Sermon March 15, 2009

    We are continuing our journey through Lent.  We began with the signposts of the Rainbow that points to the Cross.  Last week I talked about losing ourselves in the Story.  This week we will hear about rules and relationships.  
    This morning we are hearing from two well-know pieces of our scripture. They have been traditionally titled: the Ten Commandments, OR the Decalogue, and the Cleansing of the Temple. Did I choose these texts? No I did not. They are the readings assigned for today by our three year lectionary cycle.
These two readings are about ways of being in community, rules for living together. One reading is basically a list of things that God-loving communities do and don't do. The other reading is a dramatic and powerful expression of outrage at a community that has been corrupted by the rules  - rules that have placed barriers between the people and God.
How does a God–loving community live?
1. We remember that it is God and God alone whom we worship.
2. In our worship of God we do not worship things, or people, or money or
success. We don’t make idols of God, but rather worship God in all places, at
all times, and recognize that God is in all things, all people and all places.
3.  We use God's name with respect and reverence, not as the means for hurting or
abusing the ears and souls of others.
4. We hold Sabbath. We keep Sabbath. We keep holy at least one day in the
week for nurturing our relationship with God.
5. We honour the ones who gave us life. That does not mean we have to like them, if they have been abusive or cruel, be we honour the fact that without them we would not be.
6. We respect life. We do not murder. Note that the word here is not kill, but murder. Those of us who grew up reading, and memorizing, the Ten Commandments via the King James translation would have learned "Thou Shalt not Kill". But newer translations, including the New King James translation, have changed kill to murder, recognizing it as a more accurate translation from the original Hebrew. Those of us who love God, respect life and do not engage in murderous acts.
7. We are loyal to the ones we love and stand by the covenants and commitments, vows and pledges we have made. We do not commit adultery. That does not mean that relationships never fail, because we all know they sometimes do. But while we are in convent with one another, we honour the fidelity of that relationship.
8. We honour the possessions, the property, the ownership of others. How much or how little one may have does not dismiss the responsibility for respect and honesty. We do not steal.
9. We tell the truth, even when that truth is hard to tell, knowing that the pain of the truth can heal cleanly, but that lies leave scars.
10. We are benevolent and compassionate to our neighbours. We do not covet, or yearn after the things that they have. We do not let our desires rule our relationships, or command our need for belonging.
The Ten Commandments were not just rules for living for the people of Israel, they presented a vision for a future when lion and lamb will lay down together. This past week, Melissa Meers from the Christian Church of Illiopolis, wrote the following on our Midrash internet discussion:  "From my meagre understanding of Hebrew, and from study so far this week, I believe it is credible to translate the Commandments in a future tense. God not only gave the Israelites a way to be in relationship with God and with each other, but also a future vision. So, someday . . .
There will be only one God. Whatever path may lead us to that understanding, be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.  We will not need idols nor graven images, because we will know and love the LORD our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We will know fully God's desire, and will not misuse God's name.
We will rest. We will set aside time to honour the sacred in our lives. We will all have parents who model God's love for us. We will honour them, because we will see God in them. We will live in shalom with one another. All will have the bread they need. All will dwell in the house of the Lord. There will be no need to murder, to commit adultery, to steal, to bear false witness, or to covet. These are the rules for God’s community - rules to live and thrive by.
But, as we see in our other reading, rules can also lead us into temptation. Rules can be used dishonestly by those who let their desire for power and control corrupt their thinking. Poet Harry Guest wrote "The Cleansing" for a BBC television broadcast on Palm Sunday, 1995. This poem imagines the startled reaction of a bystander when Jesus overturns the tables of the money-changers.
The Cleansing
A pallid spring sun shone on the forecourt.
Inside the building it was dim and stuffy
and people came and went about their business.
Suddenly we saw light gather to itself.
A human shape, fused from another April,
entered our temple like a shaft of fire.
The shadows burned away. Stark radiance
pushing from floor to rafters dazzled the traders.
The man made all of light
hurled trestles down so the money rolled glittering,
smashed wicker cages so the captive doves
flew whirring through blue clouds of incense.
He swept like a meteor with scourge and flame

condemning us who'd turned the place for prayer
into a space for robbery and bargaining.
He left, and it was as though the day had been withdrawn.
We stared at the wreckage in the new noon dusk
the shattered furniture, the litter of tarnished coins.
Someone said, 'Who was that?'
There was a frightened pause.
Another answered. 'He's called the Prince of Peace.'

 
Jesus - angry - the Prince of Peace turning tables and wielding a whip. It isn't a picture we want to see. It isn't the Jesus, meek and mild, that we grew up with. But Jesus did get angry. He was angry because the rules of the temple were keeping the people from God. Jesus got angry because the money changers and temple staff were making money off the ones who could not afford to pay. These merchants and traders had brought their tables right into the temple, the house of prayer. Jesus got angry in the temple, just like he got angry with the disciples when they tried to push the children away. Jesus got angry in the temple, just as he got angry at Peter, saying, "Get behind me Satan". Jesus got angry at injustice.
Jesus got angry. And we can be angry too. Angry that world economy now plays a greater role in political decisions than the needs of people for fresh water, for a clean environment, and for access to proper medications to treat terminal diseases – particularly for the poor.  We live in a culture in which commerce, consumption and commodities – govern what we count as important. The economic worldview is so much a part of our daily lives that we are barely aware of its impact on our relationships, our values, our identities, even on our understanding of church.  We find ourselves filled with spiritual hunger and the economy tries to fill it with a culture of consumption of material goods.  We find our world made up of objects...we find ourselves feeling impoverished in a society of affluence, leaving us indifferent to real poverty.  We live in a world that has been increasingly dedicated to unrestrained competition, where ALL social interaction, values, and goals come well down the list in importance when compared to economic growth and accumulation of wealth.  We can be angry about that.
We can also be angry, that our world keeps choosing war over peace. It doesn't matter the reasons, the justifications, and rationalizations.  We can be angry that human life is being lost because we couldn't live together in peace. We can be angry that innocent civilian and military lives are being lost; that children are losing their parents and parents their children. We can be angry that our world leaders have led us to this place in history once again. We can be angry, as Gene Thiemann suggests Jesus was, at religion without justice, worship without reverence and rituals without relevance. We can be angry that, despite Canada's decision not to participate in Iraq , we are, none the less, at war. We can be angry because we are not living as God community.
Arthur Gans, a retired Anglican Priest, is guest preaching a service today in British Columbia. In his sermon he is including this story about Mahatma Gandhi, a story shared in our Midrash group by Fred Kane. "In 1947, a year before he was assassinated, Mahatma Gandhi gave his grandson, Arun, a piece of paper. On that piece of paper, Gandhi had written what he called the seven sins of the world. On that paper were the words:
wealth without work,   science without humanity,   commerce without morality,   education without character,    pleasure without conscience,   politics without principles,   and worship without sacrifice
These are seven forms of passive violence in which we are prone to participate if we are not careful and intentional about our lives. Seven forms of living which are not rules for a God community.
In the midst of our anger, and I believe, God's anger, there is hope.  There are people in the world who are actively working to bring about peace.  One is Dr. Robert Muller, a former vice-president of the United Nations.  He is now age 83, and continues to write and speak about peace and non-violence.  There are writers like ................. who continues in Muller’s path writing and speaking about non-violence and training those who want to bring peace to the world.  On  April 26th Tatamagouche Centre is offering a 5-day workshop: Dialogue for Peaceful Change – Facilitation Training:  Dialogue for Peaceful Change (DPC): a methodology based on work in Northern Ireland, that is applicable to conflicts and disputes in communities, families and organizations. It moves beyond traditional mediative methods, focusing on conflict content, culture and spirituality.  The experiential nature of this program allows you to practice the stages of conflict mediation and apply the tools in a realistic context. See www.dialogueforpeacefulchange.net.  The leadership will be from two people trained in DPC:
Leadership: Ishbel Munro is Executive Director of the Coastal Communities Network of NS; a Certified Mediator through Henson College; and trained in DPC methodology in Northern Ireland. Stephen Law trained in DPC methodology in Turku, Finland and has been a DPC trainer in Northern Ireland, India and North America. If you want further details, ask me.
And our hope is also US.   We, - you and I, - we are part of the people of the world. Our prayers, the ones spoken here and beyond, are part of the surging voice that decries violence – particularly when it is for the purpose of gain. As Christians, as a God community, as followers of the Prince of Peace, we are called to speak out against rules that are used to limit people’s access to peace. It is a hard, and at times, an unpopular task. But it is our task. God asks of us to love our neighbours, to forgive our enemies, to seek justice, resist evil and walk humbly with God and with each other. That is the hope upon which our very lives depend.
Poet Judy Chicago, expresses that hope in this poem:
And then all what has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power.
And then softness will come to a world that is often harsh and unkind.
And then both women and men will be gentle.
And then both men and women will be strong.
And then no other person will be subject to another's will.
And then all will be rich and varied.
And then all will share equally in the earth's abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life's creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again. Amen.