March 7, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Exodus 20: 1-17

1God spoke all these words:   2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.   4You 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. 5You 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, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.   7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But 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. 11For 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.   12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.  13You shall not murder.  14You shall not commit adultery.  15You shall not steal.  16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  17You 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.

Psalm 19

1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.
2One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard,
4their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber; it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

 6It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.  

7The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.
8The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 

11By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward.
12Who can detect one’s own offenses? Cleanse me from my secret faults.

13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. 

1 Corinthians 1: 18-25

18The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where 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? 21For 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. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

John 2:13-22

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making 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. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After 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.

Sermon Meggan Manlove

Today’s scripture passages invite us into reflections on the role of buildings and spaces in our lives. It isn’t as if we need these passages to prod us into such reflecting. Many church leaders, including Trinity’s council members, have been talking about this for just about a year. Last spring, we heard, and sometimes shared, the phrase, “The building is closed, but the church is open.” 

 I confess that I have always been grateful that Trinity’s building is not too big, that our predecessors never overbuilt. When I served my congregation in Iowa, we had two church buildings, a big, beautiful country church three miles south of town where we worshiped Memorial Day through the end of June and the town church, a second massive structure built in the 1960s, where we worshiped eleven months of the year. Donations would come in for the country church all year long. At first, I would say to myself, “imagine what ministry these checks could fund.” But I soon realized that the people writing those checks would never defer the funds away from the country church to ministry in town. They wanted to maintain the building, so important to their families. 

And I will admit that there was something amazing about the history: the Norwegian immigrants who came across the prairie and decided that they wanted to build a place of worship. The curved wooden balcony, the reed pump organ, the one painting saved when the first country church burned down, and the cemetery, the only private one left in the county, that circled around the building. I grew to enjoy the month of worship there. 

One of my regrets about my time in Iowa is that we did not utilize people’s admiration for the building to tell stories of faith. I wish I had asked more pilgrims to the church and residents about their ancestors’ faith and how it inspired them to build that beautiful church.

I will never be certain if maintaining to the two buildings was the best use our resources; not that it was my choice. I honestly do not think there is a magical formula for figuring out when a building has become an idol that we worship, instead of a place that we gather together to worship. I actually do believe that church buildings can be sacred spaces instead of idols. All of those things are simultaneously true. And today’s story of Jesus in the Temple and the Ten Commandments encourage us to keep asking questions about our relationships to physical buildings and to faith practices. Those questions are especially appropriate during Lent, when our refrain is “return to the Lord your God.”

The temple cleansing completes the inaugural event begun with Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. That miracle revealed the grace and glory of Jesus and the abundant new life Jesus offers. The scene in the temple also brings new life—but in a very different way.

We cannot ignore the religious and historical context of the Jerusalem Temple. We can read all the rules dictating this in Deuteronomy. Cattle, sheep, and doves were required for burnt offerings in the Temple. Since Passover was a pilgrimage feast, many of those coming to worship in the Temple would have journeyed a great distance and would not have brought animals with them. This was not a quick trip to town; it was a journey cross-country on foot. And so, they needed to buy animals in Jerusalem in order to participate in temple worship.  

Furthermore, the temple tax could not be paid in Greek or Roman coins because of the human image, the emperor’s head, on these coins, and foreign coinage had to be changed into the legal Tyrian currency in Jerusalem. By now I hope we are seeing that the sale of animals and the changing of money were absolutely necessary if the worship was to proceed.

Surly there were inevitable abuses of the temple system, but in today’s story, Jesus confronts the entire system itself, not its abuses. Jesus confronts the practice and the setting and the process. He calls all of it into question, including the authority of the Temple and its worship.

The Jews demand a sign. Jesus responds to their request with the saying about the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple. They respond, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”  

Early readers of the gospel familiar with historical events knew that Jesus’ words could not refer to a building. Why? Jesus could not refer to a building because the Romans had destroyed the temple in 70 C.E. and it still stood in ruins years later.  

So what in the world is going on here?  The narrator clues us in.  We must interpret this incident by connecting it with Jesus’ death and resurrection: When Jesus referred to the destruction and rebuilding of the temple, “he spoke of the temple of his body.”  What did this mean to John’s readers and, more importantly, what does it mean to us?

The animals and birds mentioned were prescribed by the Levitical code for sacrificed used for atonement and purification. Jesus disrupted the trade necessary for sacrifice. Jesus foreshadowed the permanent end of sacrificial worship in Jerusalem and its replacement with his own death.   

This would have been really, really good news to early readers of the gospel.  After all, the Temple had been destroyed; and with its destruction went the tangible means for forgiveness, the sacrifice. Now Jesus has replaced the Temple with nothing less than himself.

“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.” The disciples remembered, and so do we each time we make our “journey” through Lent.  This is an introduction of a new spiritual order. It is not about anything we do. It’s about Jesus and the love he shared.  

It is something quite amazing to think about the embodied adult Jesus. We remember all the other bodies, just like ours that he came in contact with—people he ate with, healed, cast out demons from, and raised from the dead. And this list of characters might remind us of the characters in our own lives.

It is downright amazing, humbling, and truly awesome that God became embodied.  God is inherently relational and if we ever needed proof of that, the incarnation is it. God was never content to be off in the distance. Scripture is full of God arguing with humans, making covenants, giving us ways to live together. And yet in the incarnation, God’s relational character goes to a whole new level. Divinity and humanity relate to one another in a new way. God knows embodiment. 

This Lent we are encouraged to “Return to the Lord your God.” We are also planning our embodied return to in-person worship. As embodied creatures who have been apart and out of the building for a long period, how do we want to come back? What is most essential to nurturing our faith? What is most life-giving to the least among us and in our community? I come back to the question that has helped congregations measure the efficacy of their mission for years: “If Trinity Lutheran were to disappear tomorrow (not shut down due to a pandemic but really disappear), what, if anything would be missed?” 

We can point to our affiliated nonprofits of Trinity Community Gardens and Trinity New Hope to be sure. But what else would be missed? The building? Our message? The embodied people? What do we hope would be missed? How can we carry those questions into our embodied return? 

For better or worse, I have more questions today than answers. Fortunately, God is big enough for all of them. And God will continue to show up in the questions, in the unknown, in uncertainty, even when we do not know what steps to take. As Paul writes in his letter to the early church in Corinth, “For the message about the cross is foolishness.” 

The cross, in Jesus’ time and place, really was the most shameful and humiliating way to die. And yet that is what our embodied God did. It was the cost of eating with the wrong bodies, the cost of declaring that all bodies deserved to be whole and well, the cost of breaking the rules when the rules hindered the in-breaking of the reign of God.

We could all meditate on that line from First Corinthians for a lifetime. No trained theologian or pastor who says they fully comprehend the cross is worth his or her salt. But it is worth all of us pondering during these last few weeks of Lent, as we make our way to Good Friday. More questions: What kind of God chooses the cross? What kind of God reveals greatness in weakness? The kind of God who will continue to show up and be revealed when our broken embodied selves are downcast, forlorn, grieving, and lost.  Thanks be to God.

Prayers of Intercession

Relying on the promises of God, we pray boldly for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

There is no God before you. Purify the faith of your church, that your people place their trust in nothing beside you. Your name is holy. Guide your church, that in every situation your people’s words and actions honor your name. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

The heavens declare your glory. Renew your creation. Provide leaders in the struggle for clean air and water; protect creatures and crops that rely on healthy ecosystems; give all people the willingness to repent when our way of life pollutes the earth and skies. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Your foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Fill leaders with the foolishness of your peace and mercy. Your law defends the vulnerable. Work through legislators, judicial systems, and systems of law enforcement to protect the wellbeing and freedom of all (especially). Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

Your weakness is stronger than human strength. Protect those who are vulnerable and give courage to all who are suffering (especially). Defend victims of crime and bring redemption to those who have harmed others. Give sabbath rest to all who labor. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

You call us to proclaim Christ crucified. Give clarity to this congregation and our leaders, so that we might follow Christ beyond our own habits and comfort. Clear out anything in our common life that would obscure the gospel or that serves our own interests. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

God, who searches for the lost: this season brings the lengthening of days. The longer light reveals what had been hidden. Cleanse our hearts as we spring-clean our dwellings.  May there be ample room in our hearts for justice, kindness, compassion and generosity, and from the abundance of our possessions, may we give away what we no longer need. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

The cross of Christ is your power for all who are being saved. Thank you for (Perpetua, Felicity, and) all the martyrs whose witness reveals the power of the cross. Give us the same trust in life and in death. Hear us, O God.  Your mercy is great.

We entrust ourselves and all our prayers to you, O faithful God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.      Amen.

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