... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Lent 3 Year B
Message March 08th, 2015

Unfolding Covenant: Truth and Consequences

Text: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

The third Sunday in Lent continues the journey of what it means to be in covenant. Despite the fact that only the Old Testament readings seem to touch on covenant directly, The Epistle and Gospel have a great say on the matter at a deeper level, especially the consequences of failing to keep covenant. To help us with this, let me set the tone by summarizing family life.

As infants and pre-toddlers, we understood very little. Our communications with our parent was pretty rudimentary and we in no way understood their ways. Yet our parents fed us, nurtured us, looked after our every need and demanded little in return. And believe me there are many a new parent who wonders at four in the morning if having a baby is indeed worth it. Notwithstanding the sleepless nights, the hours of putting up with a crying baby pretty well every parent relishes the relationship between the new born and self. When we become a little older, beginning to walk and talk, we begin to experience a different form of the relationship in which there becomes a comprehensible two-way communication verbal and non-verbal. And part of that contains admonitions of ‘do’s and do not’s’ relating to our safety and continued “right relationships”. Examples of this might well spring to mind – Don’t touch the stove – it’s hot and you will burn yourself.’ Hold onto my hand while we cross the street’. The list goes on with each day and week adding to the directives for proper protections, personal space, connecting time and development. Part and parcel of the directives are of course the warnings of and insight into the consequences of deviating from those do’s and don’ts. Of course any parent will tell you that these only last so long and by the time of teenage years even pointing out the consequences oftentimes fall on deaf ears as rebellion, self-determination and pubescent wisdom seem to dictate the next step in family relationships. So there we step for now and I’m sure in these stages you begin to see where we are in the Divine God time line of our relationship with our Creator-parent.

Noah, the infant, Abraham the toddler and now Moses the young child. The Ten Commandments in this light are the do’s and don’ts designed for human protection – the foundational elements to help us along the road of right relationship both with God and neighbour. The Commandments are not just a set of rules however. They are the building blocks which can ensure an enduring relationship between the Divine parent and fledgling Israel and subsequent descendants. As such they are part of the covenant context in which we are to view God’s presence here with us. In fact these are the only expressly written direct commands of God specifying to people the terms of the covenant. All other directives come through the prophets and are simply modifiers or highlighters of one or more of the Commandments. Thus these Commands are as important and meaningful now as they were when Moses delivered them to the people, having received them from God directly. Perhaps we ought to take such heed of them that we repeat them every day as we do the Lord’s Prayer.

It is this fact of importance that the psalmist understood so well in Psalm 19. Perhaps one of the oldest Psalms – at least the first part vv1-6, the psalm parallels the Creation and the Torah as the Law as two equal points of knowing God. The first section appeals to the physical witness of God’s creative power mercy and wisdom, while the second section draws the same conclusion based on the covenantal giving of the Law. Verse 1-7 may well have predated the Psalter and have come from a non-Israelite hymn of praise to the sun yet the author sees in it the natural progression of relationship God extended from the creation to the one made with Israel in each of the covenants culminating in the giving of the law.

Going beyond the sparsity of language in the law, the psalmist comprehends the intention of God and sees that the law is indeed perfect and will guide the faithful adherent and learner in right pathways. As guides the law protects against the wiles of the evil one, the desires of the worldly or the allures of transient and maligners. It is only as a faithful servant of God’s covenant that brings true wisdom revival enlightenment and joy.

This ironic stance of placing oneself in servitude to God is expressly made evident in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – freedom is a matter of slavery to what master. Freedom, true freedom, comes only with freely being the slave of God. Running after idols, other gods or rebelling against the law by setting up parameters and caveats to it is really a false freedom, and its slavery will result only in self-destruction. “What appears to be folly in the world’s view, whether a crucified Messiah or a freely chosen slavery in God’s service turns out to be wisdom because only God determines what is truly wise and what is truly foolish.”

And here we come to the teenage years of relationship in which rebellion and pushing the envelope rules the day. We all know that to each and every teen, the parent is unknowing. “But Dad you just don’t understand! All my friends are there if I don’t go I’ll be the laughing stock.” “What do you mean curfew – Jenny and Joan and everybody – their parents let them stay out and go whenever! You’re so retro! You never let me have any fun!” It’s amazing how when you are a teenager the parent’s rules and suggestions seem so confining, so draconian or so foolish. But a few years later and becoming a parent one’s self brings on the realization that one’s parents became wise so quickly!

However in these teen years it seems the teen goes out of his or her way to break the rules, push the limits or just infuriate the parent. And then the truth hits, the consequences are experienced. Just such consequences are the lot of John’s gospel reading where we hear of Jesus cleansing the Temple. Unlike the Synoptics where this event is near the end of the journey to Jerusalem and the passion, John places it immediately after the miracle at Cana where he turned the water into wine and showed himself as the Messiah. In this context Jesus calls the Israelite, the Temple leaders, the merchant class and the social milieu to task over their failure to keep covenant. It is true that the Temple in Roman occupied Israel was the Israeli hub of self-identity, commerce polity and theology, but it had become corrupted. Like the antediluvians in Noah’s time the people gave only lip service to being faithful to God. Instead they had corrupted the Temple – both the physical structure and the institution. In fact you might also add to that the temple of self – the inner edifice of faith and belief.

Having revealed himself at Cana, Jesus in the Temple is truly acting the prophetic role and while John doesn’t make the same charge against the merchants as do Matthew Luke and Mark, it is perhaps the context of Zechariah that he had in mind concerning the cleansing of the Temple on the Day of the Lord when the Almighty comes to Jerusalem. The consequences of failure to keep covenant are now here we could almost hear Jesus; you have pushed the envelope too far, you have crossed the line in our relationship and now you are out of here.

And just like petulant teens caught in their own wake of deceit, the leader strike back – demanding why? What have we done and who are you to tell us differently? Prove we are wrong and you are right? Jesus’ remarks about the Temple being destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days can now be seen on many levels – a particular trait in John’s Gospel. The Jewish elite think he is talking about the actual building, the stones and mortar. But John would have us understand Temple as Jesus himself, or Jesus as the new covenant or Jesus as the new faith. The implications become significant for extending the covenant beyond the ‘chosen’ nation, for as Jesus’ mission was to announce the Kingdom of God has come near, he now fulfills that mission in the meaning of Temple.

With this understanding of John and in light of the covenant relationship – have we yet grown beyond the teenage years? Are we not still trying to push the boundaries, trying to look out for self, trying to find our freedoms over identities, our wisdoms? If Jesus were to come here tomorrow, who would he cleanse the temples? What would he have to say to us?

It’s pretty hard as a teenager to see or comprehend the view and stance of the parent and still more difficult to submit to it over against your own wisdom. Yet that is what we are called to do, submit to God’s wisdom even though we fail to comprehend it. Therein lies true faith. May we come to true faith and avoid the consequences and cleansing for breaking covenant.