Monday, March 16, 2009


Laws We Can Believe In

Laws are sometimes challenging, we don’t often like them... Can anyone name me some laws that we complain about?
Speed limits

Now let me ask you a different question: Why do we have laws in society?


Of course, laws are also used sometimes to keep people in their place, to benefit the rich, or just to hurt others.
I really love the Gospel story today. It is the story of Jesus going to the temple just before the Passover. You might remember that what he finds there, is that this holy place of worship has taken on a very business-like attitude.

Let’s try to set this story in a historical context. The people of Jesus’ day had to offer sacrifices when they came to the temple. People from all over Israel would travel there, at least once a year to worship; and it was not always practical to bring along livestock. So, in order to make it easier for people to worship, they sold animals right there – you didn’t have to cart your own pigeon across half a country.

But there was something else... Things that went into the temple had to be clean, they had to be right, and they could not be Roman. That was just wrong, the Romans were the enemy. So, when you got there, you could also exchange Roman currency which had Caesar’s picture on it, for temple currency, which didn’t.

There was nothing really wrong with either of these things – the practice was set up in order to make life easier for everyone... But, there was the whole problem of where to put the stalls. What Jesus discovered was that the sellers and money changers had moved into the Gentile part of the synagogue.

We don’t have an equivalent part of church, but this was a place where guests could come and be welcome, it was the “welcome centre” for people who were interested in church. Now, you can imagine what the noise would have been like with the sheep, cattle, pigeons, etc. or how about the smell? I doubt it was very welcoming for an outsider who had no idea what was going on. On top of that, this was supposed to be like a chapel where these people could come and pray. No one would have been able to worship, pray or meditate.

Of course, you also have to think that the church discovered they could make a few extra shekels by altering the exchange rate; or offering slightly off sheep.

None of this escapes the eyes of Jesus – and he simply calls a spade a spade. He responds in the only appropriate way, getting angry and creating a lot of chaos... These people, the religious leaders of the day, had actually taken a place of worship and prevented almost everyone from being able to use it to worship God.

Now the Jesus we meet in this passage is no meek and mild Jesus, this is an image of Jesus we don’t often look at or like to remember. This Jesus calls out to his brothers and sisters and violently questions their interpretation of the rules. The people needed to have the animals for sacrifices, they needed temple currency, but which was more important? The components required for the ritual, or the people?

I want to back this up a couple of thousand years and suggest to you that we look at the 10 commandments for an answer to that question.

What have you always thought the commandments were about? I was certainly brought up to see the commandments as rules that I had to follow and if I followed them then I would earn God’s favour. Now it was never said that way specifically but that was the understanding I had. The commandments were there for me to follow for my own benefit. If I was going to be good, I did what I was told.

But does God really act like that? Is God’s love dependant on my obedience? Sometimes we forget this, but everyone who has ever thought about this has said, NO! Walter Brueggemann, probably the best known Old Testament Scholar alive today points out that God had already chosen Abram and Sarai to be the parents of a divine promise. God had already made the covenant that God will be their God and the God of their descendents long before the 10 commandments were ever produced. Nothing was going to make God go back on that promise.

So what’s the point? In the 16th Century John Calvin said: The Commandments play an indispensible positive roll in Christian life. They are, as the bible tells us, a lamp to our feet. They guide us as we journey in our life before God and our life with our neighbours. They do not show us what we must do or how we must live in order to receive God’s covenantal grace.

SO if they are not about my behaviour and personal salvation or earning God’s love and acceptance, what are they for? Well here’s the thing. What if I told you the commandments already assume you are faithful, and then go on to talk about what it means to live that out? You see, the first 3 commandments are about our relationship with God and the remaining 7 are about our relationship with each other.
In essence, this is the first time that God answers the question, how then are we to live? Later, when Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment he responds that we are to love the lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul and our neighbour as our self. Jesus doesn’t say do this and do that – he knows the commandments are all about loving God and neighbour.
There is a story of about Rabbi Hillel, who was a contemporary of Jesus. A Gentile approached the Rabbi and said that he would convert to Judaism if Rabbi Hillel could recite the whole Torah while standing on one leg. SO the Rabbi stood on one leg and said: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."
This is the same sort of answer that Jesus gave... If you want to know what God is really like, look at the commandments that we think came from God; they are all about how we treat each other.

The point is that the commandments are not about me, gaining God’s favour, love, or entrance into heaven. They are about my neighbour.

The commandments remind us that we always need to be attentive to our relationships – work at keeping ourselves out of the way – caring for others, not be too self important by remembering that we aren’t perfect.

The other thing they do is try to ensure that our neighbour can have the best life possible.

Try to reverse the commandments for a minute to see what I mean. The reason that I am not to steal, is so that you ______ can have a better life, and know your possessions are safe. I am not to murder so you ________ can have a better life, living in safety and knowing those you love and depend on are safe. They ensure that as a community, we all care for one another, support one another, and live in right relationship with each other – no lies, no slander, no fear, no jealousy...

Jesus not only taught this way of life, he lived it. That is why he was so angry that the temple was ignoring everything that would help people to feel safe, and cared for... they had missed, or forgotten, the real reason for the law in the first place.

We need to reclaim the 10 commandments from the realms of negativity. Rules are not bad, inconvenient by times, challenging at others; but they were never put in place to make our lives more difficult. Rather they can set us free. When you and I live for our neighbour – both near and far – our world does change. Remember that God gave these commandments to newly freed slaves – it is what freedom looks like.

I invite you, throughout this 3rd week of Lent to read and live with the 10 commandments. Apply them to your life and every day; ask yourself the question how can I use this rule to live for my neighbour? Through our Lenten journey we seek freedom from all that binds us and keeps us from the life Jesus invites us to live – abundant life, a life of love, hope, joy and peace. This week go out to make those things a reality for others and trust that others will be doing the same for you.

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