem to celebrate the holiest of holy days, preparing to worship in the prescribed way. Aren’t they just following the law that God has given them?
Well, first it’s important to be aware that whenever we read the gospels (or all of Scripture for that matter), there are a number of audiences to consider.
The audience that the writer is addressing.
The audience that is reading it now.
This morning, I would like to focus on John and his audience. John is writing after the Temple has been destroyed and Jerusalem has been sacked. It’s been over 60 years since Jesus was crucified. So Temple worship is no longer possible for them.
It’s also worth noting that John tells this story in a way that is very different from the other three gospels. John places this event very early in Jesus ministry – immediately after Jesus turns the water to wine at the wedding in Cana – his very first sign. Jesus doesn’t call them a “den of robbers” as he does in the other three accounts. Rather he chastises them for turning the Temple into a marketplace, challenging the whole system of worship.
Now to John’s audience, that system of worship has become impossible and the question, “Where is God now?” is very real. So John’s focus is on the Incarnation – the presence of God in the person of Jesus. He begins his gospel the with beautiful words, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word he actually uses is “tabernacle” – recalling the tabernacle of the Covenant – where the tablets of the covenant of Sinai were kept along with a jar of manna.
The tabernacle that they carried with them all through the desert. It recalls the Tent of Meeting where God would speak with Moses face to face.
John is saying that Jesus is the presence of God; losing the Temple does not mean they have lost God.
We, too, use signs and symbols to remind us of the presence of Christ in our midst; to remind us of who we are in relationship to God. We stand for the proclamation of the gospel, remembering that Christ is present. The vested chalice symbolizes the Tent of Meeting – where God is present in the bread and wine.
The Real Presence of Christ is in the bread and wine of communion. And we take and eat, we drink and take the presence of Christ into our very bodies so that it may become a part of our cells; a part of our very being.
Collectively, together, we are the Body of Christ. We have been blessed. In the blessing at the end of almost every Eucharist, we say “the blessing of God be among you and remain with you forever.” As we leave here and go our various ways, we are still the Body of Christ. The blessing of God is among us so that we may be a blessing.
You are blessed. Go, bless your neighbor; bless the world.