Sunday Sermon – March 4, 2018

March 4, 2018 – 3 Lent B

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

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.


A number of years ago Mel Brooks did a movie called The History of the World Part I. In one of my favorite scenes Mel Brooks is playing the character Moses as he comes down from the mountain after meeting with God. As he climbs down the mountain, approaching the awaiting Israelites, he is carrying three large stone tablets. In an excited voice he cries out, “The Lord Jehovah hath given unto you these 15….”, whereupon he drops one of the three stone tablets which shatters into little pieces and he alters the message, “The Lord Jehovah hath given unto you these 10 commandments.”

A few times I’ve enjoyed showing that movie clip to teenagers and asking them to think about a few more commandments they might add to the list. Maybe the best potential addition I’ve heard was when one bright teen said, “I think there ought to be something on there about pollution and recycling.”

In those discussions, I’ve also asked the groups to think about what they might take off the list if they had a chance. It’s a way to think about which of the commandments seem more or less important. One young man offered this observation: “It seems kind of odd that going to church is higher on the list than not committing murder.”

If you don’t have a study bible, I’d certainly recommend that you get one. A good start would be either the Harper’s Study Bible or the Oxford Annotated Bible. As you read the first five books of the bible, using such a resource bible, you would learn in the notes that there are four different writers of those first five books of the bible whose stories are all mingled together. You’d also learn that those four different writers are actually four different groups of writers, schools of thought so to speak. The bible was written over a long period of time by a large number of people. Those four schools of writers are identified as J, E, P, and D: the Jehovist writers, the Elohist writers, the Priestly writers, and the Deuteronomist writers.

The ten commandments that we read this morning in the Book of Exodus are composed by the Priestly writers. Whenever anything in the Old Testament mentions the Sabbath, it’s generally a clear indication that it originated with the Priestly group. And that makes sense, right? Priests are associated with Sabbath practices. If you see me in the grocery store on a Saturday, you’ll probably say something like, “See you in church tomorrow.” Or you might say, “The kids have a soccer tournament tomorrow so I won’t be there.” If you say the latter, you’ll probably get something in return from me like, “Yeah, I hear soccer is real big in heaven.”

We associate priests with the Sabbath and in the Old Testament that was even more true. The Priestly writers would have gone ballistic about soccer tournaments – and beach houses and lake houses and spring break trips too –  because they want the people to structure their entire lives around keeping holy the Sabbath. So much so that, in this list of the ten commandments, the priestly writers carefully place keeping the Sabbath high on the list and, rather than just putting it on the list, they elaborate on it to explain why it is so important. They refer back to the creation narrative which has God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh. You won’t be surprised to learn that that creation narrative was also written by the priestly writers. The other creation narrative, the one that has Adam and Eve in it, is written by another group. The Priestly group always emphasizes the importance of the Sabbath.

Now this isn’t a harangue on going to church. Well, it is, but hopefully it’s more than just that. Priestly writers in the Old Testament and priests nowadays are not just concerned with guilting people into going to the temple. Priests want people to keep holy the Sabbath and all priests would be quick to add that keeping holy the Sabbath is really more of an approach to everyday living than it is one-day-a-week living.

To keep holy the Sabbath would include daily time for quiet and reflection, regular time of devotion and prayer, steeping oneself in scripture and meditation, participating in the various events of the community of faith, giving generously of oneself to the betterment of the world. And recycling, that young man in the youth group might  add.

Keeping holy the Sabbath is a way of living so that our reverence for God and all of God’s creation is increased, so that our very hearts and souls might learn to soar with the angels. The reason keeping holy the Sabbath day is talked about so much is that doing so increases the chances of carrying that reverence into our daily living. We don’t come here on Sunday to check something off the list or prove to God we’re doing the right thing. We come here to be transformed, to feed our hungry souls, to whet our appetite for righteousness.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus comes to the temple. Everybody is there. They weren’t at soccer tournaments or beach houses or lake houses or on spring break trips. They were there in the temple doing what they thought they were supposed to do. They were offering their various sacrifices and their tithes. The money changers are helping the worshipers convert their currency. Merchants were selling doves and sheep and cattle for the sacrifices. Jesus throws them all out and says, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

Jesus comes to throw out the transactional approach to worship and living. “If I give this lamb to God, if I give God some amount of money, then God will do something for me.” Whenever we get stuck in that kind of thinking – if I do something for God, then he’ll do something for me – Jesus overturns that. God is into covenant not contract, worship and service not transaction, loving generously and without merit not reward and punishment, promise and hope not condemnation. When we get that, we keep holy the Sabbath.

Rest in the love of God today. Rest in the love of God every day. Tend to that and watch everything in your life line up in faithfulness to the God that is tirelessly faithful to us. And recycle, that young man might add.