Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent - Exodus 20; John 2
How well do you think a job would go, some sort of craft, if the tools you need are dull? If they need to be sharpened, you have them with you there, they are supposed to do the job, but they will not do very well. Not to mention they can be dangerous.
Working in restaurants we would have chefs tell us all about their knives and how they will spend a great amount of time during the week keeping them sharp and honed so the blade is straight and will cut everything like butter. A dull knife is a dangerous knife, I was told once.
I’m sure hunters would agree. When you have to field dress the animal and breakdown the meat, you need a sharp knife or you will just destroy it, am I right?
How many of you have tried to do any cutting, sawing, other work of the same vane with a dull tool? It doesn’t go well. You have an animal to breakdown and it looks like you ran it through the paper shredder instead. You have vegetables to cut and they get smashed instead of chopped. You try and cut wood or chop down a tree, a dull saw or ax might as well be a death sentence. Let’s not get into an unmaintained chainsaw. Lack of oil. Old teeth. Or a lawnmower blade that’s dull. We could make a list.
Well, this morning I want to give an edge to you. Hone your faith. Using the Sword of the Spirit, the word. So listen…And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of slavery. Before we can get to anything else in this list of commandments or try to understand what it is we think we must do as believers, or how we should live to make grace or faith worth it, you have to here this – God spoke. Not only did God speak, but God said something. Said something to you. Did you hear it? I am the Lord…YOUR…God. I am not the Lord a God. I am not the Lord another God. I am the Lord YOUR God. God speaks to you now, as he did to the Israelites 4000 years ago in the desert of Arabia, saying – I am your God. Telling you that you have a God. Before you get to thinking about murder or adultery, or theft, or stealing, or coveting or Sabbaths or parents, or bearing false witness, you have to begin where God begins in telling you that you have a God. Not only that, but your God is a God who speaks.
So what does he speak? I am your God who brings you out of oppression. Out of death. Out of slavery and grants freedom. Everything else lines its self up with this.
You want to know what I have to say to you? Well I will give one day in seven for you to set it aside to listen to me. To hear me speak to you. The Sabbath or Lord’s day.
You want to know what kind of God I am? I am a creating God who has crafted you in love. I will use parents to show you this. That you didn’t come from an accident but a purposeful work of bringing you, specifically you, into being. Honoring parents means honoring me as your creator.
I am a living God who gives life, therefore you have no right to take life.
I am a faithful God and so I will give you relationships with others to be faithful to them as I will be to you.
I am a giving God and to prove it I am going to give you stuff for you to cherish and be grateful for. Daily bread as it were. Therefore, be thankful for your stuff and don’t think you have the right to the stuff I give your neighbor.
I am a God of truth who bears witness to my love, my mercy, my justice to you. Don’t pervert those things by telling lies and half-truths against those for whom I love. Show mercy and justice.
I am Jehovah-Jireh, God the Provider. I always will give you what you need. Don’t look around you and think what I have given to someone else is what you need right now. It isn’t.
All these things God speaks to you in these commandments. And these are not words to take by themselves but that they are ones to be paired with this preaching God. This God who speaks and talks to you. Who takes you as a possession and loves you so much that he tells you these things about himself.
Unfortunately, like the sellers in the temple, we take the time to embellish this God. We bring in various laws and pictures of what we truly think God wants instead of hearing what God has said and done. These sellers were making travelers trade in their coins for “clean” money. For temple money to be deposited in the treasury. Usually at a profit. They were using the courts of prayer devoted to this God who speaks and hears, to have pens of animals that needed to be bought or traded for to have a clean sacrifice. They were barring some from worship, prayer and sacrifice because they were making the following of particular rules the norm and expectation prior to worship and hearing from God, rather than seeing the mercy of God proclaimed to all as the truth of God to be heard first and foremost.
So our God who speaks takes action into his own hands. He comes to us bodily, in the flesh, making his Word (as John says) a living human being. A sermon with skin on it, to speak to you. This time we see Jesus, this word, doing an un-Jesus-y thing and making a whip and clearing his house of all the other stuff. Cleaning house of things that get in the way of listening and hearing this God who needs to tell us – I am your God – over and over again, because we will hear it and then add to it like an addendum to a contract. Yes, you are God, but we’ll add this or that to it. Get your life right before you come. Make sure you sing this way, or look that way, or use the green hymnal, or guitars and fog machines, or perfect sacrifices. Yes. Those sacrifices he needs them perfect. Spotless. Get your heart right before you come into this place. Name your expectation.
Good human wisdom we think. Good philosophy. It works well. We say “You want God to love you, well, be lovable.” But no. This God who speaks comes to you in foolishness. The foolishness of preaching to speak to you. To tell you that good philosophy or a well lived life mean nothing. That regardless of how well you think you do in following the ten commandments, there is always something missing. The missing piece being your God. The God who says he is yours before any commandment is kept by you. The God who comes to you in a sermon to tell you about the cross. About the God of the Scriptures who takes on the role of a servant and serves you before you ever serve him. Who for every sin we committed, every wrong we have done, every ounce of shame we bear, Christ took that to the cross. No signs for us to commit that testify to a better life. No great philosophy to win over the college elite. Instead the foolishness of a God of love who speaks through the pain and suffering of the cross to tell you – In the way I suffered when you sinned against me, I will suffer to remove it. In the way you hate me by turning to all sorts of other gods, allowing all sorts of idols to take over your life and move you away from loving and trusting me as your God, I am going to turn to you and redeem you from that. Forgive you of it. Doing it by the death on a cross of my very self as Jesus. I am going to apply it to you by telling you through the words of a preacher. I will say it again and again until you remember it. To sharpen your edge and hone your soul.
Listen. Hear the words of God. The God who says to you, I am the Lord your God who brought you out of darkness, out of death, out of the house of sin. Don’t have any other gods because they can’t do what I do. May your hearts this Lent be sharpened by the work of God’s word upon you, and may you be transformed by this speaking God who uses the crucified God to free you and to bring you to him. Thanks be to God. Amen