Sermon offered at Trinity Church Central West End, Saint Louis, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

by Barbi Click

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the Awaken Shabbat service at Central Reform Congregation to talk about the work we do in the Food Ministry. The service is about tikkun Olam – the work of repairing the world.

As I read the texts for this day, I was reminded of that beautiful service, so closely in tune with the needs of the world.

I have been rereading Walter Brueggemann’s Journey to the Common Good. Rarely have I liked the term, Common Good. Too often it has been used for good of one group to the detriment or death of another. However, in this context, it is for that idea of tikkun olam. Appropriate to today’s political climate, Brueggeman writes about liberation from the political regime of Pharaoh and its reliance upon the idea of promoting fear and scarcity.

In Pharaoh’s regime, there is never enough—not money, nor food, land, nor power – there is always a demand that more is needed. Even in the story of Joseph as Pharaoh’s overseer, the people of God were enslaved by an economic system that demanded more – first their money, then their livestock and land, and finally, their bodies. The people became enslaved and a necessary part of the incessant groan of the production system. In exchange, they were given what they needed to survive so that they might continue work for the benefit of that system.

In any economy based on the exploitation of humans and rooted in fear and scarcity, eventually a limit of human suffering is reached. In this instance, the cries of the Israelites rose up to God and God heard these and sent a deliverer to lead them out of their enslavement in Egypt.

Moses lead the people of God out of slavery into the wilderness and God made certain they had all they need but still they function within the limitations of the myth of scarcity. They cannot see into the abundance. They try to save up, wanting more, just in case God doesn’t provide on the next day. They long for the old regime where they knew Pharaoh would always feed them, and they knew what the morning would bring. They forgot the suffering that came along with that security. They wanted the security of knowing … they bemoaned their loss.

In the Exodus scriptures for today, God speaks to the people, setting it all out for them to understand. It is obvious that they cannot do this on their own, even with Moses leading them. They need Laws.

But Brueggemann writes that the Decalogue is not just a set of rules or laws. These are a pathway for a different way of living, a transformational life of abundance through faith, in fact, Liberation.

I am the Lord your God – I brought you out of slavery; Do not worship other gods.

Do not make any thing into an idol – nothing – not money, not work, not material things, not power – nothing. Because God is a jealous God.

More than a threat, this is a promise. God is promising a regime change. Forget about Pharaoh and his system of constant craving. Worship the One who liberated you from this system of scarcity. There is no room for God within a production system. We do not have to constantly produce. God is enough.

Do not profane God’s name. Rather than about cursing – I believe this is about using the name of God to justify our own thoughts and actions. Such as stating that it is a God given right that we can own weapons of mass destruction, or that we can take what we want because it is God’s will. It seems to me that the idea of Manifest Destiny was about profaning God’s name. Do not justify your right to take that which is not yours, especially by declaring it a God-given right.

Keep the sabbath day holy – Take time to rest from the aggressive anxiety. It is an intentional pause in our week that allows a mind and a body to let go of the fear, to let go of the need to accomplish, let go of things that do not really matter. How many of us live in a state of aggressive anxiety? Always worried about one thing or another.

Commandments 5-9 are about predatory practices – neighbors are not prey – they are to be respected and not exploited. The boundaries are set: honor your elders, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie – not little lies or big ones. Don’t take away respect, or a life, or a spouse, or a possession, or the truth.

And lastly, — do not covet – this sets a limit of greed and hoarding. don’t worry about what you do not have; don’t worry about what your neighbor does have. Do not store up treasures, whatever your treasure may be. Constantly storing up more because what we have may not last, may not be enough, may be taken from us? Storing up money, storing up clothes, storing up things, just in case. Even in the case of the food pantry, we run into this problem. Storing up food just in case we need it tomorrow. Just in case there is not enough. As ifwe do not trust that God will provide. As if we are not as important as the birds in the sky or the lilies in the field. Yet God always provides.

Just as with the liberation from the regime of scarcity for the abundance that is God, so is today’s gospel representative of a release of an old idea.

The old system is replaced with the new reality of Jesus’ presence. The idea of the temple with its sacrifices of grains and animals to God is replaced with Jesus himself as the principal means of access to God.

That does not mean that the temple is no longer a holy place; Jesus rids it of all the sacrilege, namely, cleansing it of the ordinary happenings of the market place. He disorders the business of those who profit economically from the worship there. Jesus disrupts the whole idea of buying sacrifices and gifts to give to God. Just as Jesus is set in that place of sacrifice and offering to God, what God wants from each of us is that we give of ourselves. Stop storing up for later and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God alone.

God wants us. God wants us to let go of our fear and sense of scarcity. God wants us to see the abundance that is available if we love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul.

I remember when I struggled with the idea of loving God more than any one else. How could I love God more than my precious child or my beloved spouse or my parents? I loved them more than anything. But then, one day as I struggled in prayer with this idea, I knew the words – If you love me most, you will love them more. And I understood what it meant to love God fully.

God wants us to love one another in that same way. We are to care for one another, tend the sick, care for the dying, visit those in prison, feed those who are hungry and offer drink to those who are thirsty. We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. We are not here to judge whether someone is worthy of our love. We are to know that they are. We are to act justly and love mercy and above all, love God. We are to persevere in resisting evil; strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all people.

Persevere, proclaim, seek, serve, strive, respect – all action words and all promises we make. Intentionally we are to act out our lives as followers of Christ. We are in a covenant with God by our baptismal vows.

Our times are not much different from those days of Pharaoh. We continue to be enslaved by an economic system that hurts the least of us most. We are imprisoned by a system that rewards few and demands much of others.

God wants the “faithful well-being” of the whole community – not just some.

Brueggemann writes that wisdom, might, and wealth are a triad of death because these violate neighborliness. I would use the words privilege, power, and wealth as violations of neighborliness. Violence is added to these things that separate us. These are counter to all things that come of God. This cross we are supposed to take up has no privilege, no power, no wealth. The Christus Rex cross with the risen Christ stands in direct opposition to the violence used to place the body upon it.

It is not enough to simply subvert the empire. Jesus told Peter in last week’s Gospel that he was setting his mind on human things rather than divine things. Jesus came to change the world – not through power and privilege but through love born in a ghetto manger, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, giving the dead new life, then forgiving those who were killing his body. No power. No privilege. Simply love. Divine love.

Steadfast love, justice, righteousness – these are the things that define God’s intention for all of creation. There is no middle ground. There is no either/or. There is only this:

God loves steadfast covenant.

God loves justice that serves the weak.

God loves righteousness as intervention for social well-being.

Our participation in this full idea of community, of neighborliness is the way to break out of the economic system that enslaves us – all of us; those with much and those with little.

Trust God. Do not be anxious. Let go of the scarcity. Trust God, live into the abundance. Trust God, care for the kingdom, which is the neighborhood – the community – the Other.

All will be well with Steadfast love. Justice. Righteousness. Will it be difficult? Of course, it will. That is why we answer each vow of our covenant with the words, “I will … with God’s help.” We cannot do it alone.

Love God. Love one another. The sum of the ten commandments. And the only way to repair the world.

Amen.

 

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