Readings – Exodus 20:1-17, John 2:13-22
20 Then God spoke all these words:2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The religious leaders then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The leaders then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
As happens every week, I have been thinking about these scripture readings in relation to everything that is going on. Just before I fell asleep on Friday night I was watching CNN where there was a lively discussion about states that are opening up again, and have lifted the Covid mask-wearing commandment, while variants of the virus are spreading quickly.
We all know that the whole mask-wearing thing has become something of a political football and a symbol of which side you are on. In this land of the free and home of the brave, we care a lot about individual freedom and rights, and there is always concern when federal or local governments try to inhibit people’s right to do what they feel entitled to do.
Somewhere around two years old, when we have developed a sense of ourselves as independent little folk who can now run from caretakers at bedtime and refuse to eat broccoli, we begin to assert our freedom to do as we wish. It is deep in us to push against limits. This kind of self-discovery and self-assertion is normal, necessary, and good. Learning to dress yourself as a youngster and getting your pants on backwards is fine. However, it can be dangerous to want our own way when we’re still learning that stoves get hot, and running with scissors can end badly, and grabbing someone else’s toy leads to a slap.
So I fell asleep Friday night thinking about our dislike of limits and love of individual freedom, and about wearing masks so we don’t kill our neighbors, and the ten commandments. These ten teachings were given to our ancestors after God had liberated them from their slavery in Egypt. First God frees. First God keeps God’s covenant promises. First God loves without conditions and forever. Then God gives us a way to live with God and one another. The commandments are God’s gift. They are given because our human desires, our loves, our attachments get disordered and need to be channeled, directed toward choices, behaviors, values and commitments that are life-giving for us and for others. Both liberation and the law are signs and a gifts of God’s love.
I fell asleep Friday with all this stirring in me, and woke up early Saturday morning to someone whispering, “Remember what the table is for.” That was it. “Remember what the table is for.” It was a thought I didn’t try to think. I perceived it was the Spirit whispering and immediately pictured all the tables in Bethany Hall, stacked against the wall, that have gone mostly unused for a year. Those tables where we and so many others from our community have sat together and eaten, talked, worshipped, laughed, and cried. It has not been good for us to NOT be at table with each other and our neighbors.
And then I thought about Jesus cracking his handmade whip and turning over the tables of the money changers. The Jewish pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, to remember how God had liberated them from their bondage, needed to change Roman coins into Jewish money so they could pay their annual Temple tax, and buy animals to sacrifice to God. And seeing it all Jesus is outraged. He tears the place up.
It is an old problem. The Hebrew prophets had railed against it for years. The buying and selling of God’s free grace by the religious folk who are in charge. The person with the most money can offer God the biggest and best sacrifices. During the Reformation, it was the religious leaders selling indulgences—these “buy your way out of hell cards” you could get for yourself and your loved ones, unless, you were poor. And maybe today, in our production obsessed culture, it is our works, the good things we do for the church, or for a loved one or a neighbor that make us feel like we are worthy of God’s love. Maybe this is our currency. We keep falling for this idea that we have to earn or need to buy God’s love.
And the Spirit whispers again, “Remember what this table is for.” Remember what these signs mean. The bread we eat and the fruit of the vine we drink are God’s love in the flesh, for our flesh, and for our spirits. This love creates us. This love embraces us without conditions and goes on and on without limits. This love frees us from fear of other people’s judgment and frees us from judging others. This love frees us from our striving and our fear of losing ourselves. This love gives us a way to live and compels us to push against social norms in which individual rights and unbridled personal freedom become the gods that we worship and serve. At this table, through these simple gifts, in the power of the Spirit, we are nourished to love God, to love ourselves, to love one another without limits.