Sermon for Lent 3, Year B, March 7, 2021

Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

          In today’s gospel we get a rare glimpse into Jesus as a person.  At times we hear that Jesus sees the needs of people and has compassion, but in this gospel story Jesus is angry, brandishing a whip of sorts, overturning tables and shouting.  As he drives merchants from the temple he says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  People come to the temple seeking forgiveness and to worship and the merchants are taking advance of this.

          How did this come about?  The temple was built to honor God and serve as a place for people to worship, but it has become a place where people profit from those who seek God’s love and compassion?  It is easy to misinterpret the scriptures and misunderstand what God wants of us. 

In our reading from Exodus God gives the people the Ten Commandments.  These commands are often referred to as “the law.”  Thinking of them as laws to follow suggests we will be rewarded or punished based on our behavior.  If; however, we think of them as God teaching us how to live, we can value the lessons to be internalized.  God’s law may be considered spiritual practices that enable us to live our lives in peace and unity with others. 

The Ten Commandments are about loving God and loving others – they are not a list what we are to do in order to be rewarded.  Keeping  the Sabbath holy, honoring our parents, and not making false idols, using the Lord’s name in vain, committing murder or adultery, or coveting or stealing – these all keep our relationships with God and others healthy.  Keeping these commandments are how acts of love.

          When viewed as the do’s and don’ts to receive God’s blessings, God’s Commandments are followed for selfish reasons.  They are not followed because we love God.  Instead they are followed out of fear – fear that we will not receive deliverance from God’s wrath.  It is easy to take advantage of people who view following the commandments as a business exchange.  I will keep the Sabbath holy and God will reward me. 

The merchants in the temple were taking advantage of the people’s fear and so were the temple priests.  Fear is a powerful motive and people who are afraid can be manipulated.  So, for Jesus, it is bad enough that the merchants are profiting, but the temple leaders are using false teaching to control the people.  Give to the church or God will punish you and your family.  Give to the church and you will receive God’s blessings.  Jesus teaches us that God does not want us to offer gifts out of a sense of obligation or guilt – God wants our love.   

          This story is one of several in which Jesus challenges how the scribes, the Pharisees and the priests are interpreting the scriptures, perverting the scriptures.  The gospel, the good news Jesus offers is that the Ten Commandments and the laws of Moses are gifts of love given to us from God rather than rules to follow in order to avoid punishment.  

When asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus quotes the same lessons from Deuteronomy I read at the beginning of this service, “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And, the second is like unto it:  Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” 

          Love, not fear, is the good news Christ offers us.  The laws we find in the Old Testament need to read with this in mind.  Reading and interpreting the scriptures too literally can lead to judging others rather than loving them.  It is not our place to judge others. We are to love them as we love ourselves – not more than ourselves, not less – but as ourselves. 

          Most of the Ten Commandments are easy for us to follow – but most of have broken a few of them often.  Wanting what belongs to someone else, not keeping the Sabbath holy, worshiping false idols, and even using the Lord’s name in vain are commands most of us have trouble keeping.  Keep in mind that using the Lord’s name in vain includes claiming to be doing God’s will when we are not.   And false idols are more than statues of false gods.  They can be anything that distracts from what is important.  Money is perhaps the most significant false idol in most of our lives.  We may never feel we have enough, so we devote ourselves to getting more – making our work our primary focus rather than experiencing true life.  Or perhaps, we work so we can spend money on ourselves and surround ourselves with things, good things. 

Keeping the commandments; however, benefit us.  The Sabbath was not created for God, but for us.  We all need time to rest and focus on our relationship with God.  Putting relationships ahead of money, sharing with others, and being satisfied with what we have helps us to be thankful.  We are thus rewarded for following God’s commandments by seeing how blessed we are and by feeling a sense of peace. 

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, open our eyes to what is important and help us to do those thing you ask of us, not to please you, but grow in our love for you and our love for one another.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.