Material for Worship on the Third Sunday in Lent

Our reflection this week for the third Sunday in Lent was prepared by Rev Moira Jamieson.

You may wish to sing along to or read the words of this hymn;

Jesus Christ is waiting, waiting in the streets;
No one is his neighbour, all alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger, fit to wait on you

Jesus Christ is raging, raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals and real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing, healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer, touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I have pity too.
Let my care be active, healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing, dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred he, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus, I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling, calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey? I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus, let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me; I will follow you.

© WGRG, Iona Community, 1988.

This week as I have been preparing this reflection, I have been thinking about the many injustices going on in our world right now. Injustices which have escalated in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Our government has been trying to do their best to protect everyone by rolling out their programme of vaccination, and I commend them. However, in poorer countries people are dying from the virus because they are already weak from hunger and disease and their governments, because of international debt, cannot afford to buy the vaccine that is needed. In today’s gospel passage, John 2 v 13-22 (read here by Rob ) Jesus sees injustice going on in the Temple and he rails against it. This is not an easy passage to read. We find Jesus, the caring loving Jesus who heals the sick and has compassion on those in need, storming into the Temple in a rage! It’s an image that is disturbing and uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child, fighting or arguing with my brothers and stomping off, slamming doors and then facing the wrath of my mother. And so, I suppose, I should find this passage about the cleansing of the Temple quite reassuring, after all here is Jesus throwing things around in a ‘church’ of all places – the Jesus who was so good the rest of the time. It makes me remember that he was also human as well as divine.

This story is more complex than we think. The whole system of commerce in the temple was well established, and indeed, became a money-making exercise for the temple authorities. Historians tells us that once a year, Jewish males had to pay a temple tax and that tax could be paid only in temple coin, not with Roman or Greek coins, which is why the moneychangers were there. But the moneychangers charged a huge fee for the exchange; often up to half the amount being changed went into their pockets, out of which the temple took its substantial cut. Additionally, any sacrifice offered at Passover had to be that of an animal without blemish. The temple authorities offered perfect animals for sale. Anyone bringing his own animal had to have it inspected by the priests. Not surprisingly, the animal was nearly always rejected, and the person had to buy another from the priests. Therefore it was not simply the presence of the moneychangers and the animals offered for sale that so angered Jesus – after all, they were services meant for the convenience of people who had travelled long distances to get to Jerusalem. It was the misuse of authority in the blatant and gross overcharging of even the poorest people that set Jesus off. It is that blatant misuse of authority which is happening in our world today which must tear at the heart of God, as he sees injustice and deceit playing out here on earth.

From the Jesus Mafa collection

John tells us that that chaos ensued, with Jesus overturning tables and driving animals out with a whip made of cords. People, including the disciples, were stunned and confused, a situation not helped by Jesus when they asked for an explanation. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That didn’t make sense to them. The temple had been under construction for 46 years, how could Jesus raise it up in three days? As with so many things, the disciples only worked it out later, in the light of resurrection hindsight. They came to realise that the temple of which Jesus spoke was his body, not the bricks and mortar of a building. However, there is another lesson to be learned from this reading, and that is the need for righteous anger in face of injustice, extortion and especially the exploitation of vulnerable people should not be tolerated. The plight of refugees, those fleeing from oppressive regimes and war, and the callous people who exploit their vulnerability should make us angry. Anger at such things is not a bad thing, it’s a good and cleansing thing. Such anger is not the opposite of love. Anger at injustice is an appropriate expression of love and a cry for righteousness. Righteous anger is not a loss of control, Jesus is not out of control, in fact he is noticeably clear about the targets of his wrath. Righteous anger is about taking control, it’s a move out of passive acceptance towards change. St. Augustine of Hippo once said. “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Before Lent, some of us met on Zoom to discuss the theme of Worship. What it means to us and how we have had to adapt during lockdown, among other things, and we had a final session with Bishop Ian exploring the future of worship in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Over the years the church has had to adapt and change as the world and society have also changed. Sometimes these for some, have changed and upset established tradition, and seem to have created chaos. But God’s wisdom often works in the midst of chaos, and in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 1:18-25 (read here by Kathryn) Paul extols the grace of God, who saves his people from their foolishness as he tells them, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” In this passage, Paul helps his readers (and us) understand the wisdom of God and how it should show itself in their (our) lives, transforming them (us) in the way that they (we) think and behave. People who have been transformed from unbelief into belief and who grow strong in their faith, have a strong connection to God through the love of Christ on the cross. During Lent, we can take time to ask ourselves how close our relationship to God is and how, being a Christian has shaped us and moulded us as we grow in our faith and our belief. Paul asks us to believe in the wisdom and power of God to work in people’s lives, transforming us, and moulding us to be the people he wants us to be. Let us try to keep faith this Lent and take time to reflect on the strength or otherwise of our closeness to God. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Amen.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, grant us wisdom to see the injustices of this world and to take action where we can. Help us not to be impassive and think that we cannot make a difference to the lives of others. May our prayers reach out to you as we pray for the people of this world. (Please add your own concerns here.)

We pray for all refugees who are fleeing violence in their own countries and who seek the safety of another land. May they be treated fairly and justly. Bless all who try to improve conditions in refugee camps and those who care for the health of those living in squalid conditions. We pray especially for the children.

We pray for those who are facing violence and abuse of any kind in their lives. May they find refuge for themselves and their families. At this time we think of the people of Myanmar and their situation. Bless the work of charities who provide refuge for victims of abuse.

We pray for all who are struggling at this time to feed their families. May they receive the help they need to enable them to keep their families strong and healthy. (Please pray for local initiatives like foodbanks.)

We pray for those who are ill at this time, especially those with Coronavirus and those with life-threatening illnesses. May they know the healing power of Jesus in their lives through those who care for them. We lift before God all those on the prayer tree at St. Mary’s. (Please pray for those you know who are ill at this time or in need of prayer.) Heavenly Father surround them with your love.

God of mercy and compassion we lift all these our concerns to you and ask you to keep us walking in your ways as we continue on our journey of faith this Lenten tide.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.