Today we have is the most wonderful set of readings. They go right to the heart of the faith.
Not only do we have the 10 commandments, but we also have that challenging passage from First Corinthians , which includes one of the great statements about the Faith “For the message of 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; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Finally, we have the John version of the cleansing of the Temple.
Any one of them would provide the topic for a demanding sermon. There was a temptation just to take one reading. The problem was which one reading to concentrate on?
Where do we begin? Well it seems to me that we begin not with the readings at all, but we look at the background against which we are worshipping, and that means Lent. We are trying to focus on a time of penance, reflection, and abstinence. Now these three actions are all brought to us through our readings.
Ultimately we have to live our moral lives with reference to the ten commandments. No matter how much we want to concentrate on the summation of the law, love God, love your neighbour, there are times when the 10 commandments raise issues about how we live our lives, and remind us that there are constraints on our behaviour, both positive and negative, demands on what we do or don’t do.
The ten commandments are in themselves a topic for reflection. As Part of our Lentin discipline we are well advised to think about, first of all what we understand the 10 commandments of be demanding for us, and secondly how well we are conforming to their demands. Thus it is that we understand that judgment begins with ourselves in honesty and justice.
While the ten commandments give us a framework for our moral behaviour – and remember the final five of the commandments – our relationship with humanity is in fact independent of whether one believes in God, the Corinthian passage challenges us at time of widespread disbelief.
Here we have the affirmation that the Good news of the Cross is not going to be universally received. For over 1000 years Christianity has been the pretty well official faith of Scotland (we can have a great time arguing about what happened in the second half of the first millennium). Now we have to accept that this is no longer the case. The decline of traditional religiosity has been made even more stark with the Covid epidemic, where the people of God have had to find innovative ways of carrying out their witness to the world in times of reduced meetings with distancing and lockdown. When the restrictions are eased, we will make our way out into a changed world. If the past is a foreign country, how much more is the Covid threatened future?
However, while the people of God will have the practical problems of just how we “do Church in the Covid world, the church is also thrown back into the situation to which Paul was writing to the Church at Corinth. We need, this Lent to affirm that the good News of Christ is foolishness. That philosophy looks for answers, which the religious want signs. But you see Christianity is a lifestyle, it is called the Way, the road. It is something which we do, though our doing is based upon our belief and experience of Jesus of Nazareth, who lives, was dead is now alive, ascended and with God in honour, interceding for us.
It is the life of this person which attracts us. We can’t have a Jesus who isn’t real, who didn’t do things, and today we find ourselves confronted with this event in the Temple. It interesting thing is that in the Synoptic Gospels this is at the beginning of Holy Week, immediately after the triumphant entry, while in John from which we read it is right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry – on his first visit to Jerusalem. When we read the stories, from the three synoptic Gospels, for once – almost uniquely in the Gospels the Mark story about the cleansing of the temple is the longest account.
But we have John today John is writing his account of the life of Jesus much later than the writers of the synoptics. John was trying to make sense of what had happened. For Mark and Luke the important thing was that the temple authorities sought to destroy Jesus. For John, the important issues connected to the event were the questions of authority, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ and the question of the Resurrection which the disciples only understood later. Listen to what John says, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken”.
I believe that it is important that Christians look seriously at what Jesus did. He was proclaiming that it was possible for the rule of God to break into society. He keeps on saying that the kingdom of God is at hand, or the kingdom of God is like. In the cleansing of the in Mark and Luke temple we are given what amounts to the political response.
One of my favourite religious cartoons shows Jesus standing in a red robe with a whip. But the people whom he is driving out of the building are modern bankers, Citibank, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sacks. Yes I know that it is American, but it asks us questions which we have to answer about what our Lord would think of the modern world
So on this third Sunday in Lent we find ourselves confronted. We are having to ask what the real demands of the 10 Commandments are for us – a reflection. We find ourselves thinking about the small marginal Church at Corinth, and we in a secular age find that the Good news at the beginning of the life of the Community of faith in Christ was no more acceptable than it is today. And we find in the cleansing of the temple political and economic questions for us to be lived today in the light of the demands, the actions of Christ. So we come in prayer asking for guidance and wisdom,
But let us reflect first of all on
Rev Edward Andrews