Pastor Michael Frye:
In one of my political science classes in college we were discussing the freedoms that the Constitution of the United States provides.
One of the students asked the professor: “How do we know when we are infringing upon the rights of others?”
The professor thought for a moment and said, “Let me put it this way; your right to enter my personal space ends where my nose begins.”
That was a bit simplistic, but the professor made his point.
Boundaries are created for the purpose of safeguarding another person’s space.
Our homes have walls to provide protection and privacy, but they also have doors that can be opened to others when we want them to be.
In previous weeks we have heard how God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Our first lesson today is well known to us as the Ten Commandments.
God found it necessary to set boundaries with his chosen people as a way of nurturing their relationship, first with God, and also with one another.
The Ten Commandments proclaim that God alone is worthy of worship.
Given God’s desire for a relationship with humanity, the life of the community flourishes when it is based upon honesty, trust, fidelity, and respect for life, family and property.
Religious leaders during the time of Jesus had moved far beyond the original covenant God had made with his people at Mt. Sinai and were trying to define, not so much the way people were to live, as they were defining the way the authorities wanted the people to live.
At the same time, they were ignoring the Temple’s sacred atmosphere by allowing it to be used by merchants and money changers as a marketplace.
Jesus attacked this commercialization of religion by physically driving the merchants out of the Temple.
When Jesus was challenged by the Temple leaders, he responded with the prediction of his own death and resurrection, mysteriously wrapped in the image that the Temple would be destroyed and restored within a three-day period.
Of course no one, not even Jesus’ disciples, made the connection between what Jesus was saying and what would ultimately take place on Calvary.
For Christians, Christ is the Temple, because it is in Christ where God and humankind meet.
Just as Jesus cleared away the secular practices that obscured the real purpose of the Temple, our Lenten disciplines seek to remove the destructive forces that would prevent us from experiencing Christ’s presence.
Therefore, coming to church during this Lenten season is literally coming to Christ, whose body is raised from the dead, and who now lives within this community of believers.
The Father’s house is a place for prayer and praise, gathering and learning scripture; not for coercion and bargaining.
There is a parallel between the Exodus account of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ clearing of the Temple in the Gospel of John.
The Exodus account lays out the central convictions of faith and the patterns of life by which one seeks to live.
In the Temple account, Jesus’ clarity about the nature of God’s house, helps us to better understand and observe the season of Lent.
With Jesus’ help, you and I can overturn the tables that clutter our lives so we can worship God with clarity and enthusiasm.
In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul overturns some tables of his own by calling upon the church to toss out the status markers of Greek and Roman cultures, such as classism and strength over weakness, in order to make space
for an understanding of the importance of the cross.
Clearing the Temple is less about taking things away and more about creating space to see God’s presence.
Today’s readings are definitively linked, because they highlight the difference between first century Judaism and the Christian Gospel.
Humility and reverence are central themes in both; yet there are key differences between the two.
For instance, Passover is celebrated as Jews still anticipate the coming of the Messiah; and our Easter celebration of Christ as the risen Son of God eliminates our need to observe the Passover event.
As we claim what makes us different, we still remember that our faiths are rooted in the same God who created us all.
We can learn from the historical context of the Old Testament stories; yet, we must also understand that Jesus often redefined their meaning in light of his relationship with his Father in heaven.
The same is true today.
If Jesus were to physically walk into our community of faith this morning, what shortcomings might he find?
Are there things that occur within our own time which would cause him concern?
Jesus not only speaks for us and with us, but he also speaks truth to us, even if it means dealing with our fears and shortcomings in order to grow in faith and service to God.
In her article, “Rise Up and Salute the Sun,” Suzy Kassem wrote:
“We are not sheep or cows.
“God didn’t create fences for us or boundaries to contain our nationalism.
“God didn’t draw up religious barriers to separate us from each other.
“And on top of that, no father would like to see his children fighting and killing each other.
“The Creator favors those who spread love over those who spread hate.
“A religious title does not make anyone more superior over another.
“If a kind person stands by his conscience and exhibits truth in his words and actions, he will stand by God regardless of his faith.”
In our second lesson, Saint Paul was speaking to a Corinthian church that was struggling because of divisions within itself, arrogance about possession of spiritual gifts, and confusion about leadership in the community.
In the midst of this, Paul talked about the cross:
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Jeff Paschal describes what this means:
“For Christians, the cross declares that we embrace truth when lies seem easier, gentleness when force is attractive, justice for the oppressed when maintaining the status quo would be simpler, generosity when hoarding would be more comfortable, and forgiveness when a hateful grudge would taste so good.”
But the cross also reminds us of our unity as a church.
Although we are diverse in our backgrounds, our community of faith is formed around what seems to be foolishness – an instrument of torture and death has become the instrument for salvation of the world.
Because of Christ, the barriers that might exist between us and God have been removed, and we are free to live out our faith with total assurance and commitment.
“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.” (Psalm 118:24)