Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 31, 2024

YEAR B 2024 festival of easter

Easter, 2024
Isaiah 25:6-9
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Happy Easter to you all!  I am so grateful that you are here this morning.  Last night we lit the new fire and the Paschal candle, this morning we shared a delicious potluck breakfast, and when we’re done today we’ll have an Easter Egg hunt after this morning’s service.  There’s something for everyone.  And speaking of something for everyone, did you know that there’s more than one ending to Mark’s gospel?  

Fair warning:  If your faith is based on the inerrancy of scripture, turn away now.  If you don’t know what “inerrancy of scripture” means, then stick around.  But, yeah, there’s an alternate ending to the gospel of Mark.  It’s not really called an “alternate ending,” though.  It’s called “the longer ending.”  And that’s because the shorter ending of Mark is the part we just heard.  It ends with, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  So, to sum up, there was an empty tomb.  The end.  Happy Easter!

It takes a certain amount of faith to let the story end there, doesn’t it?  Jesus was killed, placed in a tomb, and when his friends came to anoint his body with spices, we was not there.  It takes a lot of faith to be satisfied with that ending.  Which is probably why there is also now that longer ending, where Jesus shows up and talks to people.  The story felt unfinished.

It would be like stopping the Wizard of Oz with Dorothy still stranded in the Emerald City and trusting that she wakes up in Kansas.  Or like the prince not finding Cinderella to have her try on the shoe.  People really want to know how the story ends, and it’s quite a cliffhanger to end the gospel with, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Now, just because that longer ending exists doesn’t mean it is not also true, of course.  The physical resurrection of Jesus is kind of a key feature of our faith . . . obviously.  And that longer ending does line up with the other gospels, so it’s not like somebody just made it up.  But it takes the gift of faith to believe the resurrection at all, and especially when it just ends with the empty tomb.

And it’s really not fair that we get this shorter ending right now, given all the uncertainties in the world.  It feels like we deserve the longer, more certain ending from Mark.  The one where Jesus actually shows up.  Physically.  In person.  Eating fish, and lighting fires on the beach, and telling Peter to feed his sheep, like we have in John’s gospel.  Reminding us that it’s not just an idle tale.  But this year, we get this short ending, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”

But here is the good news:  If we only have Mark’s shorter ending to work with—the gospel reading we just heard—we don’t really know where Jesus is.  But we do know where Jesus is not:
In. The.  Tomb.  It’s empty.

And that really is the most important part of the whole story if you ask me.  This shorter ending of Mark really hits on the thing that matters most.  Because Jesus could be many places right now, but we know the one place Jesus is not . . . in the grave.  He is risen!

And that is the good news for you and me.  The news we need to hear right now.  Because as any honest preacher will tell you, we don’t really know where we go when we die.  Yes, yes, of course we trust and we believe in the promises of God in Jesus.  That’s why we call ourselves Christians.  But any certainty about the beyond is . . . beyond our knowing until we get there ourselves.

But what we have heard this morning is the key:  The tomb is empty.  And that means that death is not the last word.  The tomb is empty.  And that means death itself has been destroyed.  The tomb is empty.  And that is why we have faith that we also will rise from the grave on the last day.

And when that happens, on that last day, we will be reunited with all those whom we love, and see no more.  We will be pulled up from our own graves by the one who was the first to rise up from the grave.
All because the tomb is empty.

Alleluia, the Lord is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!


Friday, March 29, 2024

YEAR B 2024 good friday

Good Friday, 2024
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1-19:42
Psalm 22

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

When we lose someone we love, someone who means the world to us, people often try to make us feel better by saying the only things they can think of saying.  Things like God needed a voice for the choir, or a rose for the garden.  Or that somehow God needed our soulmate more than we did.  These things don’t help, to say the least.  But people don’t know what to say, and they feel like they have to say something.

But they don’t have to say anything.  And in those times of painful grief, it is usually better to say nothing.  There is no positive way to spin having someone ripped out of our lives, having our hearts broken, losing someone who means so much to us.  There is no upside, and there is nothing you can say that will make things better . . . except, “I am here.”

And this is where we sit today on Good Friday.  We have heard once again how Jesus has been killed in a most horrific way.  We have listened to everyone trying to justify their own complicity in this gruesome execution.  We have watched as most of his friends and companions have deserted him in his final hours.  

And in this moment, we want to say something, at least to ourselves.  To remind ourselves that Sunday is coming, because we’ve read ahead in the book.  We want to tell his devastated mother Mary about the rose in God’s garden and the voice in God’s choir.  We want to tell Judas about the redemptive power of forgiveness.  We want to acknowledge to our Jewish brothers and sisters that centuries of anti-semitism and genocide come from this version of the story—from the gospel of John.

We feel like we have to say something.  Just as people throughout history feel like they had to say something.  Find some words that will make everything better.  And that is why theologians come rushing in with all their fancy atonement theories to explain why this horrible story is actually a good thing, or is a necessary thing, or that God’s ways are not our ways.  All of which are just fancy ways of saying God needed another angel for the choir and a rose for the garden.

Sometimes, it is best to say nothing.  Let the story speak for itself.  Ponder our own place within what has happened.  Bring a bag of spices and wrap the body and place it in the ground.  And then sit in silence and wait for God to say something.  Because God will say something.  And if we’re so busy talking and explaining things, we might not be able to hear what it is God is saying.  So for now, let us sit and wait and listen.  Because God will indeed say something, and we don’t want to miss it.


Thursday, March 28, 2024

YEAR B 2024 maundy thursday

Maundy Thursday, 2024
Exodus 12:1-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday.  We get the word Maundy from the Latin word, maundatum, which is also where we get the words mandatory and mandate.  It’s related to com-mand and commandment.  All these words give us the notion of being told what to to.  What is required of us.  And in the gospel reading we just heard, Jesus gives us a commandment.  He says it’s a new commandment.  

What is that commandment?  Is it to wash one another’s feet?  No.  Is it not to eat pork?  No.  Is it to reject people who don’t think or look like us?  No.  The new commandment from Jesus, the maundatum of Maundy Thursday is to love one another.  Just love one another.  And a necessary part of that commandment is the “one another” part.  Because you cannot do what Jesus commands without other people.  It requires community.  There is no me and Jesus in this commandment.  It requires us.  Together.

Four days ago, on Palm Sunday, when we got to the final verse of our closing hymn, I was suddenly overwhelmed by it all, my eyes teared up, and I had to stop singing.  I just couldn’t do it.  And though I could not sing, the song did not stop.  Because of the community.  Congregational hymns are not solos, thank God!  We sing them together.  And if the priest or anyone else has to stop singing, the song goes on.  When you cannot sing, the community sings for you.  When you cannot pray, the community prays for you.  When you cannot believe, the community believes for you.

Last Sunday, I could not sing, but the song did not stop.  And when one voice stops, the song is changed, though it still goes on.  In our community, in our worship, in our singing, you add a part that only you can add.  A certain flavor, a certain tone, a certain shakiness, a certain wrong note even.  The song is different because you are there!  When you can’t sing, or when you stop singing, the song changes, but it keeps going.  The song goes on, and it was made different because you were there.

At the close of this service, after we have set aside the reserved Sacrament for tomorrow, we will adjourn for a time into the parish hall for an Agape’ meal.  The word “agape’” means love.  Unconditional love.  And the reason churches have that meal on this Maundy Thursday night is to remind ourselves of the commandment we have received.  That we love one another.  As Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There will come a day when each and every one of us stops singing.  But the song will go on, because we love one another, just as Jesus loves us.


Sunday, March 24, 2024

YEAR B 2024 palm sunday/passion sunday

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday 2024
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 15:1-39
Psalm 31:9-16

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There is not much a preacher can say, after what we just heard.  Let me start over.  There is not much a preacher should say, after what we just heard.

This is the most bifurcated day of the church year.  Or, maybe it’s the fullest day of the church year.  Because it shows us the full range of the fickle nature of who we are.  Sometimes, we start by saying something encouraging, like Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, and we just keep talking and talking until we find ourselves saying, “Give us Barabbas.”  We might shout “Hosanna,” and we might then shout, “Crucify!”  And the words we choose to shout in this story—and in our lives—really do make a difference.  Because words matter.  And sometimes, what we all need to do is just. stop. talking.  As I said, sometimes, a preacher can say too much.

Everybody in this story has a lot to say.  And the more people say, the worse things get.  They just keep saying things that make the situation more and more dangerous, and no one says “STOP!”  All talking, and no peace.  Give us enough space and we will talk ourselves to death.  

In Mark’s version of this story, the one we just heard, nobody seems able to stop talking.  And once he gets sent to Pilate, Jesus speaks only two times.  First, when Pilate asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers him, “You say so.”  And then all that horrible stuff happens because people can’t stop talking, and . . . Jesus remains silent.  At the end, from the cross, Jesus quotes the opening of Psalm 22 and says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Those are the only two times he speaks.

The 22nd Psalm opens with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And that psalm ends with, “They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that God has done.”

A people yet unborn.  That’s us.  We are those people.  And God’s saving deeds have been made known to us, because people have used their words to make those deeds known to us.  Those are the words we need to hear.  All of us.

When you and I speak, may God give us the wisdom to choose words that are doing that same thing: Making known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that God has done.  Let’s stop with all the words and speak only of this: The saving deeds that God has done.  To God be the glory.


Sunday, March 17, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 5

Lent 5, 2024
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33
Psalm 51:1-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, as you can see, this week we have another fine example of John being John in this gospel reading.  There’s a lot of mystical-sounding language that we’re not quite sure we get, and—just like we had a couple weeks ago—John feels the need to explain the one metaphor we do get: that is, Jesus’ being lifted up indicates the way in which he is to die.  But let’s jump in at the beginning . . .

The scene is the Passover Festival, and people have come from all around to celebrate, or to watch the Jewish people celebrate.  (In the same way you don’t need to be Irish to go to the St. Patrick’s Day parade this afternoon.)  It’s, you know, a festival.  So people of a different faith—or of no faith—want to come and partake in the celebration.  That’s why “some Greeks” are there.  And they come to the one disciple who likely spoke Greek, Philip who was from Bethsaida, and they tell him that they wish to see Jesus.  Phillip goes to Andrew, and then they both go to Jesus.  End of story.  Poor Greeks.\

We never hear whether the Greeks got to see Jesus.  It’s like they’re just left in the waiting room and the story moves on.  Strange, right?

And in typical John’s gospel fashion, after Jesus hears that these Greeks want to see him, his answer has nothing to do with their request.  Instead, Jesus starts telling the disciples something else: The hour has come.  To us, that sounds disconnected from the request from the Greeks, but that’s because we forgot about the rest of John’s gospel.  So let’s leave the Greeks reading their magazines in the waiting room and think back to what “the hour” means in John’s gospel.

Early in the second chapter of John, Jesus is at a wedding in Cana, and they run out of wine.  His mother, Mary, asks him to do something about it.  And Jesus says to her, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  In the 7th chapter of John, Jesus is teaching at a festival and the religious leaders are worried that he is winning over the crowds, and they try to arrest him, “but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.”  And then in the 8th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is teaching in the Temple, and the Pharisees are challenging his authority on technical grounds, “but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”

And then today, in the 12th chapter of John, Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus about the Greeks who wish to see him. And Jesus answers them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  This is it, you see?  It’s a turning point in the gospel of John.  Twelve chapters in, and the hour has finally come!  Great!  So . . . um, what exactly does that mean?  We’ve been waiting for the hour of Jesus to get here, and now it’s here, but now what? 

Well there’s the second half of that to look at: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  The Greek word doxazo is the one that gets translated as “glorified.”  (You can probably see that it’s where we get our word, doxology.)  Doxazo.  This word comes up in John’s gospel 23 times!  It is an important concept in John.  Doxazo: Glorified.

So, the hour has finally come for Jesus to be glorified.  But what does that mean?  What does it mean for Jesus to be glorified?  Jesus tells us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  So it sounds like to be glorified means that Jesus has to die.  But that is certainly not how we think of someone being glorified.  We think of glory as being full of life, with winning and adulation, right?  Gold medals in the Olympics and stuff.  But here we have Jesus saying that he will be glorified by dying.  It’s not right.  You bring honor and glory by living, not by dying.  At least to us.  To be glorified is to grab hold of life, to love life.

But, Jesus contradicts our view: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  But that’s kind of an unfortunate translation, because it misses the sense of the present tense.  When put that way, it sounds like, if you sacrifice now, some day you will have life.  Which suggests a cosmic retirement account.  But in the original text it is all present tense:  That is, those who love their life now lose it now, and those who reject their life now keep it forever.  But here again, it’s some of that tricky metaphor stuff that John likes to give us.  We’re not sure what it means exactly.  

I like to think of it as a call to turn away from focusing inward.  To be open to others rather than focusing on ourselves.  Not, lay down your life for others so that you will have eternal life some day.  But more like, lay down your life for others right now, because in doing so you will experience the glory of God today.  If you want to truly live, stop focusing on living.  If you want to know how to be alive, well . . . remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  

Have you ever known someone who collects toys simply for the purpose of the monetary value of them?  Closets full of toys still wrapped in cellophane that no one has ever played with.  It’s kind of like that.  You don’t know the true joy of a toy until you are willing to unwrap it and hand it to a child so they can play with it.  And you can’t know the value of truly living if you are sitting in a box on a shelf, afraid that you might lose your life.  Take your life down off that shelf and give it away; then you will know what it means to truly live.

And speaking of sitting in a box on a shelf, let’s go get those Greeks out of the waiting room where we left them.  Back in the 7th chapter of John, there’s this interesting exchange after they fail to arrest Jesus because his hour had not yet come.  Jesus tells them, “You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” They say to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

And right after the gospel reading we heard this morning, the crowd says to Jesus, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah  remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”  Jesus responds with some metaphors about light and darkness, and then, “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”

Jesus hides from the crowds.  Jesus hides from the Greeks.  Those who seek him cannot find him.  He goes with his disciples to share a final meal, and then he is handed over to the authorities to be lifted up . . . on the cross.  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  The Greeks had come to Phillip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Do they?  Well . . . has Jesus been lifted up?  Yes, and he draws all people to himself.  You, me, Greeks, Pharisees, Phillip, Andrew, and the family that keeps toys wrapped in their original cellophane in the guest room closet.  Jesus draws all people to himself, because his hour has come.

And since we’re all floating around in John’s metaphors and deeply symbolic language already, let’s go ahead and press forward.  If someone comes to you and says, “Sir, Madam, I wish to see Jesus,” what should you do?  You should point to Jesus, who has been lifted up, and draws all people to himself.  If someone asks, “Madam, Sir, where can I see Jesus?”  You can point to the places where he is lifted up: where relationships are restored, where the outcasts are welcomed, where the good news is preached, and at the Altar, in the moment where the bread is lifted up and you say AMEN, which means, let it be so.  All caps.  In italics.  That’s the point where you are saying, “We wish to see Jesus, and by God’s grace he is here.”

Jesus draws all people to himself, because his hour has come and he is lifted up.  Lay down your life, and God will lift you up.  Kneel down in Confession, and God will lift you up in forgiveness.  Go down to the grave, and God will raise you up in glory.  God is always lifting us up, so that God’s name will be glorified.  This is all God’s doing, and it is wonderful in our sight.


Sunday, March 10, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 4

Lent 4, 2024
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, how about that story we heard from Numbers today?  You know, with the snakes and the pole and everything?  You gotta admit: it’s a little bizarre.  The people have been freed from slavery in Egypt, and they’re out wandering in the desert, and they start whining again to Moses about not having food or a decent place to sleep.  I mean, I get it.  But they’re not remembering what they’ve been freed from.  They were slaves under the Egyptians, and now they’re free.  But they are grumbling.

And so, God seems to say, “You want something to grumble about?  Well here are some snakes to bite you.  Try those on for size!”  And the snakes come and bite the people, and they cry out for mercy, and God tells Moses to make a snake out of metal and put it on a pole, and everyone who looks at the snake is healed. 

Okay, now I have to tip my hand about the snake story.  This is one of those times where we can’t let the facts of the story get in the way of the truth of the story.  I mean, I’m as willing as anyone to say that this story might have happened exactly as we heard it today . . . I mean, God can do anything, right?  But it is definitely one of those times where if we look too closely at the details, we’re going to get a seriously messed up image of God.  Because we’re tempted to come away thinking that, if we complain to God, a lot of us are going to have snakes in our cars tomorrow morning.  And if God sent fiery serpents every time I complained, well, I’d be covered head to toe in snake bites by now.

So, my point is, we can’t get bogged down in how the snakes got there.  Sometimes, in order to make a point, you’ve got to add some details to the story.  You can’t just start off with, “One time, there were these snakes.”   Otherwise, everybody’s first question would be, “Wait, where’d the snakes come from?”  And then you’d have to say, “The snakes are not the point.”  And then people would say, “But snakes don’t just appear all of the sudden like that.”  And then you have to say, “Okay, fine!  GOD sent the snakes.  You happy now?  Can I get back to the point of the story I’m trying to tell you?”

And I know that some people will definitely want to argue about the snakes.  Some people will say that if you don’t believe that God literally sent those snakes, then it’s just a slippery slope till you’re saying Jesus didn’t rise from the grave.  There is no good response to that kind of argument, because . . . it isn’t an argument . . . It’s a lack of faith.  But that’s a story for another time. 

And that’s why we’re now going to leave this story about the snakes and go to today’s Gospel reading . . . Where Jesus also talks about snakes!   You can’t get away from these things, I tell you!

Today’s Gospel starts right out with Jesus recounting the story we were just talking about, saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” so it was necessary for the son of man to be lifted up.  Why did Moses lift up the pole with the serpent attached?  For the healing of the people, right?  That their suffering might be ended.  So that those who stop dwelling on the snakes at their feet—who look to the one lifted up—would be saved.  The point is to look at the one who has been lifted up, not the snakes at their feet.

But, we also want to ask, “Where did the snakes around my feet come from?”  Or, what we really ask is, “Why me, God?  Why am I suffering?”  And here is where I want to say, WHY you are suffering is not the point.  The point is to look at the one who is lifted up, the one who can heal you, the one who brings life and forgiveness and salvation.

But I also know that someone will come along and tell you that you are suffering because God is punishing you.  People will tell you that the reason you are suffering, or are in pain, or are losing a loved one is because God is tired of hearing you whine.  And I will tell you, plain and simple: THAT, my friends, is. a. lie.

How do I know?  Because as we just heard in John 3:17, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  God does not send snakes to torment us.  God sends us salvation through the cross, through the one who is lifted up.  Jesus said:  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it was necessary for the son of man to be lifted up, in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s John 3:17.  John 3:16 has been called “the gospel in a nutshell.”  You’ve seen it at sporting events; you’ve seen it on signs from street preachers.  John 3:16 has a life of its own, because it seems to sum up the Christianity.  Most of us know it by heart, or at least some pieces of it.  How does God love the world?  In this way . . . so that people may not perish but may have eternal life

But . . . we still want an explanation for those snakes around our feet, don’t we?  We want an explanation for why we suffer, and why we have to watch those we love suffer.  And it’s easy to pin it on God, because we expect to be punished, for one reason or another.  In the back of our minds, we think it makes sense to say, “These snakes are biting me because I complained about leaving Egypt.”  We just update it to our present lives, of course.  “I failed that test because I haven’t prayed lately.”  Or, “My kid got sick because I skipped church last week.”  For some reason—and I don’t know why—it helps us make sense of the world when we pin our tragedies on God.  For some reason, we take comfort in thinking that our suffering is from the hand of God.  That God shows love by making our lives miserable.  I hope you can see how ridiculous and terribly sad that is.

John 3:16:  For God so loved the world that . . . God sent snakes to bite people who misbehave?  Nope.  For God so loved the world that God sends tornadoes and cancer to people who forget to pray?  Nope.  God sends mass shooters to punish countries that somehow “take prayer out of the schools?”  Nope again.  For in this way God loved the world:  that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.  God sends the savior, not the snakes.

And then Jesus says, God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not judged; but those who do not believe are judged already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And you know what I think that last part means?  This idea of being judged already?  I think it means that spending our time looking at the snakes, fearing the serpents, rather than looking to the one who saves us from them.  Those who believe in him are not judged.  But those who do not believe are judged already.  Jesus did not come into the world to judge us.  He is not the snake who bites our feet and causes the sufferings of this life.  He is the one who is lifted up—like the serpent on the pole—to bring healing to the world . . . To all people, in every time and every place.  God sends the savior, not the snakes.

And this same one who is lifted up for our healing is also the one who is lifted up at every Altar where the sacrament is being celebrated.  As the bread of heaven, Jesus comes to heal us.  And, maybe for a few moments, in this time outside of time, God grants us the grace to stop looking at our own suffering and to see the gift of healing that comes through the power of the cross.  For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge the world, but in order that it might be rescued through him.  God does not send the snakes around our feet.  God sends the one who is lifted up for our healing from those snakes around our feet.  May God give us the strength to believe, and to keep our eyes on Jesus, the one who is lifted up, the one who heals us.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 3

Lent 3, 2024
Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22
Psalm 19

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I think one way to understand today’s gospel reading is to view the anger and frustration of Jesus as being about the breakdown of community.  It looks like he’s mad because people have money and animals in the Temple.  But I think we have to look beyond those externals and look at how we got here.  And I think how we got here is because the people forgot that they are a community.  So, to understand that, we have to go back to the beginning of the community.  By which I mean, to the Passover.

If you think back to the stories you learned in Sunday school, or to movies like The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, you’ll remember that God meets Moses in the burning bush, and sends him to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go.”  And then there’s a bunch of plagues used as leverage until at last the angel of death sweeps over the city and kills the first-born sons of everyone who doesn’t have blood on their doorposts.  And where do people get that blood for their doorposts?  From the lamb at the Passover meal.

In the 12th chapter of Exodus, God tells Moses and Aaron how the people are to eat the Passover meal:
Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.

If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor.  You see how this includes everybody?  No one is left behind here.  If I have a lamb and my family cannot eat the whole thing, God requires that I invite in the neighbors, as many neighbors as it takes to eat the entire lamb.  And what does this do?  It creates community.  There are no leftovers, and no one goes hungry, and the people form a community by bonding over food.  We think the point of the Passover meal is to avoid death, but a case could be made that the point is to form a community.  To teach God’s people how to live together as one body.

And then let’s consider this morning’s first reading, also from the book of Exodus.  I’m sure you recognized what we heard as the Ten Commandments.  At first glance, these commandments seem like a hodgepodge of rules, just sort of randomly thrown together.  They certainly don’t seem to carry equal weight: don’t murder . . . and honor your parents?  But here again, it’s not about the specific rules for specific individuals.  No, the Ten Commandments are about community.  God is giving God’s people a set of guardrails for living together.  If you want to be God’s people living in the world together, following these commandments is the way to start that community.  

I mean, just look at how they are structured.  Off the bat, you get instructions for how to gather around the same God.  No other Gods, don’t make idols, keep God’s name holy, keep the sabbath.  And then all the rest are about community.  Don’t kill people (duh), don’t steal, don’t lie about other people, don’t commit adultery.  And then the outliers: honor your parents, and don’t covet your neighbors stuff.  Following these rules together builds a community.  It’s not about individual morality; it is about having a community.  The type of place where, “If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor.”  Nobody is left behind.  We’re in this together.

And, as an aside, I must say that this is why it makes absolutely no sense to post the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms and public spaces.  Because the Ten Commandments are not the basis of the legal system in the United States of America.  And it would be bizarre if they were.  Honoring your father and mother is not part of the Ohio Revised Code.  And, don’t make any idols . . . have you heard of social media influencers?  Don’t work one day every week . . . have you met any Americans?  Don’t covet your neighbor’s possessions . . . do you understand how capitalism works?  Our entire economy is based on coveting what other people have!  If we didn’t covet our neighbors’ goods, the whole system would fall apart!  And then what would we have?  Well . . . community.  We’d have community.  We may want to rethink the idea of putting the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms, is all I’m saying.

So we know that the Passover established a community of people, and we know that the Ten Commandments were intended to teach that community how to live together.  Now flash forward 1400 or 1500 years—depending on how you date things—and we go from the Ten Commandments to this scene with Jesus in the Temple.  A lot has happened in that time.  The Jewish community stopped wandering and built a Temple for the Ark.  That Temple was destroyed and then rebuilt and rebuilt again.  All the commanded sacrifices were now done at the Temple.

By now, there is a very specific and exacting system of how to do things right, a system that was carried out in the Temple, in Jerusalem.  As we see in Luke, 8 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to have him circumcised, and “offered a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”  

I bring that up to remind us that Jesus was born into this system of Temple worship.  These are his people and this is his culture.  And—it is important to remember—when faithful Jews came to the Temple, they could not use Roman coins to buy the animals for sacrifice.  So those money changers were a religious necessity, to convert Roman currency into Temple coins.  Like buying tokens at the arcade or something.  You can’t have a Temple system and follow the Law of Moses without having money changers.

So why does Jesus get angry and upend the entire system?  What’s so bad about what he sees on this day?  Honestly, we don’t know for sure.  But look at what he says.  “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  A marketplace.  It sounds like the problem is that everything has become transactional.  Consider how back at the first Passover people were told to take their own lamb, one they had raised themselves, and invite over enough people to eat the entire thing.  That’s very different from bringing some coins to buy an animal you’ve never met, so that a priest can slaughter it in a room you’ll never see.  And what’s missing most of all is the communal element of the transaction.  The poor are left behind.  The lonely stay lonely.  You can do all this without ever talking to your neighbor.  It is transactional, a detached exchange: in the words of Jesus, a marketplace.

And then Jesus makes the turn and refers to his own body as the Temple.  Jesus will restore the community around the Temple of the Incarnation.  Around God in the flesh.  No longer disembodied isolating transactions between the people and God, but rather a community in Christ, gathered together around Jesus.  We are this community.  At our best, the Church is the place where no one is left out, no one is left behind.

And we bring our sacrificial offerings to this new Temple of Jesus Christ.  Our time, our talents, and our possessions.  And God does miraculous things with as much as we are willing to surrender of ourselves.  We have the perfect example of this in the ordinary bread and wine that we set on this Altar.  God takes the seemingly mundane and turns it into the body and blood of Jesus, who has been raised up, just as he said.  We don’t know how it happens, but it does.  And you are invited to this feast, because these gifts from God are given for the people of God.  Jesus creates community wherever he goes, and he is here today among us doing exactly that.