Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 7, 2021

Vicar Sergio Rodriguez

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“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, you shall have no other gods besides me (Exod 20:1-3).”

As I consider the awesome sight of God’s descent upon Mount Sinai to speak these words of the covenant, I wonder if the people felt a sense of joy at hearing these words of life. Fire and smoke, thunder, lighting and sounds of trumpets signaled to the people encamped around the Mount that God has come to bring order into the desert chaos. God has come to set forth the perimeters of our life with each other, with each other’s treasured belongings and loved ones and with him.

God spoke all these words but these words seem more like a stern reproach rather than an occasion to respond with glad and merry hearts. Even now as we consider the role of health and safety measures as measures that safeguard life, there is much reluctance in receiving all these words from God as words of blessing; of a blessing that orders and safeguards our life together. As we approach the midpoint of our Lenten journey, God speaks to us anew these words that orders and safeguards our life together during this isolation. Through these words and the actions of Jesus, God cleanses our lives drawning our attention to distortions that impede us from living fully into God’s covenant of life.

As Moses and the people approached the awesome sight of God’s presence, the people remembered what Moses relayed to them: “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my commandments, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples… you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” As they saw Moses ascend with Aaron, waiting for God to speak the words of the covenant, they felt the fear of their finite condition and dared not to draw near; the presence upon the Mount was the presence of the maker of heaven and earth; their ultimate concern. Then God spoke to Moses: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the House of Slavery, you shall have no other gods besides me.” This acknowledgement, that the one speaking liberated them from the pharaoh and the pharaoh’s sphere of influence, served to remind the people of God’s favor. That theses words of the covenant are not proscriptive but describes how God’s favor continues to shape their lives. These ten commandments, or as our Godly Play teachers call them, the Ten Best Ways, reveal to us the character of God and the grace of God; Our God is the God of Life itself; Life in worship, life at rest and work, at home, in public and virtual spaces.

Siblings in Christ, if we were simplistically to expound the meaning of each of the Ten Best Ways with no attention to how each piece works as an integral whole, we miss the gift of life that God blesses us so that we too may carry the blessing of life outward in every aspect of our life together. I consider Luther’s simple explanation of the Fifth Commandment as drawing to a fine point how the Ten Best Ways as a whole shape our life in God and with one another. “You shall not murder. What is this? We are to fear and Love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of lives needs.” In other words, the very words of the commandments speak into our life together the movement to safeguard our lives; which ultimately orders our lives in love. In doing so, we begin to comprehend that through the covenant, God shapes each dimension of our life so that the life of our neighbor may flourish alongside us. We are blessed with life so that our lives may bless others. As the state decides to allow businesses full capacity and decides to lift the mask mandate in public spaces, the mask and CDC health and safety guidelines bear witness to calling as children of God; as those blessed with life that safeguards other lives. But I think in the spirit of Luther, we are called to a creatively and with a bit of humor to help and support our tired neighbor. I am reminded of a young teen who knowing how zoomed out and depressed the families in her neighborhood were, decided to go out into her driveway, donne a hotdog suit and dance; bring cheer and silliness in such a time. We are blessed with life so that our lives may bless others.

So when I hear Jesus make a whip of cords and drive out of the temple the animal vendors and money changers, I can not help but think of the words of the covenant: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The temple was supposed to be teeming with life-giving actions, prayers and liturgies so that all would receive the type of life that orders and safeguards the life of all. When Jesus came to Jerusalem with his disciples, Jesus prepared to commemorate the story of how the Lord God brought him and his people out of the land of Egypt. And yet when he entered into the temple, he was confronted with all the commercializing of the faith; What was this distortion? How did it come to pass that rather than be a house of the God of life, the temple morphed life into a series of transactions? For Jesus this distortion of life did not serve to safeguard the poor or the disenfranchised but impeded them from a fuller experience of life with God and neighbor. And so Jesus made a whip of cords and cleansed their life together from the distorting power of commercial gain. We can hear the words of Luther echo through Jesus’ actions. We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm but help and support them in all of lives needs. Where have you been unable to help and support others because of similar distortions? As we consider the recent actions of the state to allow for businesses to operate at full capacity, let us consider how we all have in some respect allowed for the distorting power of gain to be present in our lives; need to always be productive or to judge others based off of their productivity, our impatience with service workers and judging tradespeople for their educational attainment, the need to work and not take a sabbath rest. If we are blessed with life so that our lives may bless others, how may we imagine such a life free from these distortions? When Jesus made a whip of cords and drove out to of the temple the animal vendors and money changes, Jesus boldly and courageously lived out of this life-giving and life-blessing imagination.

For having taken the risk of cleansing his life together from such distortions, Jesus faced the consequences of his actions. The authorities demanded of Jesus, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Give us a reason and a miracle that bear witness to your witness to life. Unlike the Wedding of Cana where he turned water into wine, where life and merriment resumed, Jesus denied them a sign but spoke to them as God spoke to the Israelites. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” In other words Jesus is saying, “if living boldly for the sake of the God of life brings me death, I know that this bold life within me will never die but will blossom and ensnare the distortions of death and the world.” Likewise we being joined to Christ have been joined to such a life and oriented to such a destiny; the victory of life over the distortions of self-interest, of commercial gain, of being in control; to Life, to Life.

We have yet to live fully into such a destiny. No we are still in the temple and on Mount Sinai peering towards the narrow way of hope. We hope that God will shape hearts and minds in the Spirit of the Ten Best Ways. We hope that in moving the hearts and minds of folks to live into the health and safety guidelines and think creativity about how to meet the needs of their neighbors, that God will order the chaos of this word and safeguard our life together. Yet we hope for Jesus to guide our lives, to cleanse our lives, to lead us onward towards the culmination of our Lenten days; through this cross of the pandemic to the resurrection morn of the new normal.