A Reading from the Second Book of Exodus (20:1-17)
God spoke all these words to Moses on Mount Sinai: “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. Six days you shall labor 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. Honor 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 neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2 One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8 The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.
11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.
13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1:18-25)
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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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 marketplace!” 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
There have been many mistakes made in the war in Afghanistan, just as there are in any war. One of the most recent was the burning, either accidental or intentional, of several copies of the Quran. The reaction to that act has included riots, the death of several people, and an increased animosity between some of the Afghan people and the NATO troops, mostly Americans, who are stationed there.
In order to understand, at least to some degree, the reason for the outrage, we have to understand that, for Muslims, the Quran in the original Arabic is literally the word of God: dictated, exactly as it is preserved, to the prophet Mohammed. The prophet is secondary, the word itself, whether recited or written, is always primary. That word must, therefore, be treated with the utmost respect; for it is the definitive revelation of God.
A similar thing happens in Judaism. The Torah or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, is, in traditional Judaism, the very word of God. The Israelites received it through Moses; but here again, the messenger is secondary; the word itself, whether recited or written, is primary. That word is the definitive revelation of God.
With all that the three great monotheistic faiths, each tracing its heritage to Abraham, have in common, this is one significant way in which Christianity differs from the other two. We, too, of course, have our sacred scriptures: the books of the Old and New Testaments together. Yet for us, that word, recited or written, is always secondary. For us, the primary, definitive revelation of God comes not in a text but in a person: Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is not just the messenger. Jesus is the message. Jesus is the Word of God in a human being.
All other things that we consider to be sacred direct us to him. They are, if you will, signposts, pointing the way to him. They are the means. He is the end or the goal. Sometimes, we tend to forget that. Sometimes, Christians point to one of the means, one of the signposts, and essentially hold it to be absolute. In doing so, we forget about the end: where our focus needs to be.
Take, for example, the Ten Commandments, one version of which we heard in today’s first reading. Over the past couple of decades, there have been people fighting ferociously to keep old images of the Decalogue on the sides of courthouses and other public buildings, as though having an image of them there actually led anyone to follow them. These words have sometimes been regarded, at least theoretically, as absolute. And yet, from the beginning, we Christians have “reinterpreted” them many times. If we didn’t, for example, we would have been carefully avoiding work of any kind yesterday, on the Sabbath, instead of gathering for Christian Education and worship and fellowship for part of today.
There are other means, other signposts that can point our way to God in Christ, but that have been absolutized as well. I remember one woman, back in my early days as a Roman Catholic priest, telling me angrily, “I believe in the old Mass.” And she was right: that obviously was what she believed in, rather than believing in the God to whom all worship seeks to lead us. Other people have made other things absolute: things such as the King James Version of the Bible or the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
All of these items and practices served a purpose. They were means by which believers at one time could be pointed toward the God who is made known to us in Jesus. The problem, generation after generation, is the same: we allow the means to become the end; we allow things, which in themselves are good, to become roadblocks to a fuller life in Christ rather than seeing them and using them as great avenues, leading us to that life.
The early followers of Jesus found themselves confronted by that same problem when they first told the story that we heard in today’s gospel reading. By that time, late in the first century, the temple had been destroyed by the Roman armies, and some were longing to see it rebuilt “because that is the place where God is present.” The early Christians, on the other hand, had respected and revered the temple; but they knew that the place in which God was most clearly present, where God was most fully revealed, was not in the temple building that had once stood in Jerusalem, but in the living temple who is the risen Christ, and in the people of God, whom the First Letter of Peter (2:5) describes as “living stones… built into a spiritual house.”
People throughout history have found all sorts of ways to confuse the end and the means. Where do we do that today? Where do we confuse the end and the means in our lives as a church and as individuals? Where do we allow those things that are secondary to become, not ways to accomplish our essential, God-given mission, but roadblocks that can stand in the way of accomplishing that mission? We Christians still manage to do that in far too many ways.
In the past decade, churches in several denominations, including our own, have allowed themselves to become so consumed with arguments over human sexuality that they have allowed those issues to distract us from, and get in the way of, our central mission. Some churches have broken off their relationship with other churches, convinced that they, and they alone, have “the truth” and refusing to live in communion with others who disagree with them over these issues.
Other churches, faced with changing times and shifting populations, have clung tenaciously to their buildings, refusing to consider mergers with, or even cooperative ministries with, other nearby churches, as though their primary commission from God was to preserve their church buildings instead of working to build up the real church: the one comprised of those “living stones” who are the people of God.
And other Christians, holding on to their cherished traditions and Sunday-morning customs, resist changing them, even when change may be necessary in order to bring other people to God in Christ. They refuse to let go of what is comfortable for themselves. They are supposedly willing to die for Christ; they just don’t what to be inconvenienced or made uncomfortable for Christ.
We all become attached to certain practices and customs, whether old or new. It is a natural thing to do, and we can’t completely avoid it. But at the same time, we need to remember that, when we do, we run the risk of losing our focus on what is of central importance. Lent is a time for us to regain that focus.
At the end of today’s gospel reading, the evangelist tells us that “After [Jesus] was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered… and they believed.” Lent is a time for us to remember: to remember who we are, to remember why we are followers of Jesus, to remember what is of central importance and what is not, and to recommit ourselves to work together in accomplishing the essential work that God has given us to do in the world: the work to which we committed ourselves when we were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.