Collect: Almighty God, you seest that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul – it is a lovely collect for the day and a great summary for the readings today. Today is one of those glorious days when all the readings and the Collect inter-weave beautifully.
I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but throughout this Lenten season, we have had Covenant readings in our Hebrew Testament first readings. The First Sunday of Lent, we had God making a covenant with Noah: “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” A flood is certainly an adversity which may happen to the body – and God promises to protect us from an earth-encompassing flood. What do we have to do to uphold our end of the bargain? Nothing – the rainbow is the sign that reminds God. There is no Rainbow Bat signal that we have to flash – it just happens – God makes the rainbow happen and restricts the flood. Who does this covenant affect? All of us – every human on the earth. Some may perish periodically in floods, but never again has there been a flood that covered the entire earth. When I first saw the previews to Evan Almighty a few years ago, I wondered if the writers had forgotten this covenant. “Defend us from all adversities which may happen to the body.”
On the Second Sunday of Lent, last week, God made a covenant with Abram and Sarai, who became Abraham and Sarah. Abraham became the father of the three major religions who worship the same God: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity: “you shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations…to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” And three major world religions followed. What do we have to do to uphold our end of this covenant: nada. “Almighty God, you know we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”
This is the Third Sunday of Lent, and we have more covenant language: the Ten Commandments. This is a covenant between God and the Hebrew people. As Christians who descend from the Jews theologically and scripturally, we inherited this covenant. The Quran does not have the Ten Commandments – it has similar teachings, but not in this form like we have it in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. Do you see how the field is narrowing each time? All people with Noah; Jews, Muslims and Christians with Abraham, and now Jews and Christians with the Ten Commandments. And this is where we got to the question: How do we uphold our end? What is expected of us? Jesus later narrows it even further for us as Christians as we hear in our opening proclamation every week in Rite I, “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbors as yourselves” – the Summary of the Ten Commandments – simplified. That’s all we have to do to uphold our end of this covenant – simple enough - ha. “Keep us from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.”
So what does all this have to do with Jesus getting angry in the Temple? God could only be found in the Temple in those days – it was where God lived for the Hebrew people. We have no concept of how pervasive that thought was for them – God lived there and they went to visit God there as a show of obedience and sacrifice. Only certain people were allowed to be in the same space as God. What we know that they did not, was that Jesus incarnate is God. When He was walking among them, God was out of the building (maybe God had never truly resided there for long), but now God walked and talked and got angry. I actually like this portrayal of Jesus because I can so clearly see both the fully human and the fully divine here. Jesus sees the gauntlet people are expected to walk through to get to God, and knows that HE is right there. Jesus tried to tell them that HE was the temple – the body for God – but they would not get that- really get it – until after his death. When the curtain of the Temple is torn in two later – it signals that God has left the building, once and for all. The Holy may visit there, but will no longer ever be thought of as living there. Ironically enough in John’s gospel, Jesus turning over tables, driving out the money changers, and proclaiming to be the Temple is what made the powers-that-be mad enough to start conspiring to kill.
We know that God walked in the body of Jesus – we also believe that the Holy Spirit lives in and moves among every person here. We know that God is not only in a building or a room. We can look historically and faithfully to see how much God loves us – the covenants point us there. What kind of clearing out have you been doing in your Lenten discipline? What have you driven out of your life to make room for the Holy Spirit to dwell more fully there? What practice have you chosen to help you see God more clearly in this season? I have begun a practice of writing prayers to God – kind of like journaling – and I am a whole 6 days in so far. Sigh. The psalmist reminds us that God’s laws are perfect and sure and clear, and pure – sweeter than honey. I know that when I pressure myself to exceed God’s laws, I stress myself out. God does not do that to me – I am reminded that God loves those foolish enough to believe as Paul reminded us today – and that the strength of God is enough to keep and defend me.
And why? Why does God keep us, defend us, and bind the holy to us – as human beings, as people who believe in Jesus Christ, as spirit-bearers in the world? Why would God do this? I’m giving you the soap opera ending - That answer comes next week – you’ll know it when you hear it… Amen.