There are no alleluias in Lent. We don’t sing hymns with Alleluias, we don’t use responses that include Alleluia. The Gloria in Excelsis is replaced with the Kyrie as we sing Lord Have Mercy. We say the Sanctus rather than singing Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.
At times the journey of Lent can be a real downer. The mood is somber, the music sometimes in a minor key. We’ve left behind the lights of Christmas and Epiphany for the repentant purple. But I promise you there is still good news in the scripture lessons today.
Appropriately, we read the story of the 10 commandments this Sunday following the story of God establishing the everlasting covenant with Abraham promising he will be the ancestor of a great nation and he and his offspring will be God’s chosen people forever.
In our Book of Common Prayer, the 10 commandments are included in the section titled the Outline of the Faith or the Catechism. This rule of law provides us with a time honored guide for daily living. They are often grouped into two basic priorities--first, our duty to believe and trust in God; second, our duty to care for and respect our neighbors. Simply said, God takes 1st place in our lives. We are to love and obey God and we show that love for God in thought, word, and deed. Next we love and respect our neighbors doing unto others as we wish them to do to us.
Our Lord Jesus Christ neatly gathered these 10 rules of living into what we call the Summary of the Law. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Our first reaction to hearing again God’s rules for right living might be, “Oh, darn, just another reminder of how far off the path I tend to stray.” Yet this Exodus reading should be received not as a burden but as a gift, an opportunity to grow deeper in relationship with God in Christ. As Christians we are called, especially during this time of Lent to ways in which we may more fully embrace God’s desire for us, this lesson provides a road map of faith on the journey to Jerusalem.
The Law, or Torah, given to Moses describes a vision of how the covenant between God and Israel is to be ordered. It comes after God has led the people through the Red Sea out of slavery in Egypt, fed them with manna in the wilderness and brought them to Mt. Sinai. God has displayed his passionate love for his people and shown that love by liberating them from bondage and sustaining them with bread from heaven.
God’s commandments need not be seen as a Divine expectation too lofty or difficult to live up to. The gift of the law is a means of ordering and protecting the community, opening a pathway for life to flourish both in community and as an individual.
Just as parents create reasonable boundaries for their children to protect them from harm and from patterns of living that may lead to chaos, so the Law of God encourages a healthy and proper love of God and Neighbor and self. God loves us and offers us a rewarding way of life, a blueprint for a just society. And that’s the good news today from the Hebrew Scriptures.
There’s very little good news in our newspapers and from TV we hear far too many reports of shootings, personal tragedies, business failings and rising numbers of unemployment. Some news reporters are making an intentional effort to include stories of a more positive nature. Charlie Gibson ends his evening news on an up note. Brian Williams knew he had been anchoring a depressive Nightly News show for a depressed audience. He encouraged his viewers to send some good news to report and he was shocked at the thousands of responses he received. So there is good news out there and people are eager to share it with others.
Let’s move on to the Gospel reading now and remember the word gospel means good news. So do we hear Good News from the lectionary reading even in the season of Lent? That would depend on which side of the fence one might be in our story for today.
Shortly before the Passover, Jesus arrived at the temple in Jerusalem and found the courtyard crowded with people selling cattle, sheep, and doves with the money changers seated at their tables ready to do business. Jesus was livid as he poured out the coins and upended the tables. “Get your things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall.” The Jews challenged him, “Who are you to do this?” Jesus publicly confronts the authorities. Jesus values the temple and the sacrifices when they are done rightly, therefore he will not quietly stand by and allow the holy places to be profaned. God’s house was being turned into a market place.
Would we ever consider removing these pews and renting out spaces for a flea market? I think not. People came from miles and miles to this annual Passover Feast and it would not have been possible to transport animals in order to offer a sacrifice so it was for a practical reason animals were for sale to the travelers. Too often these sacrificial animals were way over priced. The money changers were tempted to over charge as they exchanged the coins stamped with Caesar’s image for the Palestinian coins that were acceptable for payment of the Temple tax. What began as a convenience gave way to corruption. This became a social justice issue as the sellers took advantage of the buyers. And we know how Jesus reacts anytime he sees the rich profiting from the poor. Jesus breaks in to turn the tables on the oppressors and right the unrightness of the oppressed.
We can recall hearing voices of wisdom in our nation predicting a burst of the expanding bubble in our economy as the rich became richer and the poor, poorer. The bubble did indeed burst and the economy collapsed. The list of billionaires is decreasing at one end of the scale, at the other end the line grows at the food banks. It’s saddening to hear the stories of the failures in our banking system and to know that greed was the motivating factor for many CEOs. Trust in the system has been broken as the value of investments plummet.
Now, more than ever, is a time for people to pull together, to help and support one another in everyway possible. When deciding where to donate the proceeds of Pancake Day, we saw the Food Bank distribution center as a place that serves the people that are impacted the greatest in these times. We have the opportunity to live our Christian faith by showing our love of God and neighbor.
The Good News is out there of people making a difference in the lives of others. Brian Williams on his evening news show reported on the story of a pharmacist in Missouri handing out hundreds of $2 bills only asking that people spend the dollars locally. A gift of ten or twenty $2 bills would not miraculously solve the financial worries of these people. Yet it sends a far greater message, in essence it says, “I care about you, I stand with you in these uncertain times, we’ll hang together in community.”.
Jesus created chaos in the courtyard as he scattered the animals and merchants, not good news for those profiting from the Temple system. Jesus was pointing to a higher truth, a new type of community founded on the love of God that transforms lives and empowers us to right the we see.
When Jesus breaks into our marketplaces of greed he demands that we see a new way to do business. He invites us into God’s vision of a just society where all are gathered together in love of God, neighbor and self. “And that’s the Good News for this third Sunday in Lent.” AMEN