Exodus 20:1-17 & John 2:13-22 February 25, 2018
A Scripture Reading from Exodus 20: 1-17
Without looking at your bulletin cover, How many of the Ten Commandments can you name? If you are like most Americans, the number is far below the full ten, though I do hope that you are all above average Americans! A 2007 survey reported that most Americans could rattle off the ingredients of a Big Mac more readily than the Ten Commandments. “Two all beef patties . . . “ and I don’t even eat big macs and never ever go to MacDonalds!
It is worth noting here that God gave the commandments to Israel AFTER God established the covenant with them. Following the commandments was not a condition for a relationship with God, but is to be our response to that relationship. The commandments reminded Israel – and now us – that God has done something wonderful for us: released us from slavery and then has asked something from us: behavior consonant with that liberation. (seasons curriculum)
Exodus 20: 1-17
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
(1) you shall have no other gods before me.
(2)You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. . . . . .
(3) You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God . . . . . .
(4) Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work . . . .
(5) Honor your father and your mother . . . .
(6) You shall not murder.
(7) You shall not commit adultery.
(8) You shall not steal.
(9)You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
(10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Here ends the reading.
It was Boxing Day 1989. Romania was in turmoil. The previous day, President Nicolae Ceausescu, unable to quell the tide of dissent in Bucharest, had been tried and executed. Now no one was in charge. Western reporters flooded into the country from the south, searching for someone who could speak English. Finally they found someone, and in one sentence she summed up not only Romania’s predicament, but the human condition: “We have freedom,” she said, “but we don’t know what to do with it.”
Rev Mandy Lape Freeberg writes: “If we see the Ten Commmandments as gifts not as restrictions, as the way to freedom not as barriers to freedom, as the extension of Holy love not the end of Holy Love, the ten commandments become God’s best hopes and dreams for us. Rather than a leash meant to hold us back, the commandments are an invitation to true freedom. These commandments were and are a gift of love, a blessing in an uncertain and dangerous world. These simple, yet profound laws are meant to fashion us as God’s people, holy, grounded in faith and following the one God who leads us from captivity to Freedom.”
The ten commandments serve in much the same way as traffic signs do, they do not so much limit traffic as they provide for safe and orderly movement. When Michael was in Vietnam – the second time in 2008 – he took a movie of the cars in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Mihn City– which was both humorous and terrifying. There seemed to be no traffic laws, no stop signs, no traffic lights, no rules and if there are, no one follows them. And consequently, driving is incredibly dangerous in Vietnam.
Remember Romania’s predicament, and the human condition: “We have freedom, but we don’t know what to do with it.”
The Ten commandments are life giving, for a people who lived in slavery and who did not know how to live in freedom, the Ten commandments created stability and safety and a way to live in community.
But here’s where we get confused. As compelling and logical as the Ten commandments are; they don’t make sense outside of a relationship with God. The heart of the Ten Commandments beats with the love of God – God’s love for us and our love, as God’s people. Without faith and foundation in God, the Ten Commandments lack their essential core. In conversations about moral choices, I’ve often heard “well, it isn’t against the law” which isn’t the question – is it right or wrong? is the question. If your foundation of ethical and moral code is based on God, on God’s love for you and your love for God, the secular is not as important as Holiness.
That is why the first four of the ten are about our relationship with God.
And first and foremost: “You shall have no other God’s before me”
Not even the god of our constitution? No
No even the god of patriotism? no
Not even being the wealthiest nation in the world? No
These commandments are about how to worship, finding the ultimate freedom in being God’s people, not just a people. Being connected to God – worshipping and loving God, understanding God as our creator and redeemer and sustainer should result in a compassionate society of ethical people, but the initial principle upon which all the others rest is that we be in relation with our creator First and Foremost.
Seeing the Ten Commandments as a set of burdens overlooks something essential, namely that they are prefaced not by an order – “Here are ten rules. Obey them!” — but instead by a breathtaking announcement of freedom: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). We will probably always refer to the declarations that follow as the “Ten Commandments,” but we can also think of them as descriptions of the life that prevails in God’s liberation. “Because the Lord is your God, you are free not to need any other gods. You are Free to be God’s people.” For, we can not be Holy on our own, we need the community of faith. And God has given us life, truth, purpose, heritage, joy. It is True, that without God, we can have goods and gratification, success and pleasure; but we can never be holy, and we can never know the freedom that only faith in God gives us.
Anthem “If Ye Love Me” Thomas Tallis
A Scripture Reading from John 2:13-22
Now you may wonder about the connection between these two scriptures!
In this story from the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover. Passover is the time for the Jewish people to remember the Exodus from Egpyt, God leading the people from slavery to freedom and the covenant God made with Israel. Passover became a time to see how Israel was doing in keeping the tangible part of this covenant: the Ten Commandments. In sweeping the temple clear of the money changers, Jesus was both physically and figuratively clearing space for God in the temple and in the lives of the people.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Can you name what is sacred to you? Perhaps it is hard for you to be specific. It is not an everyday sort of a question. But when someone tramples on what is sacred to you, you know it instantly because that is when your rage is ignited. When your rage is ignited, it is usually a sign that our sacred has been trampled. So if you are struggling to name what is sacred to you, then think about what enrages you and perhaps you will then know and be able to name what is sacred to you!
By sacred, I mean that which connects us to God, that which gives us our essential value as human beings, that which gives our lives meaning and foundation, that which helps us to make sense of the world and of our place in it.
So the next time someone asks you to name what is sacred – because yeah that’s a question you get asked a lot – reflect on times when rage has welled up within you, and you will be in touch with what is sacred to you. (idea source Rev. Dick Allen)
I remember being enraged a few times with my children – and when I calmed down, I could articulate to them the essential thing that enraged me – lying. I hold honesty as a sacred value, being lied to me makes me much angrier than whatever either of my children had done wrong. Just tell me the truth! I wanted them to understand that telling the truth about what had happened was a far better choice than lying to cover up something.
We need to look at what enrages us to understand what is sacred to us.
This is essentially what is happening in the Gospel story today. Jesus gets in touch with what is sacred to him! He arrives in Jerusalem and does what every faithful Jewish man would do, he heads straight for the Temple to pray and participate in the ancient liturgies of his faith, to encounter the holy there.
But the money changers have moved from the places in the banking district right into the temple courtyard. And there, as Pilgrims come from all around the ancient world to Jerusalem for Passover, the money changers convert their foreign coin into the temple coins in order to make a proper tithe. So too, the vendors of the sacrificial animals have moved their stall from the business district right to the temple grounds. Business transactions right there, in the temple, taking advantage of foreigners and poor people. Instead of a place to enter the temple that is serene and holy as one prepares for worship, it is a noisy marketplace.
Imagine walking into our narthex and being shouted at all at once
“Just $10.00 for a bulletin”,
“$5.00 for your name tag’
“$6.00 to hang your coat” “
$20.00 for a seat in a pew”
“$50.00 for a prayer request”
BEST DEAL IN TOWN – right here! No, here! Come on up!
We don’t even do that for Roast Beef Suppers!
Jesus witnessed all of this and his blood started to boil. Its one of the few times when we see him “lose his cool”. He shouts, ““Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” He fashions a whip and cracks it. There is a rage that wells up within him. It’s a sure sign that he is clear, very clear, about what is sacred. He doesn’t hurt anyone, but those who have trampled on his sacred space get the message.
When others see and then respect what is sacred to you, that’s when relationships deepen, that’s when peace has a chance to thrive, because its about respect.
When I reflect on the places in the world today where rage is expressing itself, there the sacred is being trampled, I think of some very hot buttons. I think of the MeToo movement, of women and men who have been sexually harassed and violated. Whose stories have not been honored and who have suffered for speaking out. Our bodies are one of God’s greatest gifts to us, we are created by God, intricately made. Our bodies are sacred vessels that provide shelter to our souls. And when our bodies are violated, demeaned, treated as property, abused or objectified, that – that tramples on the sacred. And thus the rage you hear being expressed. That is one of the reasons I have been so committed to the OWL program on human sexuality for our youth. We teach our youth to value their own bodies and other’s bodies, to honor the gift of sexuality and to respect it. We teach them to say “no” and to hear “no” – as a way of saying “my body is sacred to me. I insist that you respect that truth.” And when it is the right time, we teach them to say “yes” and to hear “yes”. As a way of saying this relationship is special and to be celebrated in a sacred way as a decision.
And I think of our current national debate about gun control. Rage is certainly being expressed in the gun debate isn’t it? So I wonder what is the sacred that is being trampled? And please note, that I am inviting conversation about my thoughts here!! On one side we have the sacred belief in individual rights, in holding on to a certain interpretation of our constitution and the promised pursuit of happiness. And on the other side we have the sacred belief of living in community and in safety. It seems that all sides in this debate sense their sacred being trampled and are enraged. Yet, not all are able to articulate the central value that undergirds their viewpoint.
But here is the problem, there is an inherent conflict between individual rights and the formation of community. Which brings us back to the Ten Commandments. The Ten commandments were about living in relationship with God and living in community. The commandments reminded Israel – and us – that God has done something wonderful for us: released us from slavery and then has asked something from us: behavior consonant with that liberation. The commandments formed slaves into the Hebrew people with an identity and a community. Instead of the human condition, “We have freedom, but we don’t know what to do with it.” through the gift of the Ten Commandments, the Hebrews had both freedom and a way to live with it. HOWEVER, For everyone to have freedom and to live in community, we have to relinquish some individual freedoms.
The question then becomes which freedoms and who decides?
In the gospel story, there are some official witnesses to the righteous indignation Jesus demonstrates in the temple courtyard, and they challenge him “by what authority do you do this?” in other words “who do you think you are?”
It is a great question. It is a question for Jesus, but it is a question for everyone who has ever lived, who is living now, and who is yet to be born. It is a great question because it gives us a chance to claim our own authority, to name what for us, is sacred and not to be trampled.
When his sacred was trampled, Jesus found energy to turn the tables, to right the wrong, to demand respect. That is what should happen when our sacred is trampled. We find energy and conviction to confront the principalities and powers, to right the wrong, and to insist on respect.
And so I invite you to the table for a conversation about Guns and gun control. I am hopeful that through a respectful discussion, we can hear one another’s sacred being expressed and come to some understanding. And perhaps even agree on some actions. We need to do it. Something has to change, continuing to do nothing, and hoping the violence will stop is the very definition of crazy – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Instead of bible study next Sunday, after church, you are invited to sit down and talk about gun control. All opinions are welcome at the table.
Pay attention to your rage. Beneath the rage lies the sacred. What is it? Learn to name it. The story of Jesus’ rage in the temple courtyard is an invitation for us to name what is sacred to us, to share what is sacred to us with our families and our friends, and to know for sure that when our sacred is trampled, we can use the energy and clarity of our anger to make the world a better place.
In the greatest of hope, thanks be to God. Amen.
*Hymn 552: “From the Crush of Wealth and Power” NCH
- LAJ sermon 2/9/14
- -Dick Allen sermon 3/15/09
- Mandy Lape Freeberg sermon 2/14