Sunday, 8 March 2015

Can't make it to church - 8 March 15

This week's readings take us to a place where emphasis of the words 'commandment, wisdom, stumbling blocks and foolishness' bring us to a safe yet oddly uneasy place. Here we have passages that set up contrary states in those who come across them and yet there is also a consistency to be treasured and a guide of how we need to live as people of faith.

Beginning with the Ten Commandments, not suggestions or helpful hints, we have a set of absolutes placed before us and yet these are not, as one sermon once had it, 'All about God,' but are about relationships with others: Community, family, marriage and self taking up the majority of the topics with God explicitly featuring in less than a third of them. Let's see what they are all about:

Five deal with ethical imperatives: Murder, stealing, truth, fidelity and what is often found at the root of problems in these areas: Coveting! Here we have the basic considerations which, if managed properly, guarantee stability in all societies regardless of the theological, lifestyle or faith position occupied.

Three deal with our relationship with God and deal once more with fidelity and respect.

Another is concerned with relationships with parents.

The last commandment is concerned with our inner wellbeing - relationship with self - taking time to find and enjoy self in that day off ('The one I don't always take,' says I with an air of hypocrisy)!

Looking at our Psalm in the NLT* we find the key to living with Him and with our neighbours, our closest neighbour (our spouse), and within our families as (v9 onwards) tells us:

The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are rightbringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
 each one is fair.

They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
 a great reward for those who obey them.

This tells me what I have suspected, and hoped for, in and about God as I learn that He is:
Perfect - trustworthy - right - clear - pure - everlasting (faithful) - true - fair

And relationship with Him, living by the rules:
Revives me - brings wisdom - gives joy - gives insight (wisdom)

This is where religion and relationship can be seen to have become separate for religion, which is man's ultimate rebellion against God in that it oppresses us with rules we cannot keep and condemn us in our failure, is replaced by relationship with God which is made all the more real and accessible by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ. What we find is peace with God and man through the keeping of the commandments; not through fear or threat (that's religion) but by relationship with God and the presence of His Holy Spirit.

And so, at last I hear you cry, we come to the New Testament and the fact that whilst people have always clamoured for signs and wisdom (you didn't think Dawkins and others like him were something new and fresh did you?) we (and I quote the Romans passage here):

'We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to 'sign seekers'  and foolishness to 'those who think themselves wise', but to those who believe it is the Christ, Jesus who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.'

So it has to be said that I'd be worried if there weren't people out there keeping up the tradition of seeking signs and proclaiming their own wisdom. But others aside let's return to the 'believers' where, for many of us, the problem is that we cling to religion. We seek blessing and prosperity and engage in self-serving huddles of ersatz holiness looking to be blessed rather than bless God and the communities around us.

We seek to preserve, and demand, our rights when what God wants is for us to be be stronger than the strongest by being the servant of all and by us holding ourselves in good relationships with as many as we possibly can. But when we see it being done wrongly then, like our Gospel passage so clearly shows, we make a stand and act in ways which the world finds contrary to the impotent, limp, and ineffective Church they long for us to be.

Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and sees it for the sham that it is. It is a con (bit like sending money to some of the lesser integrity snake oil TV God pedlars out there) and Jesus, consumed by zeal for integrity in every expression of Church, kicks over their market stalls and chases them out of the place.

Church should be a place of prayer and praise and worship and relationship - if it's not then you have a model of action before you (just don't make the whip and don't break their stuff!).

So here we are with all four passages combining to present a picture which I trust is accurate and compelling. Right relationships and desires which come together in a right outworking (hopefully - I know I get this wrong at times, guess you do too) as we make our way along the road to the cross.

Let us turn to the Psalm, Post communion prayer and The Collect and as we pray for ourselves:

From the Psalm
Lord cleanse me from my secret faults!
Keep me also from presumptuous sins lest they take control of me;
So that I am clean and innocent of great offence.
Let the words I speak and my inner thoughts be always acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect
Almighty God,'whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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; you shall have no other gods before me.

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.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Psalm 19
The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. One day pours out its song to another and one night unfolds knowledge to another. They have neither speech nor language and their voices are not heard, Yet their sound has gone out into all lands and their words to the ends of the world. In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, that comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber and rejoices as a champion to run his course. It goes forth from the end of the heavens and runs to the very end again, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter also than honey, dripping from the honeycomb. By them also is your servant taught and in keeping them there is great reward. Who can tell how often they offend?

O cleanse me from my secret faults! Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins lest they get dominion over me; so shall I be undefiled, and innocent of great offence. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

1 Corinthians 1.18-25
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise?
Where is the scribe?
Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

John 2.13-22
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 market-place!’

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.

WARNING - I've added the track below but be warned, it's modern, it's loud and it'd good!

*NLT   New Living Translation

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