The Way of God
Third Sunday in Lent, Year B
15 March 2009
When I met my wife, all I had was a dog. Dante. The beagle. Now I have three kids and a wife and no dog. He is growing fat on a farm in Mississippi, and I am learning the difference between training a dog and raising kids. What is the same is that you don’t want them to bite the neighbors, but beyond that the questions are different.
When I look at my kids I want them to know that they are beloved of God. That their God loves them beyond all bounds and constraints. That they can always come home and that there is room is at the table for them. That Grace is free.
But I also want them to know that the benefits of Grace take work to release them. That there is a way to live that is wise, as they say in the Hebrew Scriptures. I want them to live in accord with the way of God, as I like to call it.
The way of God is an uncomfortable thing to talk about in church because we have a sense of what people usually do with ideas about how to live. They whip other people with them. Paul asks the Romans in today’s reading, if you preach one thing, do you do another? But it is worth our time to look at how to live in God’s way.
Right now our whole country, indeed the world, is being bitten by our tendency to not live according to wisdom. I mean, what if a group of Americans in a certain city, say New York, in a certain borough, say Manhattan, in a certain street, say Wall Street, decided to go into work and live by the ten commandments, neither stealing nor bearing false witness nor coveting nor bearing the name of the Lord in vain. Seems like it would make a difference. Doesn’t it?
We live in a culture dedicated to violating the ten commandments. The average elementary child has seen 8000 murders. Check out the statistics at
Our economy is based on false desire, which accounts for advertising, killing, war and entertainment, plus coveting, lust, and using all sorts of things as well as God’s name in vain. I suddenly sound like one of those Baptist pastors I grew up with and I swore I wouldn’t become. But it is true, isn’t it? We have lost our way as a culture, and so it becomes counter-cultural to seek a better way to live.
I never liked the Ten Commandments. They always seemed like a burden that religion or my parents put on me. Like a yoke. I hated them. When my parents would say, “Honor your father and mother,” I would just bristle. But I do like to use them on my children. The girls are just getting old enough to get in trouble for coveting their classmates cell phones. But is this the way they were meant to be used?
And frankly most of us treat them like speed limits, going past them without notice unless someone is in an accident and we say, “Well, you know he was speeding.”
While in seminary I turned a corner from seeing them as the big ten rules to not get punished to seeing them as the ten spiritual principles to a holy life.
You know we are called to live a holy life. Again, it seems like an arrogant thing to say. But we are supposed to set aside our lives to God, but that makes us uncomfortable, like we may be embarrassing at parties. But think about the call of Christ to be a beacon of God’s love. In order for people to feel loved and not abused or coveted or used, they have to feel safe and free. The ten allow you the freedom to love well. We are called to be a nation of priests to the world, lifting up the world to God and holding out the love of God to the world in the name of Jesus. But we are busy getting by.
You know, clearly Jesus wasn’t an Episcopalian. If he were, he would have just kicked a money changer’s table and said quietly, Hey this is in bad taste. And it doesn’t match the décor. Please remove it. But these actions have a logic to them. They are a good old north Galilee exorcism. When a rabbi in Galilee was going to exorcise a house, he would make a whip of cords, beat the walls, chase out the inhabitants, overturn the tables, and pour out any containers. Think about how big of a symbol this is! The city is just packed with pilgrims, perhaps as many as a million for Passover. Pilate, who was a vicious governor, has brought in extra soldiers for the pilgrimage to keep things in check. The city is an overstuffed, pulsing powder keg. And Jesus walks in a politely says Boo!
What we know from sociologists and people who study banking from this period is that the temple workers were probably not being unfair or cheating the people. They weren’t being duplicitous. In fact they were considered a safe place to hold your money. The temple had one of the largest holdings of money in the world at this time. They weren’t being cruel or shifty. They were just doing business. They were just making a living. They were just getting by. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Usually we don’t wake up in the morning and say, Let’s go commit genocide today. Let’s go cheat the poor. We are just getting by and slipping away from our calling in Christ.
Lent is our opportunity to get back to the way of God in Jesus. To get back to the way we know when we see our kids look at us. To get back to the way of love and discipline. They need each other you know. If you are going to love the unlovable, bring peace to war, heal the sick, welcome the sinner, and hold the door open on the cold night of economic winter, it is going to take discipline. Let’s clean our houses up this Lent as we prepare for an Easter celebration of love.