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Sermon Third Sunday of Lent 7 March 2021

Exod 20:1-17.   Ps 19.     1 Cor 1:18-25     John 1:13-22

Today we step further into our Lenten Journey. It is the third Sunday of Lent. This week our Gospel reading explores Jesus going into the Temple in Jerusalem and driving out the money changes. The Old Testament looks at the Ten Commandments and in the New Testament reading in 1 Corinthians speaks of the wisdom of God, the power of Christ.

All three readings point to something deeper about the character and the mind of God that may not any sense to our modern minds. Moses goes up a mountain and receives the commandments of God. Jesus enters the Temple carrying with him a whip to drive out the money changers, turning over tables and emptying the coin purses. And in Corinthians the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church that the Gospel is foolishness to those who do not believe. That the wisdom of this world does not compare to the wisdom of God. That God calls those who may be considered wise by human standards, or powerful or of noble birth. All of these examples seem strange to our 21st century minds and yet in all of our readings a deeper truth exists.

Now concerning the Ten Commandments I want to draw your attention to the modern phenomenon of the plethora of rules that govern modern society. Road rules, criminal and civil laws, laws governing business dealings, laws that deal with how we behave. I could go on. Clearly, this says something about human behaviour and the Old Testament gives us a clear idea about what kinds of behaviours humans are apt to struggle with.

The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians asking them to be in agreement with one another as disciples of Christ and it is in this context that today’s reading is set. Paul is appealing to the Corinthians to see that God’s chose to use people who are not wise compared to God to be the ones to carry the message of the Gospel (1 Cor 1:21). That God chose people who were not wise by human standards, not the powerful or those of noble birth but God chose the foolish of this world to shame the wise (1 Cor 1: 26-28). In our estimation today, that does not seem logical or make sense either.

Then we arrive at our Gospel reading. It is nearing the time of Passover and it was common that during times of high feasts, such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles that certain priests took advantage by setting up stalls in the Court of the Gentiles. The problem was this often overflowed into other areas. The other significant issue, the priests were profiting from the sale of animals.

It is worth noting all four Gospels record this incident. (Matt 21:12-17, 23-27, Mk 11:15-25, Lk 19:45-48). In John’s gospel, Jesus travels to Jerusalem before the Passover. Jesus enters the Temple and is angered by what he finds there, people selling sheep, cattle, and doves with the tables of money changers. Jesus is said to make a whip, driving them out, turning over tables and emptying the coin purses. This is no small event. This is so important that all four gospel writers record it. The historian Josephus recorded that Annas the High priest was known as ‘a great hoarder of money’.

At first, our image of Jesus is changed in these passages. This same Jesus who brings healing to the lame, healing blind eyes, calling his friend Lazarus from the dead, openly shed tears for, is the same Jesus who enters the temple with righteous anger quoting directly from the Old Testament ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’, but you are making it a den of robbers’ (Matt 21:13). This event may not make much sense to us today. But Jesus was making a deeper more important point. The priests asked Jesus by what authority he did these things and Jesus reply? ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ (John 2: 18). The disciples and the priests were confused by this saying. It made no sense. How could a building of bricks and mortar be destroyed and in three days restored?

Jesus was of course was speaking to them of his impending death and resurrection. The disciples did not make the connection of these words until after the resurrection.

All three passages point us to another reality. That God’s ways are not our ways. That our wisdom is not the wisdom of God. What our readings make clear is that God chooses to make his word and authority known through what we might see as strange and oblique ways. The giving of the Ten Commandments, of Moses ascending a mountain to receive tablets of stone written by the hand of God tells us of the necessity of rules in our lives. Rules that help us to live good lives. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church told them to stop arguing, to consider God’s wisdom in the choice of those who brought the Gospel message. Those who were chosen may not have seemed like the most likely but they were chosen by God. And finally, Jesus coming into the Temple at Jerusalem to clear away the money changers and animals was done with righteous anger, with the intent to restore the Temple as a House of Prayer.

This Lent we are encouraged to seek God through repentance, prayer, fasting and meeting the needs of others who are less fortunate than ourselves. Our Lenten practices may not make sense to the world but they make sense to God.

Psalm 19  give us these wonderful words:

‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you , O Lord, my rock and my redeemer’.

They are fitting words. They remind us that God is interested in our behaviour, our thoughts, words and actions. In all our readings today bring this to the fore. What God wants us to take to heart is that we listen deeply and act accordingly.

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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