Christ Cleansing the Temple (1875) by Carl Heinrich Bloch; Copenhagen, Denmark
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For traditional worship, Our Saviour is delighted to have you join us on Sunday, March 7 at 10:00 am for worship back inside the Sanctuary*, which will also be online via Facebook Livestream!
* (up to 50 people total; masks covering nose and mouth are required as well as keeping 6′ of distance between people not of the same household)
For contemporary service, Our Saviour is pleased to offer a prerecorded online-only service (Facebook Premier) on Saturday, March 6 at 5:30 pm
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Saturday 5:30 pm Contemporary Service
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Sunday 10:00 am Traditional Service
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Readings and Psalms:
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Sermon: Loving the Law – A call to pass it on
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year B; March 6-7, 2021
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Warrenton, VA. The Reverend Terri E.L. Church
In the first panel, we see a mom say, “Goodness, you’re filthy. Into the tub with you.” The next panel shows the head of a boy popping out of the tub, saying, “I obey the letter of the law, if not the spirit.” Then his mom yells, “Let’s hear some water running!” We then see the boy climb out of the tub, fully clothed, saying, simply, “Nuts.”
This is, for the uninitiated, Bill Waterson’s fabulous comic strip: Calvin and Hobbes. What a great way to illustrate that expression: obeying the letter of the law, but not the spirit. (Many thanks to our son for tracking down the exact panel for me!) I start with that because it seems to help explain a couple of things Confirmation classes and Bible studies have struggled with for years: what ten laws, exactly, are the Ten Commandments? And, what on earth was up with Jesus in today’s gospel reading from John?
I’ll start with our Lord. In popular culture, Jesus is usually depicted as mild-mannered, sickly-sweet, long-suffering, unrealistically patient, overly serious, and with all sorts of other non-human characteristics. For others of us, Jesus is more real, more human: getting angry and frustrated, needing a break from the stressors of life, laughing and loving, connecting with people like us. For those who only see Jesus in that first way, this story drives them a little nuts, for Jesus is anything but calm, cool, and collected! He walks into the outer courts of the Temple on his way in to make his Passover preparations and promptly has what could be described as a temper tantrum, literally whipping up a commotion over something that doesn’t make sense. People have set up booths to help those coming from far away to make their law-abiding sacrifice in the Temple. This area of the Temple is not sacred but created for purposes like this one. There are also money changers who help people convert their everyday coins into the kind used by the Temple. Nothing they are doing breaks the law, nor does it harm anyone, but rather seems to provide a useful service.
So why does he lose it? The truth? I don’t know. And I’m in good company, too! Plenty of scholars who know a lot more than I do argue about why Jesus did what he did because this story on its own just doesn’t make sense. Okay. Put a pin in that. I’ll be back.
As for the Ten Commandments, did you know that it is possible to find 14 commandments within the two passages of the Bible that list them? Did you also know that at least five different religious traditions break those commandments up differently?[i] (No wonder we have trouble keeping the numbering straight, am I right, Confirmation students? It’s okay. Just learn them in the order of Luther’s Catechism, which is what Pastor Michael taught you last Wednesday, but don’t argue with your friends from different religions if it comes up.) What is that about? Is it Ten commandments, or more, and which ones? How can we possibly follow the Law of God if we don’t know exactly what it is?
And there, I believe, is sort of what Jesus wanted to answer when he tore through the Temple that day. Those moneychangers and animal sellers were needed, but only because the leaders of the Temple were pushing everyone to follow God’s Law too specifically, in too much detail. With all of those extra trappings, the Law of the Lord became a trap, and caused people to fail. And when they failed, that separated them from the very God they were trying to worship. The leaders were thus a bit like little Calvin in that opening cartoon—they were so caught up in the letter of the Law that they totally missed the spirit of the Law. Perhaps that angered Jesus. God’s Law is a gift, but the details made it a burden. We know that he is warning them that their focus on worshipping God in this physical building was about to need a change, for he was now the Temple where God resides. The Law of the Lord, God’s word, was now embodied in the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Perhaps he wanted to show that faith—that life, like the human psyche—is complex—sometimes pretty and neat, but often ugly and messy, in need of grace.
However, I have to go back to what I said before—I am not sure what point Jesus was trying to make. We just don’t know.
And that’s okay. No, really! It is okay that there are parts of the Bible truth that aren’t perfectly clear and don’t make a lot of sense. That does not make them unimportant or irrelevant or even “untrue.” God’s word is living and changing and growing and impacting our lives still today, many years after all the parts were first written on papyrus or sheepskin. It’s all about how much God loves us, and all the ways God wants what is best for us. It’s also filled with all the hubris that comes from all the ways we avoid loving God or our neighbors or even ourselves. Through the centuries, the Word of God has led to many misunderstandings and arguments, often just like confusing the letter and the spirit of the law.
And that’s okay. In fact, for me, those confusing passages often add to the joy and wonder of studying God’s Holy Word. The Bible is filled with mysteries to solve—and I love a good mystery! We can dig into the historical context and the original languages, we can look at the ways other parts of the Bible tell the same stories differently. When you do that, you learn something about God, God’s people, and their history, and you often find ways to apply truths to our lives today that could not have been imagined by the people in those original stories. It’s awesome!
And that, my friends, is how Psalm 19, that we just heard, could be true. “The teaching of the Lord—the Law of the Lord—is perfect”? Then why all the confusion? The law of God is perfect because God’s word is not a whitewashed painting of a fantasy life. The Bible is real, filled with hardships and pain, love and joy, and because it meets us where we are, it is indeed reviving, enduring, giving light to the eyes.
Hearing this psalm always makes me think of youth group—not the ones I’ve led, but one I grew up in. I remember Steve Turrentine, leading us on his guitar, in a song that went something like this:
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple.
More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, much fine gold.
Sweeter also than honey
and the honeycomb.[ii]
The Law of the Lord is indeed perfect, in that it reminds us of our imperfections, and that God loves us anyway. It is sweeter than honey and more valuable than gold. I owe my love of digging into scriptures to Sunday School teachers and youth leaders and pastors and family and more. They all were willing to give their time and talents and resources to teach me, and they were often willing to say, “I don’t know that answer, but I know God loves you.” And that led me here.
Could God be calling you to help someone else learn to love the Bible, much the way those others helped me? In this unusual time, the Faith Growth Team leaders could use some creative thinkers to help get the Word out to children and youth, and I invite you to join the team we are building for our plan for welcoming people back fully into the building and the life of the church. Right now, our young people could use your voice, your hands, your listening ear, your creative ideas, all to connect them with each other and with God’s word. Are you willing to respond to that call, right now? (Boy, my Baptist background is coming in fully, isn’t it?!)
Okay, how about this: right now, God loves you, just as you are. God’s word may not be easy, but it does speak, right now, through the Living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[i] There are many references included in this article on Wikipedia, as well as a handy table laying the different numberings out. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments#Numbering
[ii] The Law of the Lord is Perfect, Words: Psalm 19. Tune: Anonymous. Public domain.
Welcome to Nurturing Faith from Roots & Wings, a ministry of the Virginia Synod, ELCA. Each insert contains a small lesson from one of the Bible passages, a Bible memory verse to use for the month, a Table Prayer to include during meal time, and some ideas for conversations or activities. These have been specifically chosen with children in mind in terms of themes and length.
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