Holiness of Life: The Vicar’s Sermon for Lent III

The following is a sermon offered by the Vicar, The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, on March 8, 2015. Year B – Lent III. At The Advocate

Jesus is really ticked off.

No meek and mild, milk toast fellow he.

Turning over tables,

thrashing a whip.

More physical expression of anger in this story than most of us have ever had,

or ever will.

Scary, perhaps,

But it’s kind of liberating, isn’t it?

Heck, if Jesus can get that mad, maybe it’s okay for us to get mad, too.

 

Of course,

we do well to ask ourselves just what it is that has him so worked up.

And to ask ourselves what the story has to say to us here in this little temple.

Taking him at his word, the flash point for Jesus’ anger,

seems to be the presence of those who are selling animals in the temple.

Animals, presumably, to be used for ritual sacrifices,

not farming,

(though the story doesn’t say that directly).

Cattle, sheep and doves are being sold in the temple.

“Take these things out of here!” he shouts.

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

 

I guess we can take solace in knowing that we aren’t selling cattle, sheep and doves here.

We’re not even selling the bread and wine for our ritual sacrifice.

Or indulgences,

or the best seats in the house.

So, is that the end of the story?

Solace that we aren’t as inducing of Jesus’ anger as those sellers were back then?

 

Of course…. the pairing of this Gospel story with the Exodus reading that gives us the so-called 10 Commandments

may be worth some consideration.

No, we are not selling cattle here.

But what are we doing?

And is it good?

Would Jesus have any admonitions for any of us here?

for all of us?

 

This is Lent, after all.

—————-

Now, I am a believer in the importance of paying attention to confluences

to the ways in which things come our way from a variety of sources

to shape our actions or our thoughts.

When streams or trends or circumstances come together in a certain time or place,

I believe God is calling us to take heed.

 

The Advocate itself was born of such confluence.

Three established churches ready to work together,

a new bishop eager to start new congregations in the Diocese,

a region growing in population.

a priest with a particular set of skills and history,

a particular people feeling called to make a new church together.

Beauty!

 

The past few weeks I’ve experienced a confluence of influence and thought about God and church and people.

And it’s starting to sink in….

 

1) It started with Nathan sending pages of a book by Timothy Sedgwick, a professor at Virginia Theological Seminary. Nathan had to read this book by Sedgwick as part of his training to become an Episcopal priest. It’s called The Christian Moral Life, and it has a wizz bang chapter on “The Anglican Perspective”.

In it, Sedgwick reminds us that for Anglicans, and therefore for those of us Anglicans who are Episcopalians, faith is not so much a matter of right belief. Faith is not a check box form with things you are supposed to believe in order to be a Christian. Rather, faith is something formed in community and in worship.

It is “practical”, (as in practiced), and it is a way of life.

Christian faith is a life lived in the presence of God, directed to God, aware of God.

Christian faith is marked, not by a list or a rulebook,

but instead, by holiness of life.

 

That’s why the Creed is best sung, not said.

Because when it is sung, it is more likely to be experienced as a love song,

a love song sung by the community gathered to worship God together.

Rather than a bold declaration of “our way or the highway”.

 

2) The next element of this season’s confluence

is the way that the society of St. John the Evangelist is using this Season of Lent at a time to call our attention to the gift of time and how we use that gift.

Paul Marvin and Char Sullivan are leading us in conversations here at the Advocate,

based on the SSJE videos week by week.

In those reflections we are reminded, first one way, then another,

that we are given a choice about how we will use our time,

how we will direct our yearnings,

how we will enter into any given experience of life.

Again, this is a call to a holy life,

using our time, or at least some smidgeon of it

to direct our lives to God.

 

Then 3) Bishop Curry came our way on Lent One,

and preached the Gospel according to Jimi Hendrix:

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power

then the world will know peace”.

The Bishop pointed out that this is deeply reminiscent of how Jesus yearns for us to live our lives,

“Love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind and soul,

and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love the Lord your God more than power,

more than money,

more than rules and societal norms.

 

No wonder Jesus was mad when he saw the temple full of activity that screamed otherwise.

Where’s the love??

 

4) Last week, Nathan, no doubt influenced by the same book by Timothy Sedgwick, Nathan reminded us that the way of faith is to follow Jesus the Christ,

not the rules that have grown up around the faith through the millennia,

but Jesus.

This is not to say that certain rules and disciplines might not help us to focus our attention on God.

But all too swiftly, the rules and disciplines can become ends in themselves,

rather than a holy life lived.

 

5) Last, this week I have been re-reading a book Hilda Bukoski gave me three years ago,

the last time the so-called Ten Commandments came up on the Sunday readings.

It’s called…. The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart, and it is written by Joan Chittister.

One of the things that Chittister points out is that the writing on the tablets of stone are only called “commandments” once in scripture – in Exodus 34.

And, she says, they “are not actually statutes, because there is no punishment for disobeying them.”

More accurately, and way more often, the writing on the tablets of Moses are called the “Decalogue”

or Ten Words.

They are words, she says, that describe a holy people,

words that describe those who live a holy life in relationship with God.

We are not so much to be convicted by them

as we are to be transformed by them.

Because God created us for love,

and has delivered us from bondage.

God has freed us up to love God and to love our fellow human beings.

We, when we turn to God,

will be transformed by a life lived in holiness.

a life lived with “singleness of heart”.

Boom!

 

Do you see the confluence?

1) The study of the Anglican perspective,

2) the little SSJE videos,

3) Bishop Curry’s sermon, 4) Nathan’s sermon,

5) Hilda’s book.

They all call us to assume,

that is, to put on,

a garment of mindfulness,

being aware of being in the presence of God.

They call us put on a headscarf of intentionality in thought,

a willingness to be transformed by life lived with God.

 

In times of solitude,

then, too, in the fleshiness of community,

in daily routine,

then, too, in Sunday worship,

we are given the opportunity to see the gift of God

and to receive it,

aware that,

as expressed in the newly released Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,

“there is no present like the time.”

—————————-

Yeah, Jesus was really pissed off when he saw the animals being sold in the Temple and the people buying and selling with oblivion.

Given what we know about anger,

being the 21st century psychologically savvy people that we are,

we know that anger is very often an outgrowth of grief,

or a cover for grief.

So Jesus’ anger makes a whole lot of sense.

Jesus is angry, yes,

because it’s got to grieve his heart when God’s people persistently ignore the simple invitation,

the offer of the gift,

to draw nearer to God,

to be aware of God’s presence in all of life,

to love and be loved by God.

It’s got to grieve Jesus’ heart

when God’s people instead busy themselves with the busyness and false promises of the day.

“Buy this cow and your life will be better!”

“Keep browsing the internet and you will be satisfied!”

“Don’t stop what you’re doing

or you may feel sad,

or lonely,

or inadequate.

So just keep doing it, whatever it is!

Bzzzz, Bzzzzz, Bzzzzz.

 

The call to have no other God but Yahweh,

is not a threat to punish those who don’t believe each phrase of the Creed.

Rather it is an invitation for us to examine whatever it is

that we say and have and do

that gets in the way of our mindfulness,

our intention,

our seriously seeking God.

And Jesus’ anger,  Jesus’ grief,

are not unleashed with narcissistic rage

or exaggerated by manipulative tears,

or controlling cruelty.

No.

They are genuine,

born of a vision, a hope, a deep, deep desire

for us to live life in true joy and peace.

“Come on, you all!” he is saying.

These animals are not what matters!

Even this Temple can be destroyed.

 

God is what matters.

Your life with God… matters.

 

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult.

God bids us to rest … in God.

The Church invites us to be … together,

and discover what it means.