3rd Sunday in Lent

March 4, 2018


7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:7-14 ESV)

I am used to standing in a pulpit rather then sitting in the pew. What that means is that I’m used to speaking the Word of God, rather than listening to it. It’s an occupational hazard and I think part of what 4th century John Chrysostom meant when he said that hell was paved with the skulls of priests. I hear sermons with a critical ear because of the temptation of putting myself between the text and myself. How would I say that? Or …I think I would have said that ‘differently’ (which is code for ‘better’).

Now having a critical ear is not a bad thing. I’ve said before that at church or Bible Study we’re not supposed to turn our brains off at the door. Rather you are to listen, to assess, to weigh what you are hearing. To do this the critical thing is your criteria, your reference point – and as I said, for myself hearing a sermon, that reference point can easily be me and my pastoral identity and my experiences with preaching and sermons.

So how do you hear God’s Word? And aligned with that question is another – why?

Our first reading presents clearly God’s commandments – instructions – some say orders – and the nature of such things is often that thinking is not required – just obedience. But God went to a great length to say these words – couldn’t he have said them at anytime? – and so it is good to hear both the words and the context around the words. God rescued his people and brought them to him and established a relationship with him and spoke about what this relationship means.

Our second reading summarises the Christian message – all the words – as a message of the cross – and says clearly that the world will regard this as foolish and weak not because the world is stupid as such but because the world sees the cross for what it is – pain and suffering, execution and death. The world shakes its head and says ‘Not for me’ while the Christian, paradoxically, says ‘Yes, for me’. Such is foolishness to the world and from their criteria, their perspective, we would have to agree. The second reading reminds us that we, as Christians, see this cross and God differently to the world. Where the world sees weakness and foolishness, we see power and wisdom, and vice versa. The world looks at all the crosses that have ever been and maintains its view while we look at one cross – at Jesus – and maintain ours.

The gospel today gives us a window into the word in action – as we see Jesus quote God’s Word – rather fanatical maybe – to explain why he drove the animals and money changers from the temple precincts. When asked for his credentials, for a sign (a miracle) to verify his actions, Jesus talks about destroying the temple and raising it in three days and everyone, the disciples included, don’t understand how something that taken 46 years to build (so far) could be rebuilt in 3 days. It was only after Jesus died and was raised from the dead that the disciples were led to put it all together and saw what Jesus meant – that his body – he, himself – was – and is – the fulfilment of the temple. The disciples understood how everything that happened in the temple – sacrifices, forgiveness, offerings, blood, fellowship, prayers, eating, blessings – everything by which God dwelt with his people – were now all fulfilled by Jesus, through Jesus, and in Jesus – and since Jesus is alive, so that is now how it is – that to know God, to relate to God, can only occur through Jesus.

So far one side of the coin – God’s Word is clearly heard and understood when Jesus is it, fulfils it, and teaches it. So if Jesus – being God and therefore omnipresent – would just appear next to every person when they ask, pray, enquire about anything then hearing the Word of God would be straightforward.

But that’s not our experience of Jesus – he doesn’t turn up as you and I can see and relate to each other now – instead Jesus establishes other ways or means of coming to us. We see this most clearly in the walk to Emmaus where unbidden and unrecognised, Jesus preaches himself, and only at the breaking of the bread are the disciples’ eyes open – their hearts were ‘burning’ before – which we take that to be with excitement, insight, learning, wonder – but the moment their eyes are opened, Jesus isn’t there.

This other side of the coin then is a continuation of the cross – that foolishness and weakness according to world – for Jesus chooses to come to us only through means – words about him and from him, wet words of baptism, and food words of holy communion – which we say are all his words – and for us now recorded in the Bible. And that takes us back to where we started – how do you hear God’s Word and why?

Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. Simple, clear, and profound.

We hear God’s Word to hear Jesus, to find Jesus, to learn from Jesus and in meeting Jesus, we meet God and learn how God relates, reacts, and responds to us – and it is love. Not a weak, sugary love; but a tough, rescuing, sacrificial love that costs the one who loves. We are the ones who are rescued, who are blind, who are rebellious, who are stubborn, who are weak, who are dead, who misunderstand, who mislead, who want to be the boss of the sandpit of our lives and that is part of the message to explain the cross, the rescue, the love. There are only two themes in the entire Scriptures – God’s grace and our sin. And we only know this because God has told us.

We can sense that there is a God from creation, from beauty, but the message has no detail and our imaginations and creativity fills in the blanks. It is only when God speaks that we can know and understand and relate to him. That speaking is centred and focused on Jesus and his cross – in theological terms – on justification – on God’s mercy and forgiveness – and all the words that we hear must now be assessed and analysed against that
criterion – and the gospel shines forth into a dark world.

Consequently we then listen to God’s Word on the basis of God’s Word – assessing one section with another, clarifying this part, seeing that part doesn’t apply now but it will later, following and obeying other verses. Yes, it can seem arbitrary – but it is the product of living in a relationship with regular contact – daily reading and hearing – God in Jesus simply saying his first and last message ‘I love you – follow me’.

So I can’t prove to the world that Jesus is alive – that he is God – or that the Bible is true – but I can declare it and live as if it is – and when I listen or read or study the Bible I can remember the psalmist’s words telling me that God’s Word perfectly tells me what I need to know about God; it is trustworthy; it is right; it can light up my life; that I should both fear and love God and that’s not a bad thing – and that my Jesus and his words are sure; more precious than gold, and sweeter than honey.

The world can’t prove that Jesus is still dead. And with a Monty Python voice the world looks at our Bible and says ‘It’s only a book’ and we nod and say (handing it to them) ‘Well, it’s more like a library actually – come in and meet Jesus’.


Bible References

  • Psalm 19:7 - 14