Fourth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Pastor Ed Foster
Well, weíve made it to the middle of Lent and now have turned on to the home stretch. In a couple of weeks, we will watch as Jesus enters into Jerusalem to shouts of ďHosannaĒ and we will watch as Jesus fights and contends with the Jewish authorities and they reject him. We will watch as he gathers with his disciples on that last evening and eats supper with them and gives them the sacraments of holy communion and washes their feet and declares that one of them is about to betray him.
We will watch as they make their way out to the garden and Jesus asks that they stay awake with him while he prays and they failed and we will watch as that betrayal happens. We will watch Jesus arrested. We will watch as he is interrogated and abused. We will watch as Peter denies him three times. And we will watch as Jesus is nailed to the cross and lifted up and dies. And yes, we will watch as the ladies find the tomb empty. And as Jesus meets them and proclaims that he is not dead, but that he is alive, just as he promised.
We have turned the corner, we are now on the home stretch. So, now we begin to ask, is this just about watching, or does it have something to do with us? What does Jesus death on the cross mean? What does it mean to us who live so far away in time and space? What does all of this that we are about to remember and watch and witness? What does it mean to us?
Of course, there are as many different explanations of about what the crucifixion and the resurrection mean as there are people who have thought about it. Indeed, the gospel writers all have different ideas and different emphasis about what it is that the cross and the crucifixion mean.
Paul and nearly every theologian have all put their own twist to it. So, it shouldnít be surprising that the gospel writer of the gospel of John also has a unique perspective.
John likens Jesus crucifixion to the serpent that was raised on the pole in our first lesson. Those of you who have been doing the read-through-the-Bible remember that story, and Iím sure the rest of you do at least a little. God has led the people out of slavery in Egypt and now they are following God through the wilderness and they are getting tired of it. They donít want to have to wait on God for water and they are getting sick of eating the same food every day and they begin to complain. They begin to wish that they could just go back and be slaves where life was easy and life was at least sure. They began to turn away from God.
And so, God sends serpents into their midst and the serpents bite them and they begin to die and so they go to Moses and say, pray to God and ask him to take away the serpents. So, Moses does and God doesnít take away the serpents, instead God has Moses build a pole with a bronze serpent on top and whenever people look at the serpent they are healed and they are saved.
For John the cross works that way. Jesus is the one who has been raised up on the cross and when we look at him, when we believe in him, we are saved. Thatís kind of different from most of the ways that we usually taught about what happened on the cross. Usually we fear that the cross is somehow a place where Jesus suffers in our place, suffers for us. So, some would say that Jesus is up there dying the death that we are supposed to die, others would say that Jesus is paying a debt that we owe, paying that debt to God or to the devil or to someone. John doesnít think about that at all. John says that Jesus is like that serpent, raised up so that we can look on him and believe and live.
(I noticed last night in the service that I probably put the hymns in the wrong order. The hymn that we are going to sing as soon as the sermon is done is that other theory of atonement. I should have put the one that comes last second, but I wasnít paying good enough attention, I guess.)
In Johnís gospel, Jesus becomes God for us and he is elevated on that cross. It is on that cross that he does indeed show Godís great love and mercy for us. He doesnít, at least not explicitly, go there to suffer in our place or to pay a debt that we owe. And be honest I kind of like that explanation. Because indeed, in that story that we read before the Hebrew people they were already paying for their sins and it was that serpent on the cross that God used to bring them healing. We are also ready experiencing the consequences of our sin. We are living out the results of our sinfulness in the pain and suffering of this life. We are already dying. And yet, even before we look God is at work saving us.
The elevated Christ is on that cross so we could look at him, so that if we believe in him, we might be saved. At first, that might sound a lot simpler and a lot better than those other theories of atonement. They are so worried about punishment and sin and all of those terrible things that weíve done. And, of course, thatís really not true. In Johnís gospel itís just that we are already experiencing the consequences of our sin. And of course, it also might sound much easier when all weíve got to do is believe in Jesus and we will be saved, but, of course if thatís all we can do, if thatís all we have to do, itís also all we can do. We canít decide all of a sudden that weíre going to do better, that weíre going to somehow pay the debt ourselves, now weíre left with nothing but Christ, nothing but his cross. Weíre left with nothing but faith alone in that promise.
In the end it does all come back to that verse and the one that follows it Ė that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but to have eternal life.
For indeed Jesus did not come to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.
All those things that we will watch in the coming weeks. All of those things that we participate in. All of those things proclaiming just this that God loves the world, that God loves us, that when we believe that we will be saved through Christ. It is going to be an exciting couple of weeks hearing indeed once again how much God loves us, how much God loves the world. Amen.
Third Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Pastor Ed Foster
Scripture Texts: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19
I Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
I would bet most of you have experienced this, in fact, I bet many of us have even done it ourselves. Someone has gotten really angry and then later as they were trying to explain their anger they said, ďWell, you know, even Jesus got angry.Ē Like most people I have always assumed that in these stories of Jesus cleaning the temple that Jesus was angry and that this indeed was a great example of righteous anger. But you know in none of the gospels does it actually say that Jesus was angry.
Now we may indeed interpret Jesus actions as being angry. He makes a whip out of cords. But, of course, he doesnít use that whip to whip the people, he does it to drive the animals from the temple. He turns out the money and turns over the tables. Now to be sure in Matthew and Mark and Luke the reason for Jesusí action is indeed he is upset by the injustice of what is going on in the temple. But in Johnís gospel that doesnít seem to be the case. So, we can at another time argue all you want about whether or not this is a story that we should interpret as justifying our action against injustice. But in Johnís gospel I think something else is going on.
The temple was supposed to be a special place. A unique place in all of the world. It was that one spot out of all the earth, the temple was the place where God was supposed to reside. The temple was the one place on earth where people were supposed to be able to come and be in Godís presence.
It was the one place on earth where God had arranged things so that people could be in Godís presence and be safe, safe both from the power of God himself and safe from the rest of the world. So, the temple was constructed in such a way that there was a place where only the high priests could go. And then another area where the other priests could come and still another where the Jews could come and be in Godís presence, and then another larger area where everyone else on earth could come and be in Godís presence. It was a unique and special place. The one place on earth where human beings could come and be with God.
And Jesus walked in that day. Instead of finding a place devoted to people coming and spending time in Godís presence, he found a marketplace. Iíve always imagined it being something like one of those junk sales everybody will have in a neighborhood. Over here there is Fred and he is selling goats. And hereís Sidís tent and heís got the sheep. And over there is Omar and he has the finest bunch of doves that youíve ever seen. But Omar over he says his sheep are better than Fredís. You can imagine the noise and the confusion and yes, the smell, and right up front are the money changers because indeed to do commerce in the temple you had to have temple money, so there were those folks who were prepared to take your Greek or Roman or Egyptian money and change it for a prophet in to temple money. And Jesus walked in and instead of finding that one special, unique place on earth where you can come into the presence of God, he found your local swap meet, filled with noise and confusion and chaos.
So, Jesus does, he runs them off. Runs off the cattle and the sheep and overturns the money. And here is one of the reasons why I think that this was not a rage-filled incident. The Jewish leaders come to Jesus, instead of responding to him with anger or with violence themselves, they ask a very appropriate question, ďJesus, where do you get the justification for doing this? What sign can you give us for running off all of these people.
And Jesus gives them an answer that they could not possibly have understood. Indeed, even his disciples couldnít figure it out until after Easter morning. Jesus says, ďTear down this temple and in three days I will build it up.Ē And of course, finally after Jesusí resurrection after three days, his disciples realized he was not talking about the building, but he was talking about himself. In Johnís gospel Jesus replaces the temple as that place, that unique and special place where we can come into the presence of God.
By the time that John had written this gospel the temple had been destroyed. The Jewish people had been dispersed throughout the world and now where could they go? How could they come into the presence of God? The only place they knew was the temple and it was gone and they were thousands of miles away anyway. It was indeed, for many people the greatest spiritual crisis that you could imagine. How can we come into Godís presence? How can we be forgiven? How can we hear Godís word and know Godís love and Godís grace? And John said, ďYou donít need the temple anymore, Christ is the place where we come to Godís presence and receive Godís forgiveness and love and grace. It is Jesus who is now Godís temple.Ē
Of course, itís still a great question for us today? How can we, too, be in Godís presence? We live in a world that is a whole lot like that swap meet out in the midst of the temple. A world filled with noise and confusion and all kinds of competing ideas and obligations. How can we come into Godís presence where we are with Christ?
It is, of course, why we build churches. Jesus promises that where two or three are gathered that he will be there in their midst. So, holding onto that promise, we do, we build congregations where we can gather together and know that Christ has promised to be with us.
He has promised to be with us where we can know that we are in the presence of God himself, where we can be forgiven and loved and filled with Godís grace and mercy. But, of course, even as special as this place is, the truth is that we find the presence of God where we find Christ. We find it in Godís Word. We find it in our neighbor. We find it in all of those places where Godís Holy Spirit comes and surrounds us. We find the presence of God in Christ.
This story isnít so much about the justification, I think, for our righteous anger against the injustice of the world as it is the promise that wherever we come into the presence of Christ, we come into the presence of God. That we donít need a temple in Jerusalem, but instead we have the temple of Christ himself, that wherever we go and wherever we are we are in the presence of God. Amen.