Materials for Worship 3rd March 2024

Moira writes

This morning as we continue our Lenten journey, we hear in our readings the essence of what our faith and belief is all about. In the lesson from the Old Testament, Exodus 20.1-17, we are reminded once again of the commandments that were given by God to keep his people walking in his ways. Psalm 19 speaks of the glory of God, his wisdom and the joy that comes from following in his ways. The Psalmist says, “The ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” So, by following his ordinances, or commandments, we remain faithful and true to God’s way. And in John 2.13-22 we hear about the disciple’s faith in what Jesus told them and how, “they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
I want to begin, however, with Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 1.18-25. In this letter, 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.” Have you ever wondered why we, as Christians, wear a cross on a chain or on a badge and not, perhaps a stable manger as a symbol of our Christian faith? It is when you think about it, on the surface, a very dark and stark symbol. However, the cross on which Jesus died is the essence of our faith, a foolishness to those who are lost, as Paul tells us, and the power of God to those who are being saved. We cannot look forward to the hope and joy of the second coming of Jesus unless we first look back at the place of his death, where once and for all he gave his life for our redemption from sin! The most important words in this declaration are “where once and for all.” Jesus gave his life for our redemption from sin! Paul tells the Corinthians that we, the Christian church, preach Christ crucified, which is a stumbling block to the Jews and the Greeks. Christ is to the Christian community the power of God and also the wisdom of God. He asks them where are the wise, referring to the Greek philosophers whose works the Corinthians must have known well.

And what of the debater of the age that Paul speaks of? Could this remark have been directed at those who spouted rhetoric and conducted arguments in public about the meaning of language amongst other things? A bit like modern day orators on Twitter, or whatever it is now called! All of these people, in asserting worldly wisdom over God’s truth, are made foolish and purposeless in the face of the cross of Christ. I think that the point Paul is making is that any intellectual search for wisdom, for the understanding of human motives or behaviour, is doomed to failure, or at best to an orderly life of self-disciplined thinking. The human mind cannot by itself grasp, in its searching, the never-ending love of God which is revealed in the cross of Christ. In all of Paul’s epistles, it would seem that instead of applying human logic to all the problems that his readers seem to be going through, Paul used all of his trained and capable intellect to show how the gospel that he was proclaiming equated to human lives. In other words, Paul helped his readers to understand the wisdom of God and how it should show itself in their lives, transforming them in the way that they 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.

These are some of the things that we should be reflecting on during this season of Lent, asking ourselves, how close our connection is to God and how, being a Christian, has shaped us and moulded us as we grow in our faith and our belief.

I’d like to move on now to our reading from the gospel of John. This is a passage which some people find very difficult to understand. Our image of Jesus as the gentle shepherd of his sheep is certainly put to the test in this passage as he storms into the temple and displays his anger. 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. Here is Jesus, throwing things around in the ‘church’ of all places – the Jesus who was so calm and gentle the rest of the time. It makes me actually remember that he had human traits as well as being divine. John places this event early in Jesus’ ministry, instead of near its end, as the synoptic gospels do. There it becomes the act that helps to provoke his death. However, in John’s account, this movement to an earlier time in Jesus’ ministry means that the disciples are even more clueless than usual. They are new to Jesus, still trying to figure him out. They are still clinging to their ideas of who he is, rather than paying attention to what Jesus is saying about who he is.

 Jesus Mafa Project

In this passage we see a new side to Jesus, someone who is so angered by what is going on in the temple grounds that he lashes out. It wasn’t so much that the temple authorities were selling animals for sacrifice, after all this is what people were coming to the temple to do, it was more that he could see that the authorities were being deceitful in what they were charging people. They were also rejecting some of the animals that people brought as having blemishes, so that people would have to buy from them. Another reason for Jesus’ anger was that people could only pay for the animals with temple coin. The money changers charged extortionate fees for exchanging Roman or Greek coins for temple coins, and of course the temple took its cut of the profits gained by the money changers. So it was not simply the presence of the money changers and the animals offered for sale that angered Jesus, after all, they were services meant for the convenience of people who had to travel long distances to get to Jerusalem. It was the misuse of authority in the blatant overcharging of even the poorest people that set Jesus off. People were stunned at the behaviour of Jesus, including the disciples who asked Jesus for an explanation. They couldn’t understand why Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” It didn’t make sense to them, after all, the temple had been under re-construction for 46 years, how could Jesus raise it up in three days? As with so many things, the disciples only understood what Jesus had said later, in the light of the resurrection. We also know that the temple of which Jesus spoke was his body, not the bricks and mortar of the temple building! But there is another lesson to be learned from this reading, and that is the need for righteous anger, the righteous anger that Jesus displayed in the temple that day.

We need to have righteous anger in the face of injustice, extortion, and the exploitation of vulnerable people. Anger at such things is no bad thing, in fact it is a good cleansing thing. It 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 this passage, he is very clear about the targets of his wrath. Righteous anger is about taking control, a move out of passive acceptance and towards change. Over the years we have seen change in the Scottish Episcopal Church. For decades now we have been working in our communities and beyond to bring change against racism, classism and poverty amongst others, and this can be seen in the Lenten appeals we support each year. We have also seen changes internally in the ordination of women and a fuller inclusion in the church of all people regardless of differing lifestyles, circumstances or backgrounds. And so, the challenge coming from our readings this morning, I think, is to remember that the wisdom and power of God is working in our lives, transforming us and moulding us into the people that God wants us to be. And as we are transformed, we should remember that we need that righteous anger to move us into action to help others however we can.

In your prayers this morning you may wish to pray for causes that are close to your heart:
• for people or countries facing injustice.
• for those who are struggling to feed their families.
• for those fleeing from oppression and abuse.
• and to ask God to grant you wisdom as you seek to follow in his way and to do his will.