April 11, 2017
Collect and lections from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
Follow the assigned readings with me this Lent….
Kenneth Randolph Taylor
Isaiah 49:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version):
Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The LORD called to me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said tome, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the LORD,
and my reward with my God.”
And now the LORD says,
who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the LORD,
and my God has become my strength–
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (New Revised Standard Version):
For the message of 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 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 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.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of human birth. But God chose what was foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Psalm 71:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):
In you, O LORD, I take refuge,
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
Upon you I have learned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.
I have been like a portent to many,
but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me,
and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken,
for there is no one to deliver.”
O God, do not be far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
John 12:37-38, 42-50 (New Revised Standard Version):
Although he [Jesus] had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”
Mark 11:15-19 (New Revised Standard Version):
Then they [Jesus and his Apostles] came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out all those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of thieves.”
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Being a light to the nations entails certain risks. This is a divine mandate for the Hebrews: to assume the responsibilities, not just the privileges, of being the Chosen people. Yet post-exilic Judaism developed some exclusive, legalistic, and xenophobic tendencies. Jesus disapproved of these, and certain religious authorities despised him. He understood where some competing traditions of his faith community had gone wrong.
Before we continue, let us eschew anti-Semitism or even a hint of it.
The reason for changing money at the temple was religious. Devout pilgrims pilgrims purchased sacrificial animals. Yet Roman currency bore the image of the emperor, whom many considered semi-divine. Thus Roman coins were technically idols. So some businessmen converted Roman coinage to non-idolatrous currency which people could purchase sacrificial animals. They did this for a price and for profit. They exploited the devout poor, the high priest Caiaphas profited, too, and Jesus knew all of this. These facts explain his righteous indignation.
Religion should be an instrument of liberation, not exploitation. And too often religion becomes what Karl Marx called the “opiate of the masses.” (Marx was correct about some details.) The Book of Exodus tells of how God freed the Hebrews from slavery. Over time some expressions of Judaism created many elaborate laws, which only the professional religious persons could keep. Jesus opposed these legalistic manacles. And, unfortunately, many Christian sects and denominations have forged new legalistic manacles while praising the name of Jesus.
When will we ever learn? Will we ever learn? Or do we doom ourselves?
The relevant truth for this discussion is that we can do nothing to merit the love and affection of God or to make ourselves worthy of God. Yet God loves us profusely. Nevertheless, many of us scurry around while trying to assuage God. We have received some timeless rules, such as loving God fully and loving our neighbors as ourselves–the summary of divine law. If we focus on the big picture most of the details will fall into place. Yet many of us focus on the details and violate the spirit of the law.
And we repeat this pattern.
God has spoken repeatedly. Numerous Hebrew prophets spoke. Then Jesus came. May we listen and comprehend. Then may we act accordingly.