3rd Sun in Lent – B
March 11, 2012
If you are going to play, you’ve got to know the rules. Even with just a few kids on a playground, there are rules. I remember as a kid going over to visit with my dad’s mom, that would make her Grandma Queena Winzer. She lived in small town in Eastern Pennsylvania called Emmaus. Actually that depended upon how old you were. She and the old Pennsylvania Dutch men and women called it Emaus—spelled still spelled with an “E”. Well anyway, I have this memory of going to her little downstairs apartment and playing a board game. It was probably Monopoly or Parchesi or even Scrabble. Myself, my brother and sister were playing the game with her, and well it didn’t end well. It ended when Grandma Queena picked up the board and slammed it down on the table. Although we were old enough to play, I guess we didn’t know the most important rule. The one that says, Grandma Queena always wins.
You’ve got to know the rules of the game—especially the game of life, and I’m not talking about the board game. You may have heard the statement, “life is a game”. And sometimes it may feel that way, you know with winners and losers and such. Well, as with all games there are rules to life, so if life is a game then there’s got to be rules. There are rules. The rules of nature everything ages, everything dies. There is the rule of gravity. There are rules within societies, cultures, and communities—you know for example we drive on the right side of the road, posted speed limits, turning our clocks ahead and losing an hour of sleep, etc. and so forth.
Reading or hearing our first assigned scripture often leads people to picture God as a heavenly rule maker. As I’ve mentioned before there are some 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible. The past several weeks our 8:30 Sunday morning Bible Study group has been delving into the commands, the laws, the rules from the Book of Deuteronomy. Anyway, the ones we have this morning is a version of what is known as the 10 Commandments.
These are the rules that God gives, through Moses, to a bunch of runaway ex-slaves on their way into freedom of the promised land. Now I’m going to share with you just a few observations that will sound hopefully familiar to that bible study group. First of all, these are not universal rules for everyone. If you notice the first three are about worshipping the One God, the Lord, Yahweh, the Almighty. That makes these 10 Commandments first and foremost religious, that is their origin, and we cannot take God out of the picture. But not everybody worships this God—so therefore the 10 Commandments are not everybody’s rules. However, within this listing there are rules that are shared by just about every other group of civilized people. You see, communities do not thrive if people are just running amok wantonly killing, stealing, and cheating one another.
Like I said, you’ve got to have rules. These are the things that guide the common good and build society rather than allow a bunch of individuals running around guided by who’s got the biggest guns, or the biggest bank account—you know might equals right. That’s not good, and God wants to keep us safe from that. God gives to God’s people rules to help us live together. The goal of following the Torah, the commands, the rules of God isn’t to make life a burden, instead it is to help these fledgling people stand up and stand out, to make them not just like everybody else, but to point out their special relationship with God. That’s part of what’s behind that small portion of Psalm 19 – a psalm devoted to the gift of the Torah – Hebrew word for the laws.
Now as I said earlier, there are folks who picture God as this heavenly maker of eternal rules. But that’s so limiting of God. At first it may not make sense pairing the reading from Exodus with John’s Gospel story of Jesus overturning the tables. After all, the temple market was a result, was a necessary creation out of God’s command. As that bible study group is learning in our study of Deuteronomy, God decreed that there could only be one place for the people to make their sacrifices—it had to be in the place God chose—and that was in the temple in Jerusalem. This is one of those things that makes the people of God different from all their other neighbors who could set up a shrine or a temple to all sorts of God’s like Zeus, or Aphrodite, or Apollo, or Baal, or Asherah (and do their sacrificing wherever). The Jews by the rules of God’s command could only bring their animal and grain sacrifices to the temple, and that meant even if they lived far, far away. So within the laws of Deuteronomy they were allowed to bring money, now of course the money of Rome promoted Rome and it’s emperor above all else, and that is idolatry, so they had to exchange Roman money for Jewish money to use to purchase the animals or whatever for their sacrifices. That brings us to Jesus flipping out and flipping over the tables.
Now before we are call Jesus a rule-breaker (which he was called and which he actually did). He isn’t just overturning a few tablets, I mean tables, he’s overturning the whole game. It is more accurate and more faithful to call him instead a game-changer. You see in Jesus the Christ we aren’t playing by the same rules. The place of sacrifice is with Jesus, it is in our lives, in our hearts, in our actions, in what we do and what we say, in how live each and every day.
When it feels like all we are, like all those around us are just pawns in somebody else’s game– God is calling us to gather together for Sabbath worship, for rest , to listen to one another, to hold up and be held up in prayer—to hear God’s compassionate word—you are mine, my child.
When it feels like life is a rotten game, that the rules are out of whack and that we’re just losing all the time—when the elderly, the young, the poor, the immigrant, when men, women, and children and issues are just sexualized and are abused—even by our own laws and power players God is calling us to speak and shout, to denounce injustice. To work to bring justice to light in our government, in our marketplace, in our schools.
When it feels like we just can’t seem to get it right—when we know the rules we are breaking are hurting—hurting those around us, hurting ourselves, hurting our relationship with God—God calls out to us and says – this is my body given for you. This is for the forgiveness of your sin.
No matter what you hear, no matter who says it—life isn’t a game. For Jesus, and for us who follow him, we are freed from that meaninglessness. The life of every man, woman, child sitting in these pews, and out there in their homes and on the streets, every life is sacred—you are a gift to be cherished, to be gift to be set free to be poured out and shared for and with all—God’s love and life with no end. Amen.