Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Law, The Temple, and the Cross

What makes a good relationship? Think about what needs to happen in a relationship in order for it to last forever. Are there rules that should be followed?
I believe God wanted a relationship with his people, the ones he led on the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. So at Mount Horeb “Ten Words” were engraved in stone for Moses to take down the mountain to the people. It was a covenant between God and his people.
God made a commitment to the people that if they would keep his commandments he would be with them a long, long time but if they didn’t keep his commandments he would punish them through many generations. The people made a passive commitment to keep these commandments.
You see they feared God, this God who made the top of the mountain tremble and boil over with black clouds. They feared this God who no one could look at without forfeiting their life.
So when Moses brought down the “Ten Words” of course they agreed to keep them. What was the alternative? God would forsake them and then they’d be on their own out there in the wilderness. Even though they often complained against God and Moses they knew they needed both of them in order to reach the Promised Land.
Then they arrived. They had everything God had promised they would have. They were in the lap of luxury. And what happened, they forgot the “Ten Words”. They drifted away from this relationship they had with God.
Oh, he gave them many opportunities to come back. There were prophets, judges, and kings. And they’d be reminded of the covenant. They would make their sacrifices and beg for forgiveness. They would remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. But again and again they would drift away.
The chosen ones did this so many times that it’s a wonder God stayed with them. It’s a wonder they weren’t destroyed. Why didn’t he start over again? Have you ever wondered that?
Things kept getting worse for God’s chosen people. One nation after another came in and conquered them. The Prophet promised a Messiah, someone who would save them and lead them in battle to rule the world. They waited and waited. And they kept the story alive of the Anointed One who would come from the family of David.
And then Jesus arrived in Bethlehem and grew to be a man in the little town of Nazareth. Through this Lenten season we have followed Jesus from the river Jordan into the wilderness where he was tempted by satan. We have been with the disciples as they listened to him teach them with parables. We have heard him talk about his suffering and death and resurrection. And like the disciples we can’t quite understand it all.
He talked about taking up our crosses and following him. He said that we should embrace suffering. How can we be saved by someone who allows themselves to be crucified on a cross? We have been waiting for a Savior who would lead us triumphantly in battle against our oppressors.
We have listened to him talk about the Temple. It is such a beautiful temple in Jerusalem. But he says if they destroy the temple he will rebuild it in 3 days. Impossible! It’s taken 20 years to get it this far and it’s still not complete. How can he do it in 3 days?
In John’s gospel we hear about Jesus coming into the temple. He’d been there before. He healed people, told them to pick up their mats and go home and sin no more. He’d made blind people see in the Temple. He’d taught people in the Temple. Today he turned everything upside down, literally.
I don’t think he did it on the spur of the moment either. I think this had been simmering for a while. It may have been the final act that pushed the religious leaders to over the edge. They were afraid that Jesus would destroy their temple.
They wanted to know who gave him the authority to do what he did? Who did he think he was? His answer was almost like he was daring them to do something. Tear down this temple and I’ll build it up in three days. Preposterous! No one could do that.
They didn’t understand that he was talking about his own body. That is, not until after his resurrection. Then it all made sense. Well, kind of made sense. The Jews don’t believe it yet and there are others who just don’t believe in any God or any Power.
It’s like Paul said, to some it’s just sheer silliness. The Jews were looking for a warrior Savior and the Greeks were looking for the ultimate source of Wisdom. What are we looking for? Will we find it here? Where will we find it?
Will we find it in the Law? Will we find it in the Temple? Or will we find it as we kneel at the foot of the Cross? Where will we find our Savior? Where will we find Wisdom?
If you have come looking for a Savior, if you have come looking for Wisdom, then according to Paul you have probably come to right place. Because he said, “God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.”
The Law, the Temple, the Cross, and now preachers, you know it must be a God thing because only He could make all this work for good.
Friends, Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the law rests on these two sentences.
We are told that our bodies are temples of God. When we invite Jesus into our hearts and lives they are made new and cleansed better than they ever were by the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
Relationships depend on the Law, the Temple, and the Cross. Love God, love your neighbor, keep your temple pure and clean, and lay all your burdens at the cross.
How does this all work? Friends, that is one of God’s great mysteries. It’s only by God’s grace through faith that we are forgiven and saved from our sins. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

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