“Get Right With God”
March 4 2018
We are now 3 weeks into the Lenten season , halfway through our journey with Christ and His disciples as they journey to Jerusalem, where Jesus will die on the cross for our sins. As we journey with Jesus and the disciples during this Lenten season, we see the commitment Jesus made to His mission to die for our sins and it is our prayer that we will also get a new vision for being the people God calls us to be, people who are more committed to Him and to His work in our lives and in the world.
The passages we have before us today are the Exodus 20 version of the 10 Commandments from the Old Testament and from the New Testament we have John’s account of how Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. These passages may not seem to be similar, but as we look at them we might find some similarities, and a call to journey with Jesus and find that the road to commitment leads us to becoming people whose hearts and minds are right with God.
Imagine with me that you were a livestock dealer in the Temple on the day Jesus came in and – literally – cleaned house. You had been a livestock dealer in the Temple all of your life, as had your father before you, and his before him, and his before him. Your family had been livestock dealers in the Temple for hundreds of years. You would always get to the temple early to claim your spot. People would look for you there. They knew you and trusted that your cattle and sheep and birds always met the requirements specified in the law for sacrifice. But on that day when Jesus came in and “cleaned house”, you could only watch in dismay as your livestock and birds scattered into the city.
Your business was ruined. Why? How had it happened? Who was this crazy Galilean, anyway? You look around and see one of the followers of that crazy Galilean sitting alone and shaking his head dejectedly.
You run over to him and say: “Hey — you — don’t you realize what you people have cost me?”
“I know. I know.” the follower of Jesus says.
“What was this all about?” you demand.
“I don’t know” replied Jesus’ follower — “Something set Him off — I’m not sure what. It’s just that He feels so deeply…”
“Yea, right. That’s obvious,” you reply. “He seemed to think I was committing a crime or something. Doesn’t He know how the temple operates? I provide a service for the people — I sell the animals they need to sacrifice. Without me, no one could sacrifice. And if they couldn’t sacrifice, they couldn’t obey God. It’s as simple as that. So, don’t I deserve to be paid for my services? Isn’t the workman worthy of his wages?”
“Sure you are.” replied Jesus’ follower. “Don’t take it personally. I don’t think it was directed at you.”
“Then what was it all about? Is He an atheist or something? Doesn’t He understand the law — that sacrifice is what God commands?”
“Yes, yes, He knows that. And no, He’s not an atheist. Far from it. If anything, He believes too much.” “Then what’s the problem?”
Jesus’ follower ponders this a moment, then replies: “I don’t know. It’s strange. It’s as if He wants people to have a right relationship with God — to live in a right relationship with God — to let the commandments change their lives. Maybe He’s telling us to get right with God.”
You reply: “Well — I don’t know — all I know is that He sure turned my life upside down.” you mumbles as you walk off.
We are 3 weeks into our season of Lent. This is a time for reflection upon our relationship with Christ, with God, and with others. It is a time to recommit your life to God, to Christ, and to others and to living in God’s ways. It’s a time for you to get right with God.
Both our Old Testament and Gospel passages for today have that as their theme. They are both calling us to have a right relationship with God and others. They are both calling on you to get right with God.
What about our Old Testament lesson – the 10 Commandments as Exodus 20 gives them to us? How should we view and consider these Commandments? As laws written in stone by God who will strike us down if we attempt to break them? As laws meant to do away with any fun we might have, or think about having handed down to us by a God who is a killjoy and continually spouting forth a litany of “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots”? As laws that restrict what we do handed down to us by a God who is only interested in limiting our actions? Or as 10 rules to closely follow and keep track of our obedience to and to take great pride in our ability to follow while at the same time looking down on those we do not feel keep the Commandments as well as we think we do?
All of these ways of interpreting the 10 Commandments are fairly prevalent. Many see them as rules that restrict us while others see them as rules that cause us great pride when we feel we follow them better than others. But are there other options for interpreting the 10 Commandments and other options for visualizing God? Surely there must be. Let’s take another look at God giving the 10 Commandments to the Israelites and see if we can come up with another way to interpret them, and another way to visualize God. When God gave the 10 Commandments, God had just freed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. But maybe they wondered — now what? Should their freedom by the very special occurrence of God’s salvation plan change how they live? Are they to live any differently because they have been freed from slavery by God?
Certainly. The glorious fact that they had been freed from slavery by God was to be the deciding factor in how they lived. They were to live differently from others because God had blessed them with their freedom. But how were they to live differently? At Mt. Sinai they found out. In the fire and the smoke and the quaking of that holy mountain they found out how God wanted them to live.
They had been freed from slavery by God and now they were to have undivided loyalty to God, a loyalty that would not allow them to manipulate God by carving idols, or taking God’s Holy name lightly. They also would need to take a Sabbath day of rest out of every 7 days to remember and worship God. They were also to live in a special relationship with others, honoring their parents, refraining from murder, adultery, stealing, lying and coveting or doing anything else that might keep them from living in this special relationship with God and others.
The 10 Commandments were indeed commandments, but they were not Commandments that restricted what the people could and could not do as much as it freed them to live in a right relationship with God, to honor and respect and worship God and to treat others with love and honor and respect. For us, the 10 Commandments are commandments to live in a right relationship with God and others. They are commandments to get right with God. They are commandments to live in a right relationship with God and others, and that even show you how to do that. They are commandments that show you how to put God first in your life and because God is first in your life, you also live in ways that respect and honor God and others. They are commandments for special and right relationships with God and others. They are commandments to get right with God.
Jesus, of course, said the same things, and as He walked through the temple that day our John 2 passage describes He seemed to be incensed at the fact that the people were putting more emphasis on the law and the sacrifice than they were on their own personal relationship with God. As He turned the tables over and drove the money changers out, it is as if He were saying that this was not right, that living in God’s ways and letting God make a difference in your life, letting the ways of God make a difference in how you lived your life, was the only right way to live.
It’s as if He were saying: Get right with God!
That was God’s message to the people of Israel in the 10 Commandments and so many other times in the Old Testament, as well as Jesus’ message throughout His ministry. Get right with God. That’s still God’s message to us today. That’s still God’s message to you today. Get right with God.
The season of Lent forces each of us to look at our own relationship with Christ, how we are living our lives, and how Christ has called us to live our lives.
So how about it? Are you “right with God?” Are you living your life in a right relationship with God? Are the things of God, the things the 10 Commandments speak of, vital and important for your life? Like the Israelites freed from slavery in Egypt in a powerful action by God you have been freed from slavery to sin through the death of Christ on the cross. Just as the people of Isreal needed to live differently, so do you. You need to live in a new and right relationship with God and others.
Do you? Do you live a life that shows an undivided loyalty to God? Not only must you live in a right relationship with God, but it is also necessary for you to live in a right relationship with others. Do you? Do you live in a right relationship with others, a relationship that honors all people and shows honor and respect by not killing, committing adultery, stealing, lying or coveting, or doing anything else that keeps you from truly living in a right relationship with others?
Think about it. Think about your relationship with God and others. If they are not the “right” relationships God would have them be, then let God make them “right.”
Will Willimon was the Chaplain at Duke University and Dean of Duke Chapel at one point of his ministry. He tells of a dream he once had that he was walking up to the beautiful Duke Chapel and heard quite a commotion. When he got closer he observed that the beautiful $200 each hymn books, the $2,000 Pulpit Bible, the hand embroidered paraments and the immense Communion Table was all laying outside the chapel, all broken and crumpled. As he rushed to see what was going on, he saw Jesus leave the chapel in a fit of anger, proclaiming that people were more important than things, and the chapel had needed to be cleaned out to make more room for Him.
How would Jesus judge us as a Church? Would He say that we had our priorities in the right places or that we needed to do some “cleaning” to make more room for Him? How would Jesus judge you as a Christian? Would He say you had your priorities in the right places or that you needed some “cleaning” to make room for Him? Would Jesus’ message to us be that we were “right” with Him? Would Jesus’ message to you be that you are “right” with Him or that we needed to get right with Him and you needed to get right with Him?
Do you live in a right relationship with God? Do you live in a relationship – a relationship based on an undivided loyalty to God, a loyalty that will not allow you to try to manipulate God’s will to your will or to take God’s Holy name lightly, a loyalty that requires you to take a day out of every 7 days to remember and worship God? Do you live in a right relationship with others, a relationship that honors all people and shows honor and respect by not killing, committing adultery, stealing — lying , or coveting — or doing anything else that keeps you from truly living in a right relationship with others?
Think about it. Think about your relationship with God and others. If they are not the “right” relationships God would have them be, let God make them “right.” As we go through this season of Lent and journey with Jesus towards greater commitment to Him, one thing we all need to do is to get right with God. Amen.