And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Thee – those words no doubt sound familiar to those of us who were raised on or attended Rite 1 Eucharists for any length of time in our lives. Why do I bring them up today? A few of you have figured out I enjoy the more challenging aspects of theology. Just a few minutes ago, in the adult Bible study, we were taking on questions of whether salvation can be lost, whether our inheritance can be taken from us, or even how unengaged people-groups, to use Clayton’s language from earlier this week, will be held accountable by a true, just, and holy God. The fact is, your friends and neighbors and family members who do not believe, will often come at you with those kinds of hard questions. If you have not pondered them, if you have not considered the incongruity that exists between the world promised by God and the world in which we live, you might miss a wonderful opportunity to engage someone where they are, at their invitation so to do.
This week, we get a double dose of the Ten Commandments. We read the Ten Commandments during the Penitential Order, and then we turned around and read them as part of our Old Testament reading from Exodus. Why? Why should we read them twice? Part of the answer concerns the kingdom of God. One of our seminary professors, Rod, one of the experts in John reminded us all the time that the rule of God is where God is the ruler. Part of the answer, though related to that first, is that all the other instructions of the torah flow from the Ten Commandments which, in turn, flow from the Two Great Commandments. No doubt you really want me to slow down and state that again. Let’s try it in reverse. Jesus said the two great commandments were loving God with everything we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves, right? Why did Jesus give those two commandments as an answer? He was asked by someone else to summarize the torah, the teaching of God. Jesus taught that those Two Great Commandments summarize the entirety of what God expected of His people. To be sure, up to this point, what Jesus taught was not unsurprising to those who heard it. Other Rabbi’s had summarized the torah in a similar fashion. Where Jesus differed, of course, is that He claimed every jot and every tittle of the torah was fulfilled by Him and pointed to Him – but that is a sermon for another day! No, the summary of the torah gives us real insight as to the character and pace of the Kingdom of God. Want to know the heart of God? Consider the Cross and Empty Tomb even as you meditate on His instructions given to Moses.
The Ten Commandments summarize the other 600 or so instructions given by God to the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai, and then again when the second generation, under Joshua’s leadership, chose the wiser course of trusting God and entering the Promised Land. All those laws were given to a redeemed people to teach them how to live in communion with the Lord God. They were not onerous; they were not meant to be burdensome. Israel wanted to know how to live as God’s people, and God gave them the instructions. When people come in arguing for the observance of or permission not to observe a particular law, I always encourage them to consider where the law in question in their mind falls within the Ten and then the Two. It makes for a lot of work, I understand, but it also gets the person focusing on the heart and mind of God and of themselves rather than the sin of another they want to condemn or of themselves they want to ignore! I share all that with you not because I want to focus on the Ten Commandments specifically today but because I want you to understand better what consumes Jesus in John’s Gospel and the Psalmist in Psalm 69.
For those who like the idea of the “buddy Jesus” of Dogma fame or some hippie presentation of Jesus, today’s reading from John is a challenge. Jesus comes into the Temple. We are told He makes a whip from cords and begins chasing out the animals and money changers and all the business owners essential to the commerce of the Temple. Those who like to pretend that the New Testament to show an evolution in God’s wrath find this passage distasteful. After all, were the money changers and business owners not there, most people could not worship God properly, or at least as taught by the priests, scribes, and elders.
Given the marketplace scene described by John, you may have figured out that there was quite the business inside the Temple. Only specific currency could be used to buy the right sacrifice. Each animal had to be brought to the marketplace to be sold for worship. And, money sure was convenient if one was walking for a couple days or a week to go to Jerusalem. Who wants to carry pigeons or tow a sheep or an ox? That only slows people down, right? That makes them an easier, slower target for the brigands. So this business center sprang up to deal with the realities of the world. It would be easier on the people if they did not have to bring their own sacrifices. It would be easier on the people if they did not have to get the Temple currency when they lived some distance from Jerusalem, or it would be more beneficial to the Temple if we were paid for the currency exchange rather than some guy down in Jericho. It would be easier on the people if they could buy their animals, again from us at the Temple, rather than cut into their herds or flocks by bringing their own. See how seductive the system was? Can you see how good intentions turned into money-making schemes? I’m glad we never do that in the Church, take good intentions and try to monetize them. We never burden people like that, do we?
All sarcasm aside, John relates this story because it captures the essential reason for the revelation of the torah on Sinai. God’s people had asked how they were supposed to live in communion with the Lord. The torah was the answer. God taught His people, through Moses, what it meant to be His people, to be a nation of priests, to be a light unto the world. Like everything else, though, Israel’s ability to keep the torah was hamstrung by sin. What God revealed was supposed to be the characteristics of a circumcised heart; the people revealed that their hearts were as stiff as their necks. Some will assume in their conversations with Jesus that because they have Abraham as a father that God must protect them. Some will try to contextualize the torah and assert that those old teachings no longer apply. Some will so twist the torah that the elderly, the widows, and the orphaned will be punished rather than helped. Gee, mom and dad, I’d love to help you out in your retirement years, but I pledged my money to the Temple. And Jesus, consumed with zeal for the Lord’s house, reasserts the purpose of the torah, the purpose of the Temple, the relationship the people of Israel should have with the Lord, a relationship that should be written on their hearts, minds, and wills. A relationship that is not yet possible, but will be if Jesus accomplishes the work He has come to do.
One of the important lessons we as Christians should take from this scene, and there are admittedly more than one, is the changing place where God is to be worshipped. Israel, understandably, was focused on the Tabernacle and then the Temple. The tent and the Temple were the place where Yaweh resided. Their ancestors had seen the cloud come down in the middle of the camp during the Exodus, they knew that Solomon built the permanent House of the Lord, they knew that the prophet had seen the Spirit of God leave the Temple before the Exile, and they knew the emperor had sent Ezra and Nehemiah and that generation to rebuild the Temple that had been sacked. Even after 46 years of rebuilding and refurbishment, the Temple in which they were standing was a pale imitation of the glorious Temple of Solomon. But those in the Temple forgot their purpose. They became more concerned with the economy of the Temple rather than the worship of the Lord the Temple signified. They became more concerned with the privileges and perks of their position than calling the people of God back into right relationship with Him.
Jesus hints rather strongly that the locus of worship is changing. In answer to their challenge of His authority, He challenges the Temple elites to destroy this temple and in three days He will rebuild it. They interpret Him to be saying that He can rebuild in three days what they have been working on for 46 years, but Jesus has in mind a more glorious sign for them. Of course, neither the Temple Elites nor the disciples nor you and I understand the sign He has in mind absent the Cross and Resurrection. Who is Jesus to declare this teaching? From where does this son of a carpenter derive His authority?
The next several chapters of John’s Gospel will be full of signs which point to the source of Jesus’ authority. It will include, with this scene in the background, the Samaritan woman at the well who asks which mountain is the proper mountain upon which to worship God. Jesus tells her the time is coming when God’s people will worship Him in spirit and truth rather than on a particular mountain and that He is the Messiah, the Anointed One who will make this possible. The place of the right worship of God will shift from the Temple to the heart of the believer. To outward appearance, the life of a faithful Jew and a faithful Christian will be indistinguishable. What will have changed will be the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the one who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That indwelling Spirit will provoke life which looks like the life called for under the torah. That indwelling Spirit will make it possible for the believer to worship the Lord truly.
Back to our discussion of the Ten Commandments and Two Great Commandments. One of the effects of Jesus’ work is the changing of the place of worship. I’m not talking about the differences between a Temple and a synagogue and church. I am talking about the understanding that you and I are always called to be worshiping, praising, thanking, and communing with God. There is no part of our lives that is ours! He is Lord over every second, every facet, every bit of all our lives. God is every bit as much God over our personal live, our work lives, our interests and hobbies, as He is over our worship lives. Jesus sums up the 600 instructions with the idea that we are called to love Him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength, all our everything. Not part. Not most. All our everything.
More amazingly, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. How can He expect us to do that? What was He thinking? He was thinking that everyone was created in His image. Everyone. Yes, we mar that beautiful image through our sins, but His image is indelibly imprinted upon us. If we understand God’s love for us while we were enemies and unrepentant sinners, how can we truly honor Him by not reaching out in love to those who are currently His enemies? If we truly understand the joy and thankfulness of the grace proclaimed to us, how can we ever withhold it from another? If we as a people can gather, week in and week out, and receive the Sacrament according to His instruction and in remembrance of His death and His passion for us, how can we ever work to withhold that same gift from others and expect to be doing the work He has given us to do? And, understand me clearly, some in the world will seek to take advantage of our efforts to live out the Two Great Commandments in our lives. Schemers and thieves and all sorts of bad people will hope to use us to further their own ends or selfish ambition. But we should not be surprised. As John wrote a few verses earlier, He came into that which was His own, and His own rejected and despised Him. Those who reject and despise Jesus will reject and despise us, and that is ok. Because that same God who gave the torah, that same God who sent His Son, has promised that He will redeem all things. If we suffer for Him and His sake, we will be vindicated by Him! So all things—how we relate to one another, how we care for strangers, how we play, how we mourn, how we celebrate—all we do testifies to the reality of whether we are God’s people.
All of that begins in here, in our hearts and minds and wills. Do we live our lives cognizant of and thankful for the love and grace which He first showed us? Do we live our lives determined to walk as He walks, to see as He sees, to hear and speak as He hears and speaks, and to love as He loved? Do we really seek His mind in all our actions, in all our thoughts, in all our musings? Do we? Or do we try and confine it to ninety minutes on Sunday? The truth is, as He knew it would be, no. Forgive them, Lord, they do not know what they are doing. How many of us, though, answered those questions with “no, but. . . ” in our heads? How many of us went right to the extenuating circumstance, the excuse, the reason for our behavior? The Ten Commandments, indeed the whole of God’s instruction, teaches us where we fall short, where we need grace, where we need a Savior. And so it is fitting that we spend some time each year reminding ourselves of His teaching. It is fitting that we spend extra time listening to Him describe what kingdom life is like. It is fitting that we are reminded of the measure, the canon, and where we fall short. It is fitting that we remind ourselves of who we are called to be by Him. It is fitting that we remind ourselves that this, this mind and heart and body are the places where we are called to worship Him, thankful that He brought us in from the wildernesses of our lives, into His Peace, into His life, into His kingdom!