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Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Third Sunday of Lent
Scripture: John 2: 13-22
Music: There is Room for All, Put Peace Into Each Other’s Hands
Rules. We grow up and spend our whole lives learning rules. Our parents lay down the family rules, the police enforce the public rules. Most of the time, we probably don’t even think about them – they’re second nature to us, part of our worldview. Events like this past year of pandemic – during which we’ve all had to learn new rules for so many things – times like this are rare. And it’s been interesting watching something like sanitizing our hands or wearing a mask go from being a strong suggestion to being a rule.
Interesting because rules can be more challenging when they’re fluid, or inconsistently enforced. When I told my eight year old that Ritz crackers weren’t a suitable breakfast, she quickly reminded me of the time I had a cookie with my morning coffee. The time I was let go with a warning for speeding is balanced out by the time I was fined for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign at the edge of town at 11 o’clock at night with not a single other car on the road.
Maybe the only rules more challenging than fluid ones are unwritten rules, the ones we learn often at the hands of embarrassment. From manners at the dinner table to the politesse of public functions, the unwritten rules are among the hardest to learn, no less so because what is expected of us can be different according to our age, our job, our gender, or where we grew up. I’m no longer of an age where I can grab four cookies and run around the hall laughing and playing games during Coffee and Conversation; and more’s the pity.
What we’re considering today, however, is not the rule of law, or the rules of polite society, but the way that these and other rules can give rise to injustice; laws and practices that disadvantage some and oppress others. In part, this is what Jesus was responding to in his anger at the temple, which is similar to the kind of anger we see at the mistreatment of people, often within the rules, but enforced differently according to the colour of their skin or who they love. That is, a righteous anger at the breaking of God’s law: the greatest commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves.
An article recently in the Christian Century gathered the witness of Black women – including the authors Audre Lorde and Brittany Cooper – who gave and give voice to the experience of being Black in America: of being silenced, exploited and abused, and nearly all of this according to the rules. In contemporary wilderness places, writers and activists continue to remind us that laws are designed to serve those who create them, and that we must be attentive to the impact this has on those who are not well served by them.
For a people tired of being treated as second-class citizens, profiled and pigeon-holed, and disproportionately incarcerated, anger is not only natural, but justified. While our privilege may make anger of this sort a less familiar or comfortable experience, we can still listen to the voices of prophets today who remind us of our responsibility to all God’s people. Like the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, they help us to see what we may, in our privilege, at times forget: that our created purpose is to live, work and share according to God’s ways of peace, justice and plenty for all.
This was very much Jesus’ message for temple officials in Jerusalem. In the midst of occupation, a likely target for Jesus’ righteous anger at the mistreatment of his people would have been the Roman Empire. And yet, the object of his zeal was most often his own people, and the system of privilege that some religious leaders of his day upheld.
Our scripture lesson today is often referred to as The Cleansing of the Temple. In the other Gospels, this event serves as the trigger for Jesus’ arrest and Passion. In the Gospel of John, however, the cleansing of the temple occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. As such, it serves as a sign of the reformation he intends of a rules-based approach to relationship with God that has lapsed into comfortable convention.
Jesus bearing a whip and overturning the tables of the money-changers offers an image that may be uncomfortable to us. But this was not a fit of rage or an uncharacteristic lashing out from a normally peaceful person. This was a confrontation with the powers that kept his people from God, from the source of love, not by barring their entrance to the temple, but by reducing their faith to a set of transactions. The rituals had become empty of true relationship – demanding sacrifices of people who could ill afford it, demanding little from those with the power and privilege to change lives for the better.
That our rituals should always serve relationship is something we hopefully remember both in the church and outside it. For example, within the church, I’ve noticed over the years that the solemnity and significance of holy communion goes hand in glove with the connections we make after worship at coffee and conversation. An example outside the church would be how our observance of Remembrance Day needs also to be matched by our commitment both to peace and to supporting those who serve and who have suffered. Our deepest desires for others must be reflected in our rituals, both private and public.
Although we didn’t read it today, the scripture readings for this week include the Ten Commandments from Exodus. These are, perhaps, the rules underneath all our other rules. Yet, minister and author Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that they also function as the collected wisdom, or teachings, of people who live in relationship with God and with each other. In scripture, they appear as a gift – a promise, a blessing, a covenant. They’re offered only after God has freed God’s people from slavery, and has also fed them with manna from heaven; proving again that justice begins with a full stomach, with fulfilling the basic needs of life for all.
The two tablets, like Jesus’ greatest commandment, form a pair: on one, who and what God is and how to honour God; and the other, who and what our neighbours are and how to honour them; each group of teachings shapes the other. To have no other gods means that money, power and selfishness won’t make their way onto our altars, or be used to exploit others. To keep the Sabbath is to be a wise steward of creation and to see our life as a gift. Not bearing false witness maintains trust in our laws and trust among neighbours. The Commandments, then, aren’t just the basis of societal laws, a list of “dos” and “don’ts”; rather, they are a teaching about the flourishing of God’s gracious gifts and our common life.
So it is with all good rules, all rules that seek serve the fulfilment of life: they do more than tell us what to do; they reveal how to live together. May this teaching bring us closer to the heart of God and to our neighbours. Amen.
Holy One, there are times when people stand in the way of your word, there are times when we are discouraged and disheartened by those who twist your words, your teaching to mean anything, everything and ultimately nothing.
There are days when we witness injustice and we want to make a difference.
There are times when we feel trapped in the face of difficulties because we fear if we respond we might make the situation worse for ourselves or others.
Then there are times when there are those who stand in our way and block us from responding from reaching out in the way we feel you might call us.
These are not new to us, these emotions have been with us from the time immemorial.
We hear of your story, loving Christ, standing in the Temple, and you could do no other but turn over the tables of the money changers and clear the Temple.
We ask that your Spirit be with us in times when we feel we can do no other. Give us the wisdom, insight and courage to turn to you in prayer and to listen to your word to us to do what we can, where we can, to pray and search for a way forward.
We continue our Lenten journey even though it is still not easy, in part because of the time we are with the pandemic and in part because it is always hard.
Be with us and remind us that this is a time when we are challenged; challenged to examine ourselves and our world. It is a time of sacrifice as a way of remembering all of the sacrifices Jesus made to show us your way of peace with justice, compassion rooted in hope, generosity in our abundance and ultimately love.
Through these times, we trust you will be with us, guiding, comforting, leading us.
We pray for those we love who need your healing mercies. Blessed Comforter, we lift up situations of pain, loneliness in confidence of your amazing grace. We pray especially for those who are alone, for those who are placing themselves at risk so they may serve our needs.
We pray for places where injustice seems to reign and we pray for strength for those who risk bringing about a different way, the way of Shalom, of Salaam, of your path.
We pray too, that all who weep and mourn, or feel abandoned and unloved that they might hear your voice calling and move toward your all embracing love and hear your still small voice whispering to them in their troubles.
Be with us loving God, in all of our concerns and celebrations, as together we pray in the words Jesus taught us,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.