The Third Sunday of Lent
7 March 2021

Readings

Psalm 19

 

 

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

 

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
  and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
  and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
  their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
  and their words to the end of the world.


In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom

                from his wedding canopy,
  and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
  and its circuit to the end of them;
  and nothing is hidden from its heat.


The law of the Lord is perfect,
  reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
  making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
  rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
  enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
  enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
  and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
  even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
  and drippings of the honeycomb.


Moreover by them is your servant warned;
  in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
  Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
  do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
  and innocent of great transgression.


Let the words of my mouth

and the meditation of my heart
  be acceptable to you,
  O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Exodus 20: 1-17

 

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

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. 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, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

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.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour 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.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Haydn J - The heavens are telling - from The Creation

Words

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
the wonder of his work displays the firmament.
To-day that is coming, speaks it the day,
the night that is gone, to following night.
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
the wonder of his work displays the firmament.
In all the lands resounds the word,
never unperceived, ever understood.
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
the wonder of his work displays the firmament.

1 Corinthians 1: 18-25

 

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
  and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

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John 2: 13-22

 

 

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. 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 market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 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.

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Collect

 

Almighty God,

whose most dear Son went not up to joy

but first he suffered pain,

and entered not into glory

before he was crucified:

mercifully grant that we,

walking in the way of the cross,

may find it none other

than the way of life and peace;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

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Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
           urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided,
           Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
           speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us,
           Lord of the word, receive your people's praise.

Lord, for our land, in this our generation,
           spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care;
for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
           Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

Lord, for our world; when we disown and doubt him,
           loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain;
hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him,
           Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.

Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us,
           self on the cross and Christ upon the throne;
past put behind us, for the future take us,
           Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

Sermon

Stephen Bates

Today’s reading from John chapter 2 is about the memorable occasion when Jesus cleared the temple in Jerusalem: 'In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” '(John 2:14-17).

 

I was struck by the word ‘made’ in the passage – that Jesus made a whip out of cords. Now I’m no lawyer, but to me that implies some thought; some consideration and some effort. Jesus didn’t just stomp towards the sheep waving his hands, as I might have done, or try to shoo away the cattle - probably very sensibly as no doubt there would have been pandemonium! Rather, he made a whip. Probably a few pieces of string or leaves twisted together, like those usually carried by goat or other animal herders at the time, rather than some kind of whip-cracking horse trainer ‘whip’ we might immediately think of. But interestingly, it was a whip made of more than one chord. He used that to drive the sheep and cattle out. For the cattle and for the sheep, there was consideration, effort and an orderly removal.

 

There was a different course of action for the money changers. They had their coins scattered and their tables overturned. It would have been a struggle to drive the coins out with a whip! And I’d guess throwing a bunch of money out into a busy street would mean some of it would get separated from its rightful owner. But turning over the tables was demonstrative and finite. That put an end to that.

 

And then there those who sold doves. They were commanded to leave. I imagine releasing the doves would have resulted in much wasted time and effort trying to re-catch the birds or to shoo them out. And again, they would pretty certainly have got separated from their rightful owners.  

 

In doing all of this, Jesus said 'stop turning my Father’s house into a market'.

 

Now that is a pretty vivid story. But we don’t have too many animals filling up our Benefice churches – other than the odd bat, mouse or spider – and we generally don’t do too much commercial trading or travel money exchange from our church premises. So what does this mean for us, today, in 2021, in Calehill with Westwell?

 

Well, whilst our church buildings are often very nice places with incredible historic architecture, art and artefacts, Paul reminds us in Acts 17:24-25 that actually 'The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things'.

 

Rather, we – the body of Christ – are the Church, not any building.

 

And in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 we are reminded: 'Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.'

 

Lent is a good time to take stock and consider ourselves before God as we run up to Easter week – although taking stock is obviously something we should do always – not just in Lent.

 

So my question – and my challenge – to us to think about this week is this: what is really going on inside our temples?

 

Can I encourage you to spend a few minutes prayerfully considering your temple – your life – this week. Is there anything in there that shouldn’t be? Are there any cattle? Any sheep? Maybe some coin tables? Or perhaps some doves? How much of a ‘market’ have we turned God’s sovereignty over our lives into?

 

And as you prayerfully reflect, if God does point out anything to you which is out of place in your life, then also ask God’s guidance as to what is the appropriate response to deal with it.

 

Some things – let’s call them cattle and sheep – may need help to resolve. I mentioned that Jesus made a whip of cords – plural – earlier, because it reminded me of the verse in Ecclesiastes 4:12 'Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.'

 

Some problems, issues or things in our lives may need other people’s help and support. So let me encourage you that if that is you, please find a Christian friend or someone you can trust to pray it through with you. Together, those combined strands can move the ‘cattle’ and the ‘sheep’ back out to where they belong, in their rightful place, but not in place of God.

 

Other issues, like the money tables, might be best dealt with by simply scattering them or overturning them. I am a bit like that when it comes to food. If I have chocolate in the house, I will eat it. Indeed, get me a bag of (chocolate) coins at Christmas and they’ll be gone before dinner. But I’ve found generally the best way to stop myself gorging on chocolate is not to have it in the house. And, while I’m certainly not advocating food waste – which is indeed a social evil – very rarely, I might even just throw out the last few biscuits, as some kind of mental demarcation to say ‘I’m now on a diet’, metaphorically turning my biscuit table over. So, as you prayerfully consider your own life’s temple, there may be some things in there which you simply need to ‘scatter’ or ‘overturn’ to bring to a demonstrative or finite end.

 

Finally, there may be other things – ‘doves’ – in your life which need to be simply but firmly asked to leave. I’m talking about things and issues here rather than people necessarily, although obviously there may be certain circumstances where spiritually unhealthy relationships might need to end.

 

But for most of us, I’d guess the cattle, the sheep, the coins and the doves are relatively small things cluttering up our lives. Things which in their own right are good, proper and necessary, but which shouldn’t really be ‘filling’ our temple and getting in the way of our worship of God.

 

As we’re focusing on the Church of England’s ‘Live Lent’ course this year, which talks about sharing stories of what God has done in our lives with those around us, I am reminded that it is often said that to pray for revival, we should first draw a circle around ourselves and pray, ‘Lord, revive me!’

 

So as we continue on our Lent journey and attempt to ‘Live Lent’, this week might be a good time to review our own inner thoughts, motives, minds, hearts and deeds. Let’s clear out anything improper – through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault – from our Father’s house.

 

And Lent also reminds us that the good news is, well, Good News! That even though we sometimes allow ourselves to be cluttered with cattle and sheep and money and doves, our Lent journey points to the cross, where Jesus died for all of our sins – every single one – to make us whole. To purify us. To cleanse our temples.

 

In fact, the Bible says in Isaiah 53:5, 'by His stripes, we are healed” – with another, much more violent and sinister kind of whip. And where on Easter Sunday, the boulder – that large, immovable blockage - that big, heavy, hard-to-deal-with problem of stone – was removed entirely by God’s power alone.

 

Easter culminates in the resurrection of Jesus who offers us renewal and new life in Him. Having broken the power of all human sin on the cross and broken the power of death through His resurrection, there is no human problem, issue or challenge which he can’t deal with and defeat, making us – as Paul says in Romans – ‘more than conquerors in all things through Christ’: 'What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:31-39)

 

So let’s use the example of Jesus cleaning the temple to spend time this week prayerfully considering the state of our own temples – our lives – and ask God to help cleanse or chase out anything we find in there inhibiting our worship of Him.  

 

And also pray that having cleared the temple courts of our own lives and having been purified through Jesus, we too will have our zeal for Him restored, rightfully reordering our cluttered lives, with - as the hymn this week puts it - 'self on the cross and Christ upon the throne; past put behind us, for the future take us, Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone'.

 

And as we are renewed and revived ourselves, pray that that overflows – by God’s power – into the lives of those around us. As Romans 15:13 puts it, 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit'.