Lenten Series: A Season of Decision, A Season of Victory,
Spring Cleaning for the Soul
March 11, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any workóyou, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
We are studying the Scriptures that tell us the story of Jesus from moving though the days in Jerusalem to finally coming to the cross - and beyond.
But, wait! There are so many gems of wisdom in these Scriptures for today that just light up for us - I can't resist! Let's take a bit of a side trip and look at one other of the morning's scriptures before diving in to the sermon text, shall we?
Remember the Sabbath
The Old Testament reading is from Exodus 20:1-17 and is about the Ten Commandments. We are very familiar with the Commandments. But one of the things that strikes me, and that just leaps off the page for me this morning is the amount of time that the writer spends on just one commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
What does "Holy" mean?
What does that mean to "keep it holy?" Holy means different. Holy means special to the Lord - "Special for God." That is what we are being called to do. Make that Sabbath Day special for God!
Now, how are we doing with keeping the "Sabbath principle" in our own lives? Somehow I feel this Scripture is calling out to us, to make sure that we donít overdo it on a Sunday. Sabbath time, rest time - is sacred time. You are here in church and that is part of observing the Sabbath and keeping it special and holy. But I hope there is a time in your life that you can make sure there is a Sabbath rest for you.
The writer goes on to say: Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work-you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
I daresay that this is the longest explanation of a commandment in the book of Exodus. Some of the others are very short, maybe they are self-explanatory. ďThou shalt not murder. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Don't desire what doesn't belong to you." Pretty straightforward. Maybe not so much explanation needed.
But here, in keeping the Lord's Day holy, the transcriber of God's intention wanted to close up any loopholes (no, not your servant, not your son or daughter, not even your animalsÖ) . The message: Take this seriously.
I heard a song once from a wonderful singer. I canít hope to do it as well as she sang it. But I would like to share it with you. Pastor sings: ďAinít it a shame, ainít it a shame? To hang your laundry on a Sunday? When you've got Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday? Ainít it a shame, Ainít it a shame?Ē
Well, we donít hang laundry, do we? But this song is a call that says you deserve a rest, you deserve a break, and the Lord God wants you to have it. He wants all his children and creation to have it. You deserve to keep the Sabbath day holy.
Here in our church, our church leaders are committed to keeping the Sabbath day holy. We protect our trustees and our finance persons and our committee members and chairs and we donít talk to them about business on the Sabbath day. We want them to have a fulfilling Sunday morning experience also and not to have to talk about business on Sunday. In your own personal life, please consider how you are keeping the Sabbath principle. Please think about it, won't you?
Our Lenten Project: Ten Sources of Strength
During this Lenten time we have a project of decades - Lists of Ten. We are keeping a list of ten items under various topics. I hope this has been a satisfying project for you. Last week, we thought of ten things that we were grateful for. When you are in your time of private prayer, I invite you to count them on your fingers. This past week the project was to think of ten sources of strength. I would like to share my list with you. This list is by no means complete, but I found it rewarding to think of ten sources of strength. I will read them in reverse order.
10. Encouraging words: These are like streams of cooling, clear water. When someone shares an encouraging word, it can make your whole day and beyond.
9. My work. I love being here at the Montgomery United Methodist Church. This is my church family as well as my work. I have been blessed that my work is a source of strength for me.
8. Something to look forward to. If I am feeling low, I try to look for something that I can look forward to. Things such as taking a nice walk, being with family and friends for dinner, reading a non-fiction book - these are sources of strength for me.
7. Music. For me listening to music, performing music, practicing music are sources of wonderful strength.
6. Role models. There are people of the past and in the present day who are sources of incredible courage and they are sources of strength for me.
5. The power of making a decision. Just making a decision and going forward bravely can be a source of strength.
4. The prayers of others. People in this congregation have thanked me for my prayers and asked what they can pray for, for me. Just the thought of the love that comes from that question is a source of strength for me. I also believe that there are prayers offered for us by beings that we cannot see. I believe that there are people in Heaven who are praying for us and sending us strength at remarkable times.
3. Positive memories. Positive memories of joy and happiness and success are a source of strength.
2. Family and friends. Family and friends are Godís love made visible through the blessing of the people that He has brought into our lives.
1. The Lord God and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. God is our refuge and our strength. He is a very present help in times of trouble. I surround myself with the light of God, the light of Christ, and I invite you to do so, too.
If you havenít yet completed your list of sources of strength, I invite you to do so. This way you will know where to look in times of need.
This Morning's Gospel Story
Now letís take a look at the Gospel, John 2:13-22, for this morning. I am so excited about this series of Scriptures because they tell us of the humanness of Jesus. They tell us that He was like us in every way. He was tempted, just as we are. He struggled, just as we do. The more I read these stories, the more convinced I am that what we go through, he also went through.
Every male Jew, within a certain mileage range of Jerusalem, was expected to go to Jerusalem at the Passover. The Passover that is referred to in this Gospel was a very important one for Jesus. He was going to the Cross and He knew it. He went to the awesome temple to pray - and letís see what He found there.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
What? Jesus came to church to pray. And to His astonishment, what did he find? In modern terms, it was as though we were to walk into church and find that there were hot dogs sellers over in that corner. There were pretzel sellers in another. There was another vendor selling BB guns. And wine coolers! Wine coolers that donít require age proof. There was another vendor selling cigars and cigarettes. In Church!
Jesus saw all this and He was outraged. I'm sure you would be, too. What made it worse was that this part of the Temple that Jesus came to was called the Court of the Gentiles. It was the only part of the Temple where foreigners and non-Jewish people could pray. This was the outer court where the great multitude of people could pray. I wonder if amid all this noisy racket, if Jesus saw out of the corner of his eye, a Gentile who was trying to pray?
Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"
Jesus wanted the church to be a place where people would not be distracted while they prayed and tried to get closer to God. So Jesus drove all the vendors out. (These were the people who were employed by the High Priest and were later the same people who shouted, "Crucify, Crucify Him!")
It is easy to get stuck on the thought that Jesus was outraged, that His concept of the Temple was not being lived up to. But I think His outrage was more like the outrage of a parent protecting a child. He wanted the place to be pure, He was showing us how Godís house of prayer should be.
The Meaning for Us
The important thing to remember is the symbolism of this story. It is that we are being invited to cleanse our own temple, the temple of our own heart. I invite you to take on as your project for the week to Pray to the Lord and say, Jesus, help me to cleanse the temple of my own spirit. Lord, what part of me needs spring cleaning? What part of me needs to be swept clear of negative thoughts or inappropriate attitudes or hopelessness? Help me to do spring cleaning in my heart, Lord Jesus. What part of us needs to be swept clear so that the Spirit of the Risen Christ can shine brightly through us?
Could it be that we need to be swept clear of doubt? Has someone thrown a rock of doubt at you? Has someone caused your faith to be shaken? Let Jesus clear out that doubt and turn it into a foundation of greater faith.
Could it be that we need to be swept clear of fear? Perhaps we are afraid of something, afraid to take action. Let Jesus replace that fear with confidence.
Could it be that we need to be swept clear of tension? Is it gripping us and keeping us from moving forward in a confident way? Let Jesus get the tension out of our hearts and let it go.
I have a wonderful friend who says that if you are involved in something and it feels like a tug of war, just drop the rope. Do you need Jesus to help you clear out regret so that serenity can grow in your heart?
This is the project for the week. Think about ten things that you would like Jesus to smooth out, clean out, sweep out, and drive out of your heart so that His love can grow within, so that Easter can be a time of radiant brightness for you.
Remember that God loves you. I do too. I wish you a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2012 Anthony J. Godlefski