Based on Exodus 20:1-17, 1Cor 1:18-25, John 2:13-22
I grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, which resembles Charlottesville in many ways. In the 1960’s and 70’s it was a town of about 50,000 people with a major medical presence (Mayo Clinic), a large IBM plant, and the infrastructure to support both employers. It was the third or fourth largest city in Minnesota and was the County Seat of Olmstead County. Yet, for all the “cosmopolitan” aspects of Rochester, it was planted right smack in the middle of farming country of S.E. Minnesota. A ten minute drive in any direction from the middle of downtown would find you surrounded by corn, soybeans and small farming communities. Because much of the countryside was flat, most farms were laid out in square mile plots that were known as Sections. If you knew how many farms between you and someone else, you knew how many miles apart you were.
My dad grew up in a town of about 5,000 people that was located 40 miles west of Rochester. He was an outdoorsman who always knew what compass direction he was facing. Because of this he would give very detailed directions for how to get to a certain location. There was none of this, “head thataway for a bit and turn right after you see Mrs. O’Leary’s cow”. He had compass directions along with mileage – a lot like our GPS person does from our phone today – if I followed his directions I never got lost. As far as I remember, I never saw my dad get lost to the point that he couldn’t get where he was going. A high quality, up-to-date road Atlas; a compass, a full tank of gas, and he was good to go for an extended road trip.
Our spiritual journeys these type of straight forward directions as well. Luckily, we have the Bible and all of the Commentaries and other books that have been published on what the Bible is saying. When we send enough time with the Bible – it will show us where we are to be headed. Let’s take a moment to thank God for giving us such clarity…
Jesus is really angry and he’s not going to take it anymore! In He rushes to the Temple, the outer reaches of which had been turned into a marketplace. This was the site where people could purchase their sacrificial animals before going into the Temple proper to absolve themselves of their sin. Since Jews came in from all over the known world, they needed to have money changers on hand as well to get the coin into Roman coin. The Temple got a piece of each and every sale, not dissimilar to what happens at any Major League or NFL ball park or NHL rink. This was nothing more than a monopoly on all the things needed to “appease God” during the High Holy days. Those that were being ousted by Jesus were confused – they asked for a sign (by what right..) for why He was doing this. Jesus answered that when they tear down His temple it will be rebuilt in 3 days.
This is the foolishness of the gospel of Jesus that Paul is alluding to. The Corinthians have continued to see the world through the lenses of the Roman society. In allowing Jesus to be crucified, God used the lowest person in society to bring salvation. In a world where rank was everything, the lowest on the social order could accomplish nothing. In God’s world, however, the servant of all became the Savior of all…”Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God….” In God’s world this is what salvation meant.
The people that God had chosen had finally arrived at the foot of God’s mountain. These were not a proud and gentrified people that God had chosen. In fact, God chose those who had been in bondage for 400 brutal and demeaning years. He brought them out of Egypt through famine and all types of calamities and saved them from the Army through the water. God now sought to covenant with these people and to get them started on their relationship with God. God needed these un-people to become one-people; to work together with God and each other to create a society that looked nothing like the societies that ruled the day. God instructed them that they were to have no gods before the One God. The LORD will be worshipped at least once a week and all your household should refrain from work that day. The people should treat each other respectfully and build lasting and mutual friendships. These are all pretty understandable directions and explanations of how God is acting in our world and how God wants us to act – in order to get where God wants us to go.
Yet, many millennia later, we are still wandering around like we don’t have a clue where we are going! One can maybe understand how the Hebrew people didn’t quite get it on page 83 of the Bible. It is early in their relationship with God and they have been out-of-touch with that God since Joseph died. But when we are 1200 or 1300 pages into the Bible in Jesus’ and Paul’s time and we still don’t seem to get the idea of how we are supposed to live and what we are supposed to do on behalf of God in the world, then we not only have less credibility with ourselves; but we really resemble those who say, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Why is it that after two thousand years of having the directions of God through Jesus in front of us as disciples that we haven’t made much progress in being more Christ-like? Certainly in the beginning when it was life-limiting to be a follower of Jesus, the movement was very close to what Jesus taught. Once it became the religion of the realm in 325 C.E. under Emperor Constantine, then it got more difficult to follow the directions of Jesus. It is why the ascetic movement began at the same time – the Desert Mothers and Fathers went out to try to recapture the essence of “the Way” which was now thoroughly intercalated with the trappings of the imperial court. Popes and bishops and all kinds of structure became the norm along with different schools of Christian thought. The Council of Nicea and all those that followed clarified the theological positions of the Trinity, Jesus fully human and fully divine, and defined heresies and how to avoid them. The Church of Jesus Christ became the largest land owner and one of the richest enterprises in the history of the world ruled over by Popes and associated humans. Does anyone else out there find that irony just a little too tough to take?
The directions we received from God and through Jesus were nothing like that, however. The directions we received were to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. We are to have a day of Sabbath that we intentionally keep holy and reverent to our Creator. We are not to murder each other or steal anything from each other – we are to be content with what we have. Where in America do we find that those directions are being followed? Which of the 38,000 Christian denominations is the one or ones that is/are understanding and living into the directions?
The truth of the matter, as we will admit out loud again in just a few minutes in our “Confession”, is that we haven’t done what we have been commanded to do. We have been disobedient and unloving, stubborn and unlistening – thinking only of ourselves. Each month we ask for forgiveness so that we might get back on the right road and be joyfully obedient through Jesus. We then share in Holy Communion as forgiven people and greet Jesus at that meal. But as we head away from the Table, are we anymore Christ-like than we were when we came to receive?
In order to move forward in our Christian discipleship we have to learn to follow just two directions – two great Commandments. They are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love all of our neighbors as ourselves. These directions when followed to the fullest extent lead us to our transformation into Christ-like people. Along the way we will have to pick up our crosses and we will likely undergo some persecution. We will give up our worldly powers along the way, but we will regain our souls. This is not a journey we take in isolation, rather it is a journey that if we follow to its completion will lead our faith community, denomination and world to salvation in and through Jesus the Christ. Let us dedicate ourselves this Lenten journey to helping each other understand and follow the directions of Jesus – love the LORD our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength – and our neighbor as our friend. Repent, hear and understand this good news! Amen and amen.