Lent 3, Sunday 7th March 2021
Welcome to the Church
Welcome to church this morning everybody, to those of you gathered here and to those reading the Service from home. Thank you for inviting me to join with you in worship today and I pray that this time will be a blessing for all of us
Acknowledgment of country
We acknowledge the Wallumedegal of the Eora tribe,
the first inhabitants of this place.
We honour them for their custodianship of the land,
on which we gather today and pay respects to their elders, past, present, and emerging.
Hymn: Tis 152 Joyful, joyful, we adore you.
Call to Worship
Based on Psalm 19 with Call and response (in bold)
Let us worship God.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
As we come to worship our Lord,
may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts
be pleasing in your sight,
O, Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.
Prayer of Adoration
Let us pray,
Lord, you are our Rock and Redeemer,
No other love can compare to the love you have shown us.
You have made for us a world that is at times breathtaking in its beauty.
We see your majesty in the glory all around us; in nature and in the diversity of creatures who also claim Earth as their home.
We see signs of the world to come, a place of peace, justice, and harmony, mirrored in the smiles of our friends, in the laughter of children and in the comfort of a warm hug or a kind word, or a hot cup of tea.
Because you love us beyond measure we are blessed with the Spirit’s guidance, discipline and words of both correction and consolation.
Because you love us and hold nothing back we come to know and understand the heart of your law, the way of Jesus, our Rock and our Redeemer.
Prayer of Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
Let us now, bring our Prayers of Confession before the Lord. I will pause after each sentence, so that you can personally reflect and in the silence bring your own personal confession to the Lord.
Lord we come to you now, guided by your searching spirit
to confess the times when we have forgotten your name is Love.
We confess we are sometimes distracted by the little loves of life; possessions, hobbies, and passions.
We confess we are sometimes caught up in our own dramas, our own self concerns, our own prejudices, and perspectives.
We confess we often fail to notice the suffering of those around us.
We confess we often turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the world news; we keep our focus narrow so that we are not challenged or moved to change our ways.
We confess it is easier to think we are doing your will by following the rules and looking like a perfect Christian, than it is to actually practice your law of love.
May the confessions of our heart and the meditations of our souls be
pleasing in your sight.
O Lord our Rock and Redeemer.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
God is love.
Through Christ your sins are forgiven.
Take hold of this forgiveness
And live your life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Tis 403 Your words to me are life and health.
Exodus 20: 1-17
20 And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”
John 2: 13-22
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
It’s common to begin a sermon by telling a funny story or a tale that breaks the ice in a gentle, humorous kind of way but today’s introduction isn’t like that. It’s a true story, although names have obviously been changed and it’s a challenging story, one that I hope makes us all stop and think.
When Jackie was sixteen she fell pregnant and because she felt so ashamed she told no one; she also felt she had no option other than to have the pregnancy terminated. Afterwards Jackie was racked with guilt and grief and an overwhelming fear of what God must think of her. She feared God, and I am not speaking here of reverence or humility before God, but an anxiety driven, gut wrenching experience that tortured her soul day and night. Jackie had been brought up by parents who had faith, they taught her to say her prayers each night and she occasionally attended Sunday School. For whatever reason Jackie’s family were not, however, active church goers so when Jackie sought help to ease her anxieties she wandered into the church down the road.
Spilling her heart out to one of the older ladies in that place Jackie had the opportunity to hear God’s word of grace and love, sadly this is what she did hear, ‘you have committed murder and if you do not repent you will go to hell’.
To this very day, some 30 odd years later, Jackie still has a blockage in understanding grace and the love of God. She has never quite gotten over her fear of God and despite attending Bible Study for decades she has now found comfort in the teachings of Buddhism and in modern age Pantheism, (the God is everywhere but nowhere, kind of thinking). Although this disturbs me, as Jackie’s Christian friend, I think I understand why she finds it hard to accept love from the very personal, one and only One ‘who loves us best of all’.
The church goer who counselled Jackie all those years ago got it so wrong, there was no compassion, no empathy, no words of grace, no good news. It makes me wonder if that particular church goer spent every waking moment concentrating on making sure no sin was ever committed by themselves and others. Perhaps they had become fixated on the hearing the shall not’s, ‘the don’ts’ instead of hearing the ‘do’s.’ I think this is an easy trap to fall into and God’s people throughout the ages have all wandered away from the true purpose of God’s commands; from the heart of the law. We will explore that more fully in a moment but first a question; is it easier to cling to the Ten Commandments, to diligently obey the rules and the regulations of the church, and to stay within the bounds of our societies expectations than it is to follow the risky, challenging, table turning, ways of Jesus?
That’s a big fat yes, it’s tempting to use the Ten Commandments as a check list, perhaps glossing over the first four because of course we love God and the whole idol bit sounds a bit weird to modern ears, so we can skip that one. We could then move on to the next six and tick them off, I have obeyed that, check! I haven’t done that, that, that, I certainly haven’t coveted my neighbours donkey because I live in a high-rise apartment, so I am good to go, what a great Christian I am! We can think we are getting it right and yet actually be getting it so wrong.
So, to remedy this, let’s see if we can find the heart of the Gospel, and the true purpose of the law within today’s OT text. The Ten Commandments are presented to us in this text as stern, authoritarian orders that be must obeyed or else. Imagine what it would be like to read today’s text without any knowledge of the God we know revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ? God could come off as appearing bossy, vindictive, controlling and more concerned about the rules and judgement than love and grace. The ending to today’s OT text is left out of the lectionary, but we are told that the people were afraid, can you blame them? so afraid that they trembled with fear and begged Moses not to let God speak directly to them. I think that’s how Jackie probably felt all those years ago, when she wandered into the wrong church at the wrong time and heard the wrong thing said to her in her time of greatest need.
In verse 20 of today’s OT reading, Moses aware of the people’s predicament and their need for reassurance, tells God’s people,
“Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
In other words, the commands of God are given as a blessing, they are given for the people’s benefit so that life in community reflects God’s concern for justice and the flourishing of all creation, even the animals (did you notice that the animals must have a day of rest each and every Sabbath?) The God who saved Israel from slavery in Egypt is also concerned with saving God’s people across the span of time, from ourselves and our destructive tendencies. God’s commands can also be described as guiding principles that help us to fulfil the greatest commandment of all, to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and to likewise love our neighbour. St. Paul describes love of neighbour as our most important Christian obligation, he summarises this, stating that “to love” is “to obey the whole Law”.
This kind of love is far removed from the generic way we speak of love in day-to-day conversation. Thinking about love of neighbour as an obligation means it’s okay to not always be filled will joy in the service of others, it can come at a cost. It also means we may need to act in ways that clash with societies expectations and ideals; we too may be called to ‘overturn the tables’.
When Jesus walks into the Temple forecourt in today’s reading from John, he walks into a “religious system in which the law had become a confusing mass of rules” We often read this text with some apprehension; Jesus violent actions seem out of kilter with our notions of Jesus, ‘the tender shepherd, meek and mild.’ Yet, it’s healthy and constructive to have our ideas shaken all about every now and then. In today’s NT text, in an act of resistance, Jesus shakes up the stodgy, misconceptions of the religious rulers, the ones who had become so good at ticking of the commands of the law; tick, tick by 316. ‘What a great little Pharisee, I am!’. Jesus shakes up the ones who had become so good at studying the law and telling others what to do, instead of putting the heart of the law into practice in day-to-day life.
Jesus entry into the Temple in today’s NT reading is employed by the gospel authors to point to the true place of worship, the heart and fulfilment of the law and ultimately to the foot of the cross and the glory of Easter Sunday. We hear Jesus answers the Religious leaders by describing the events of Easter, saying,
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Through the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the consolation of the Holy Spirit we can confidently name God as our divine Parent, a Parent who is nothing like the authoritarian leaders of the world, is nothing like stern, unforgiving fathers/mothers, misguided well-meaning church goers, family, friends, employers, and colleagues, is nothing like the weird misconception many people have, you know, the bearded, old man in white robes handing out judgement and condemnation. Rather the God we know revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ speaks to us words of life not judgement, not condemnation. Our God blesses us with guidelines, boundaries and at times correction because our divine Parent, our one and only God, is the One who loves us best of all.
Hymn: Tis 217 Love divine, all loves excelling.
Prayers of Intercession and The Lord’s Prayer
Lord and giver of every good thing,
we bring to you our lives and gifts
to make way for the healing of the broken and the lost,
through your grace and love
made known to us in Jesus Christ your only Son.
May the strength of God sustain us; may the power of God preserve us; may the hands of God protect us; may the way of God direct us; may the love of God go with us this day and forever.
Hymn: Tis 453 We limit not the truth of God
(The Blessing of the Holy Trinity of love be upon you):
God who is love, fill your hearts.
Christ Jesus, who is new life, inspire your hopes.
The Holy Spirit, who is lifegiver.
Spur you to deeds of compassion.
Next Sunday: 14 March 2021
Bible Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21
Theme: “Snakes in the desert”
Lectionary Readings for next Week:
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3,17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21