Third Sunday of Lent — March 8, 2015

 A Forgetful, Forgiving God

Guest Preacher:  Ruling Elder Keith Mihelcic

Exodus 20:1-17
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
John 2:13-22  The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
I know, I know. You’re thinking what is up with three readings – in a row! You ought to thank me, I almost put the Psalm reading in there too! Trust me, I think I know what I am doing! I wanted them to all come at you like that. Boom -boom-boom! I guess I just wanted to try to recapture the effect that it had on me when I read these passages.
Do not get me wrong, it’s not as if when I read these three passages I immediately had an idea for a sermon pop into my head. That hardly ever happens. Usually one passage will pop out at me I will let that marinate for a bit. I will kick it around in my head, re-read it a few times a day. Usually, something will come to me – an idea, a theme, a general outline – something that I believe I can work with.
Sometimes it comes relatively easy. Sometimes not so much. This week was neither hard, nor was it easy. I was just a bit lost, I suppose. I read the passages several time, but nothing was really jumping out at me. I guess I could have forced something, but usually when I do that I end up throwing away an almost written sermon, at the last minute, in order to go in a different direction.
Usually, like most people who preach. (notice I did not call myself a preacher; I just think of myself as someone who preaches sometimes. Think of it this way, just because you can bake a cake that does not make you a pastry chef!)
But I digress, I usually, like most people who preach, pick two passages from the lectionary readings. Out of those two I will typically focus on one and maybe, manage to work in the other reading as well.
This time it was different. As I mentioned, I could not come up with any one idea that I really liked. Then, as I was reading through them all again, in order, just like we heard this morning, it hit me. I think I know why this sermon wasn’t coming so easily.
Let me preface this by saying that no one likes to be told all about themselves. You know that moment. It’s awful. We have all had moments in our lives when someone – a wife, mother, brother, sister, friend, etc – has taken us to task. However, what makes these moments worse is when you know, in the very depth of your heart and mind that the other person is right. All that you can do is listen.
I think that is what God is doing in these three passages. He is telling us all about ourselves. I believe that we should listen.
Let us start with the Exodus passage. The Ten Commandments. What exactly are the Ten Commandments? Sure, obviously, they are commandments. Well, duh. I mean, commandment is in the title.
This is an instruction manual. A behaviour manual for the human race, if you will. We obviously were not then, and are not now, going to figure it out for ourselves. I mean, think about it. Have we really come that far from those days? Sure technology has advanced the way we break the Commandments, but it hasn’t changed that fact that we still break them. Constantly.
We don’t bow down to actual golden calves these days. Instead we bow down to and create idols of a myriad of other things. We sit in front of a box and let it entertain us, we bury our faces in our phones and our computers. We make idols out of all of these things we have. Things that really do what? Distract us. Amuse us. Make us feel good. At least temporarily, they do. Where does that get us?
Think about some of the ways that the Lord’s name in used these days. If that is not taking his name in vain what is?
Consider this: when is the last time you truly rested on the Sabbath?
Have you heard the way that some kids talk to or about their parent’s these days? Very little honor there.
We don’t kill each other with rock any more. We have bombs and guns for that.
People still commit actual physical adultery these days, for sure.  Why do that? Get all the lust you want by turning on the TV or getting on your computer.
People still steal, but now people can steal with a few keystrokes.
We all still lie and we all still covet, Oh my, how we all still covet.
God knows how people are. When I say the way “are” I don’t mean he knows how we are in this day in age. God knows man and what is in him on a level we can’t comprehend. He knows that we need to be told how to not behave badly. We need reminders of what bad behavior is.
I have heard  many preachers divide the  the Ten Commandments divided into two parts. 1-4 are about how our relationship with God should be and 5-10 are about how we should interact with each other.
These are reminders from a holy God as to how we are to interact with Him and with all of those around us. Think we don’t need reminded these days? Turn on the news or read a paper.
Then we get to Paul in 1st Corinthians. At it’s heart it is a really affirming passage. It speaks of the power of the cross of Jesus Christ to save. Read it a little closer, though. Between the lines if you will.
There is a huge difference in the thought process of God as opposed to the thought process of man. Verse 25 says it all, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”.
While this passage is mainly comparing believers and unbelievers, are we that different from the Jews and Greeks that Paul is talking about? We think that we are pretty smart sometimes. I know I do. I also believe that we rely on our own strength way too much. Especially when you consider that the creator of everything is on our side and in our corner. Paul tells us we have Jesus. The power and the wisdom of God on our side. Yet we still don’t trust God’s wisdom. We still don’t rely on his strength.
Then there is the John passage. What a passage. Angry Jesus. But first, a word from the prophet Malachai. (More Scripture!)  I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years”.
What a passage! That describes Jesus perfectly at the temple. Who can stand when he appears. Apparently, no one can! This picture of Jesus has always stood out in my mind.
Here is Jesus so mad that a harsh rebuke will not suffice! He makes a whip! He is flipping over tables! He is confronting those in positions of authority and telling them all about themselves. Why at this time? Why at this place? What was going on here that caused such a visceral response from the person who extols living peaceably and turning the other cheek?
Well, to be certain Jesus had the right to do what he was doing. I have read in a couple of commentaries and study Bibles  that Jesus was showing his authority here. That is, he was putting people on notice. He was doing a task that only he had the proper authority to do.
Yet, I think there is more to this. I always picture Jesus as very frustrated during all of this. The reason why? These people are just not getting it. If I may quote my study Bible directly, Jesus “has a zeal for God and keeping holy ordinances holy”. Why does he feel so strongly about this?
This is his Father’s house. It is not a place to be abused. This is a place to draw near and worship. A place to be still and know the Lord. We need that. We need that holy place we can go to. Now, I am not talking about a building. If you really read the text Jesus was not talking about a building. We all know that now. In hindsight even the disciples knew it. Jesus, when he was talking to the leadership of the day, made a direct correlation between himself and the temple because that is the place where the Holy Spirit now rested. That was the only temple that mattered in the long run.
But Jesus knew how important that relationship with himself, with God, is. That is one of the reasons, in my opinion, that he is so heated about this. Jesus knows what we need. We need as direct a path to God as we can get.  We need not to encumber ourselves in that journey. This can be done when we put obstacles in our own way, or when we trip over the ones already there.
Jesus knows what we really need and this day at the temple he had enough of seeing people clogging the path to God.
When you think about it I guess it can get a little depressing. I wrote an outline for this sermon and I had these section heading for each of the readings labeled as such. Mind you this is from God’s perspective, at least in my opinion.
Exodus – This is how you people need to behave
Corinthians – This is how you people think
John – Just stop it already!
Like I said. Kind of depressing. I think that the main thing is that we have to keep this in perspective. Yes, we are sinners. And, yes, we are good at it. Yet we are forgiven and loved beyond measure.
My older brother, being a typical older brother, believes that he know a lot more than me about various topics. One of his favorite sayings, usually when we are talking about music, is “I have forgotten more about music than you will ever know”. God can say a similar thing.
God has forgotten more about us than we will ever know about ourselves.
We were made for relationship with God. Each and every one of us. Jesus knows this.
We were not made to hate, kill, envy or lust. But we do. We always have and we always will.
All of this talk of commandments, and the way we think, and what we really need in our lives, do we really need to be reminded of all of that?
I believe we do need to be reminded.
Not that we should dwell on our own sins or dwell upon all of the evil in the world. But we must think about it. We need to think about the ways we all go astray and the things that get in the way of us deepening our relationship with God. To paraphrase Paul, we need to start thinking like Jesus. We need the mind of Christ.
What is the end result of all of this? What if we obeyed the commandments just a little better, individually and as a society? What if we started thinking just a little more like Jesus? What if we all tried to remove just some of the clutter in our spiritual lives? Where do you think that would leave us? Where do you think that would leave the world?
I know where it would leave us. It would leave us in a much better place. It would leave us really meaning it when we prayed “on earth, as it is in heaven” because we would be actively trying to make that happen, bit by bit.