Homily for 11 March 2012 – Third Sunday of Lent year B

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

“Jesus needed no one to give him testimony about human nature. He was well aware of what was in human hearts.” These words from our Gospel lesson from St. John the Beloved can be for us either comforting or uncomfortable. Comforting if we are at peace with God and with ourselves, with a clear conscience and pure mind. Uncomfortable if we are not. Most of us are somewhere in between – not exactly at peace with God and ourselves, but not exactly at war, not a completely clear conscience and pure mind, but not overwhelmingly dark. In other words we are simply human beings, just like those the Gospel writer was talking about, those to whom Christ would not trust himself because he knew them too well. Can we be trusted with Christ? We have been, in our Baptism and Chrismation, entrusted with being the Body of Christ in the world, with being the Church. Have we kept that trust, are we fulfilling our mission? If Christ appeared in our Temple would we be driven out with a whip of cords. By Temple I mean both the Church and the Temple of our own person, body, mind and spirit. Are we comforted by the knowledge that Jesus has of our nature and our hearts, or do we try to hide from that clear gaze?

Our first lesson, from the Book of Exodus, is the Ten Commandments, which, as Rev. Sister Susan said on Wednesday, are a given for Christians and are fulfilled in Christ and in Christ’s commands to love God and our neighbor. But they should not be forgotten, or put aside, because in these ten statements we can learn almost everything that can go wrong in a human life, understanding these can be helpful tools in keeping our conscience clean.

The first three commandments have to do with our relationship with God. We are to worship God alone, making no images to which we bow down. The idols of our present age are not usually religious ones, but instead are idols of self, of wealth, of work, of health. We make idols of the things of this world that are desirable the shiny, glittering things that we chase after, the dream of a life different from this one. All these can come between us and worship of the One, True God.

We are not to take the Name of the Lord in vain. This means we should not use Divine Names in profanity, but it also means that what we say of God should be true. That we cannot use the Name of God for our own selfish ends, that we cannot use or abuse or oppress someone else in God’s Name.

Keeping the Sabbath, for us, is not about whether we take Saturday or Sunday off, it is about resting in God and acknowledging that we have an obligation to God for having given us our life and all of Creation. Working 60 hours a week, never getting enough rest or sleep, feeling that we must always be going is anti-sabbatical – it is contrary to what God has revealed to us of how God wishes us to live. We can get so caught up in getting ahead, or planning for the future, that we lose sight of the reality of God’s Providence, God’s care for us.

The rest of the Commandments have to do with our relationships with one another, beginning with our parents. Honoring our parents, even if we have a broken and painful relationship with them is necessary for our spiritual and even physical health. We cannot be at peace with God if we harbor and cherish resentment, anger and bitterness towards our parents, that is just a fact. We can forgive and honor our parents, as God’s vehicle for giving us our life, even if we cannot be reconciled with them, if we don’t, we will cripple our life.

We should not kill – we need to take this both literally and figuratively. We should not take another person’s life, but we also should not kill their spirit, or heart, or trust. How easy it is to get into a habit of snide and critical remarks, of sharpening our wit on a defenseless victim, of always putting down, never raising up. These are more deadly than a knife in the back, because they last longer and the victim doesn’t die but continues to suffer.

We should not commit adultery – again both literal and figurative. We should not have sexual relations with someone we are not married to. But we should also not give our time, attention, loyalty, or respect more to someone else than to our spouse. After God, if we are married, our first loyalty is to our spouse and more heartache has been caused by failure in this than almost anything else.

We should not steal – this means outright taking something from someone else, and also more subtle ways. Not paying our bills is theft, taking credit that is not ours is theft, sampling produce in the grocery store without asking permission is theft, not giving eight hours work for eight hours pay is theft, getting into debt is stealing from our own future. The economic crisis that the world is in right now is the result of people not obeying this commandment, greed is the basis of theft, and unrestricted greed has ruined the economy. It is not just the governments and Wall Street types either, it is everybody who wants more than they can afford, or that is good for them.

We should not lie. This is a big one, because lying is so pervasive. We lie in words, we lie in attitudes, we lie by silence. We lie when we go along with something we know is wrong, but we don’t want to start a fight. We lie when we don’t speak up when we should. We lie when we turn away and pretend not to see, so we don’t have to confront. We lie when we smile and say everything is fine when we are dying inside. Living a lie is no way to be at peace with ourselves.

We should not be envious or covetous. We should not want what other people have just because we don’t. Sadly, our whole society is built on disobeying this. We are told, in every form of media, that we MUST HAVE what everyone else has, and that we should GO INTO DEBT to get it. And having it will make us happy, rich, thin and beautiful!

All of the commandments speak to the primal sin of putting ourselves before God, before others, before truth, honesty or decency. Our response to this as Christians should be, as St. Paul wrote, “…we preach Christ crucified.” Our life in this world is to follow where Christ leads, and that is to the Cross. We are to deny our self - that means to put aside our selfish will, our self-centered life, our ego driven attitudes – take up our cross – that means whatever we need to face we face in truth, honesty, courage and faith, leaving the outcome to God - and follow Christ – that means the way of self-sacrifice, mercy, forgiveness, humility and love.

When we can live a life like that then we will be comforted to know that Jesus knows us well.

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