Sermon by Revd Caroline Risdon
You can hear an audio recording of the sermon here
Third Sunday of Lent 7 March 2021
may your Word be our rule,
your Spirit our teacher
and your glory our chief concern.
When we hear the Ten Commandments, it's easy enough to think of them as a list of
do’s and don'ts:
We must put God first.
We mustn’t have idols.
We must keep the Sabbath.
We mustn’t kill each other or steal from each other and so on.
If we think about the Commandments this way, they become a task or chore, yet another thing we ought to do. They have nothing to do with our hearts or longings or our deepest selves. They have nothing to do with the manner in which we inhabit our lives.
But when we look the Commandments as merely a set of rules, we miss their fundamental purpose. The Commandments were given by God as a gift, not an obligation. God gifts the people he is in relationship with, that is all of us, the law. A guide; a set of markers to indicate what a healthy and holy life might be like.
They are intended to show us how to be fully human in the way God wants us to be. So, it’s not that we keep all the laws and become holy. It is that we lead lives that are turned towards God and, as a symptom of that, we fulfill the Commandments.
Of course, human tendencies and weaknesses get in the way, as much for us today as for the Israelites all those years ago. The gift of the law becomes a set of restrictive rules. They become an obligation and, even worse, the people come to see the Commandments as their possession. That happens when we get used to having something around us- we become complacent; we stop seeing the wonder and awe and see only the ordinary.
Fast forward several hundred years, perhaps even a thousand years, and the same thing happens with the Temple. When the first Temple was built, the chosen people of God knew it to be the place where God dwelt. Literally God’s resting place. Now such a place should obviously be treated with respect and honour; approached with reverence. But by the time Jesus enters the Temple, people are so used to it; have taken it for granted for so long; have viewed it as their own possession for so long, that they see no problem with bringing in the market place. Slowly, what is holy and set apart becomes common place and everyday.
Both the 10 Commandments and the Temple were originally meant to be places where human and divine could meet. Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and was given the law for the people. And in attending to those laws, the people were drawing near to God in their daily lives. Similarly, when the Temple was built, God’s presence permeated the building. And priests and people could offer worship there and again draw near to God.
Jesus is of course another place where the human and the divine meet. Jesus is to be all the things that the Jewish people were meant to find in the 10 Commandments; life, love, healing and forgiveness. His own body, his own being, is the new Temple, the place where the holiness of God dwells. In every sense, Jesus is to be our sanctuary; the place where God is present to us and we are present to him.
Lent is perhaps the perfect time to re-visit these concepts and their places in our lives the Commandments; the Temple; and Jesus as the fulfillment of all that God had promised to his people. Are these gifts sources of life, love, healing and forgiveness for us? Or have we too become complacent about what God gifts us and where God is pleased to dwell?
It strikes me that the pandemic has stripped away most of our usual defences. All the things we fill our lives with in order to avoid God or to numb our sense of awe and wonder. But, through COVID, we have realised that we are not in control. And perhaps that the things of beauty which inhabit our lives are not ours to possess but ours to respect and nurture.