Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; I Cor. 1:18-25; John 2:13-22 Oremus Bible Browser

May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen

The ten commandments reading is a place probably where quite a few churches will dwell today, because we do need to check ourselves out at different times and I just wonder how many of you are busy coveting your neighbour’s ox or donkey - used to be more fun in the King James version, you could covert your neighbour’s ass. And I think lots of churches will get stuck there, because this is one of those foundational texts - if you haven’t got the Ten Commandments sorted then you’re going to find the rest of it a bit tricky.

My suggestion is if you do want to look at the commandments and get a handle on them and a feel for them, then go back and read Psalm 19, for Psalm 19 grasps, touches, the idea of commandment, probably in a context that’s easier for us to understand and therefore encounter. The psalm somehow seems to have captured that idea better than the writers of Exodus. One of the difficulties with the way the commandments are presented in Exodus - it makes it sound as if there is a way of being that is already clear and well defined. And certainly we can go back, as theologians and commentators have and will, and look at the commandments and break them down one by one, recontextualise them into the present and come up with a common set of rules that will define us as community. But imagine if we are defined by community on something that is even before the rules; what if we’re defined as community by desire?

One of the ways, perhaps to get context on these readings Sunday by Sunday is to constantly see them pointing, indicating, and indicative of movement. In Advent the Advent sheet began, ‘We light this candle as we await the hour of your coming, oh Jesus Christ. Every hour is the hour of your challenge, every hour is the moment of expectation and hope. We place ourselves as an emptiness to be filled with your divine goodness’. There is a sense, there’s a sense, that we are hearing that again during Lent and yet somehow it’s held differently - rather than waiting, we’re moving toward. One of the prayers for Advent: ‘We stand at the turning of the year, looking back on what has been and ahead to what is to come. We thank you Lord, for all that is good. Place into your hands what we need to leave behind and turn to the path that you lay before us.’ The prayer picks up the activity of Advent and perhaps we can see that as we approach Easter, there is something very similar - the movement, the movement is being called from us again. So let’s just go to the readings for Lent 3.

The Old Testament reading I really don't think is given to us today so that we’ve got the rules to work out how we are to be at Easter and the clue is to see the movement that we already experience through Lent. In Lent 1, we had the covenant with Noah: ‘All living creatures’ - the covenant of Creator and creation. In Lent 2 we had the covenant with Abraham: ‘You shall be a blessing to many nations’. This Sunday we have another covenant - the covenant with the Israelites, God’s people. And let’s just get that clear: this isn’t the people that God has chosen, rather it is those who choose to recognise the Divine. The covenant is given through Moses and is presented in the Ten Commandments. Now we can look at the movement of covenant over those three readings in the broad - in the big picture. In the covenant with Noah, God promises not to deal with sin simply by wiping it out destructively. And sin - what we’re looking at in sin is the uncreative acts of not recognising or acknowledging the Divine. This isn’t the silly little naughty things that we do. Sin is very much about orientation, about movement and about that to which we attend.

So the first covenant, the one with the rainbow, is a movement already: ‘I will not deal with sin by wiping it out’. The second covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God promised to deal with sin with a creative act, through Abraham and Sarah, creating a people that would be a blessing for the whole world, so that blessing would overcome, would outweigh, sin. Now in the covenant with Moses, God provides the commandments - if you like, guidance - for creating a people of blessing. So there is a sense already over these three Sundays of a shift and if we look back sort of through cultural-political history you can say, yes, we have shifted, we have evolved, in the way that we do deal with our relationship with the Divine. Yep, it’s not a smooth ride always going upwards, but there is movement there. Likewise I think the covenant relationship can be seen in personal terms and so as a progression within ourselves, of ourselves becoming whole, our growing in Christ and into Christ. There is a movement that we might be able to detect through those Lent readings that is a movement within ourselves, a movement toward the divine beings that we’re called to be. In the covenant with Noah we see the covenant or the calling of an end to denial, no longer whitewashing that which is sinful within ourselves. Very much in the modern world we can be seen to sail in an ark cocooned from the destruction that is the result of our own uncreative activity. We sit in front of mindless TV shows while others die of starvation or we create wars to take from others in order to meet our own selfish needs. The covenant with Noah calls an end - no longer whitewash that, no longer wipe that away.

In the covenant with Abraham and Sarah as we look within ourselves, so we find that there is a promise, a promise of creativity, a promise of birth. This is the promise that we looked at at Christmas. What we find in the covenant with Abraham and Sarah is ourselves named as a blessing and a hope against hope: we are called by a new name to create from within ourselves a nation, nations in fact, of blessing. And then we come to the covenant with Moses. The practical guidance that we need - not a blue print of how to live, but rather some milestones, some reference points - that will enable us to determine our orientation towards life. Through Lent we are being reoriented, we are being turned, we are called to point towards. Our journey will lead us towards new paradigms, toward a new being, that will in turn, bring life to the whole. And in the reading from Paul it is put so simply in verse 20: ‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’ In that same reading Paul turns our attention towards Easter: verse 18, ‘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’. Paul discerns between those who are perishing and ‘us’ who are being saved. Paul discerns between uncreation and creation; Paul discerns between sin and an orientation to the Divine, between fear and love, and it’s that orientation toward Easter that we then see in the gospel narrative.

The cleansing of the temple is one those narratives that - it stays with us. It’s got a familiarity about it, possibly because it’s one of the places that we can feel comfortable readily identifying with Christ - ‘He spat the dummy. Oh, I know what that’s like’. We need to look a little more closely at it. See Matthew, Mark and Luke all place this narrative at the end of Jesus’ ministry, they put it at the end of his ministry so that it’s very closely linked with the Easter narratives. John places it at the beginning and in John’s gospel it’s as if this narrative sets a tone for the rest to follow. Today’s narrative will echo throughout John’s gospel, he’s given us something right at the beginning - he emphasises this act of Christ’s at the beginning. And perhaps he puts it there so that we can appreciate that the rest of the gospel, the whole of Christ, is always oriented towards Easter. The new age that this act illustrates, in John’s gospel is given to us as having arrived. The idea of challenging the order of the temple, the movement of taking the temple from a building out there to a temple within, all of that is emphasised right at the beginning of the gospel. If we briefly go back to Advent, we can see that the Advent star led to birth. That birth through John's gospel is now being evidenced in this activity, the narrative of the gospel. That, in turn, is leading us toward Easter, and Easter is the place of our re-creation in the divine, our re-creation as the Body of Christ.

The violence that is so often debated in this narrative is not the destructive violence that we find in our world; it is not the violence of political power; it is not the violence of greed; it is not the violence of competition, nor the violence of institutional corruption. Rather, in this gospel narrative we find the violence of birth - the violence that accompanies the drawing life out of chaos, love out of fear, hospitality out of hostility. There’s an article on the Net which is entitled “John’s account of Jesus’ demonstration in the temple: violent or non-violent?” And in the prologue to the article it says: ‘In conclusion, it is possible to establish Jesus’ demonstration as motivated by his perception that the temple is the centre of violence’. The activity of creation, of reorientation, of engaging covenant with the Divine, is the activity of birth. There is no passive path that leads us towards behaving as if the God in all life matters.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Third Sunday in Lent