So, how ya’ doing? By that I mean with the opportunity of following your “Epiphany Star”. For those that may have missed it, we handed out stars at Epiphany with words to help us frame our response to the gospel this year. Mine was “service,” and some days I am better at it than others. I keep my star on my dresser so that I’ll see it every day.
I bring that up as a reminder of where we’ve been, even as we move toward the cross and the hope that it brings. So far, as we’ve moved from Epiphany into Lent – from enlightenment into a period of reflection and discernment. So far on our journey we have recognized the baptismal covenant that claims us all, and we have heard the call to repentance, and discipleship, and covenant community.
And as a covenant community, we’ve struggled to discern what might separate us from God, and what needs to be crucified along with Christ so that we might truly set our minds on things that matter – on divine things. Not on harps and cherubs but setting our mind on the presence of the Divine here and now. That’s where we are on our Lenten journey, as we approach these texts today.
Now most of us – whether we are familiar with them or not – probably feel like we know what these texts have to say. The ten commandments are the basis for our moral code, right? Reading Paul can be a little like a riddle on a good day, but we already know the answer here. Jesus died, but he also rose from the dead. You can’t get much more powerful than that, right? Besides, God knew the plan (just as we do now), so it makes sense that those believers in Corinth were still trying to figure it out.
So, then there’s this story about Jesus getting all mad and driving people out of the temple. I think there is some part of each of us that really likes this. Nothing wrong with a little well placed and well timed righteous anger, right? Sometimes we need to know that Jesus was a man with a full range of emotions, and we need to see that even he had a boiling point.
In a way, all these answers are true, but they are also only part of the truth. And I think, along with needing to look below the surface for brighter gems, we need to ask ourselves what truth they hold together. Why did God see fit to inspire a lectionary that offered these three readings on this day? What song would they sing if they were some kind of Greek chorus, narrating with one voice?
I think it would be something like, “Don’t you get it? I love you. I love you so much that I’m letting go of everything that gets in the way of loving you. OK, now you try.” (He really did you say, “you sing with you?”
I added that last one in because the idea of being asked to imitate the self-offering love of God reminded me of when my son was 3 and we were teaching him his ABC’s. Instead of ending with “next time won’t you sing with me” he adapted it to, “next time won’t you sing with you – now you try”.
It was adorable, not only because of the creativity and simplicity of a child’s voice, but also because of the way in which children imperfectly follow their parents – whether in reflection or rebellion. Likewise, I see that as our task in these holy words of scripture, and I imagine that God often looks at our efforts, smiles, and says, “Well that was cute.”
So, let’s move beyond cute and unpack these texts a little to see how they instruct and support our imperfect attempts to love God without restraint.
Of course, there is John Calvin’s take on the law – to convict us of our sin, to order our society, and to instruct us in how to live in response to God’s grace – and sermons have been preached on each of these. So, apart from encouraging you to meditate on these, I feel the need to lift something up in particular that has always frustrated me, and I wonder if you feel the same. It’s not the fact that there are a lot of “don’ts”.
You can, by the way, find lots of attempts to reframe these positively. No, I’m talking about the whole jealous God punishing unfairly thing. It doesn’t square with the whole “God of justice and mercy” thing. What I have come to understand about this passage, is that it’s really not so much of a condemnation as much as it is a commentary. If we look at families with alcoholism or abuse or (name your dysfunction – we all got ‘em), we find that these things get handed down. At least, they are more likely to get handed down when our reverence is not toward God.
When I say our reverence, I don’t mean just going to church. I mean truly honoring God as the organizing principle for our lives. That may look differently in each of our lives, but at the core it means that we are willing to recognize the needs of others above our own. That’s the kind of thing that disrupts patterns of selfishness. That’s the kind of thing that turns over the tables in our comfortable spaces of ritual and practice when they do not connect with the fact that God is God and we are not. That’s the kind of thing that translates into a love that flows in immeasurable quantities – for thousands of generations.
But at the base of it is a deep reverence for God. In fact, Paul’s letter holds that as the key to his argument. When he asked for the scribe and the debater he had already referenced the Prophet Isaiah and was daring them to come up with something better. For, Isaiah was condemning worship by rote and asking how the clay could dare to define the potter, or how the one who had been thought up could dare to imagine the thoughts of God.
And this God is the one who did the unthinkable. This God is the one who died. God’s don’t die. That’s ridiculous. Sure, you can make the argument that God did not cease to exist, but God demonstrated power by submitting to a human power that could never have overcome God in the first place. God did what no other so-called God could do. God experienced loss and yet was not defined by that loss. In fact, that loss became a way of demonstrating how much more there was to this God than there could be to any other.
In fact, because of this loss, we know that God is with us in ours. We know that God is with us in our debates, in our fears, and in public spaces and private thoughts. We know that God is not some ethereal spirit but an embodied reality that constantly invites us to love as we have been loved.
And when we don’t, God is there to say, “Don’t you get it? I am God. Don’t you get it? I’ve given you rules to help you. Don’t you get it? I have the power to save you – even from yourself. Don’t you get it? Ritual is not the same as reverence, and if you don’t worship me you’re going to end up worshiping yourself.”
And that brings us to the temple, where Jesus attacked those who were fulfilling their religious duty in order to say, “Don’t you get it? This is not love. This is ritual obligation.” Now, I have to say that I’ve always thought of him as being angry here, but Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary says he’s not. He’s not angry. He’s zealous for the house of the Lord. He’s really, really excited about the temple being the place of connection between God and humanity. But here’s the kicker. He’s not talking about the building.
All this drama about the money changers and livestock is merely a demonstration., because, after his resurrection the disciples remembered what they had seen and heard and oh, by the way, it was just like Psalm 69:8-10 – when the psalmist laments being attacked for fasting in reverence to God.
It all comes back to reverence as the key to experiencing God in one another. It all comes back to reverence in order to see that here in this place is Christ in mercy broken for us as bread and poured out as a libation for our selfishness.
Is this a ritual for you and for me? Is even this table one that needs to be flipped in order to experience the God who is present and calling each of us to love as we have been loved?
Truth be told, the table does not matter. What matters is our ability to see that all of this is framed by the Passover feast in which Jesus is the one that offers redemption. And just as our souls are redeemed, so are our bodies – as broken and imperfect as they are.
For ours is the task to recognize the possibility of redemption that has come through the body of Jesus for those other embodied souls that cry out. Because, in the words of Karoline Lewis, “bodies in our midst continue to be dismissed for the color they should not be. Bodies in our midst continue to be overlooked for that which does not conform to what bodies should look like and be able to do. Bodies in our midst continue to be assaulted and abused… justified by twisted… biblical interpretation meant only to oppress and suppress.” And our bodies may be the only version of Christ that one of these bodies sees on any given day.
I have a feeling that we do, “get that”. In fact, I see it in you all the time. As we celebrate this table turning, liberating love of God at the Lord’s Table today, I invite you to think about the incarnational nature of what you are doing.
Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters believe they are physically receiving Christ in the elements, and in taking Christ in they are consumed by him. In a similar way, we recognize that God is present in the sharing of the loaf and cup in a special way, and that we are made sacred through the act of sharing them.
We are made into zealous fools for the love of God – zealous fools for the temple of God that is none other than Christ – and we love as he loved us. And so, as we continue on our journey toward the cross and the hope that it brings, I pray that you will not only be willing to flip over the tables in your own hearts, but that I might be able to do so in mine as well – that God may be glorified in all we say and do. Amen!