October 29, 2019 – Gentle Jesus? The Love of Money, and the First Commandment- Mark 11:15-19, Leviticus 25:36-37, Matthew 6:24

Jesus-clearing-the-money-lenders-

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:8 (ESV)

And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “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 robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.

Mark 11:15-19 (ESV)

Gentle Jesus…yes, but not always. Emotions are not inherently good or evil.  What we do in response to our emotions is what matters.  Jesus got angry.  Jesus acted upon His anger, which was justified.  People had turned the temple, which was supposed to be a holy place of prayer, into a place to rip people off.

The money changers and other vendors had taken legitimate business and turned it into price gouging and taking advantage of people who traveled to the temple over long distances. They engaged in a similar philosophy that lies behind the truth that a Bud Light that costs $1.50 at Kroger costs $12 at the football stadium or hockey arena.

Most of us can live without a $12 beer. It’s there if we really want it, and it is a rip off to pay that much, but the people coming to the temple had no other place to exchange their money for temple currency.  Most people coming to the temple also could not bring live animals for sacrifice over long distances, so they had to buy animals on site. The money changers and other vendors had a captive audience at the temple for needs rather than for wants or conveniences, which makes that sort of price gouging a form of extortion.

Some people have interpreted Jesus’ actions toward the money changers and vendors to mean that one should never sell anything at church. To this day many churches will not conduct fund raisers inside the church building because of this example from the life of Jesus, but the act of selling things in the temple isn’t what made Jesus angry.

The money changers and temple vendors were not wrong to be exchanging “secular” money for temple currency for the offering, nor was it out of bounds that they were selling live animals for the ritual sacrifices.  Both the exchange of “secular” money for temple currency and the purchase of animals for sacrifice were required for those who were observing the Mosaic Law and keeping the Passover. The sin of the money changers and temple vendors was that they were making exorbitant profits on those transactions and taking advantage of their neighbors. The money changers and temple vendors were ripping people off and lining their pockets with the proceeds in clear violation of the Mosaic Law which states that the people of Israel were not supposed to loan to each other with interest or exact a profit off of each other.

Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.  You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. – Leviticus 25:36-37 (ESV)

See also: Ezekiel 18

The fact that the chief priests and the scribes were so unhappy with Jesus for his reaction to the vendors activities suggests that they may have been on the take as well.

Jesus was bad for business.

Which brings us back to the question: “Which god were the chief priests and the scribes actually serving?”  It wasn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus Himself taught:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

The sin that the chief priests, the scribes, the money changers, and the vendors in the temple all shared is the worship of a god (money) that isn’t God. We are tempted in that direction as well.

The love of money is the most attractive false god (other than ourselves) that people fall prey to.  While it is true that we need money to buy the things we need to survive, it is also true that God is the maker and provider of all things.  God is the one who provides us with the means to earn what we need to survive, as well as to serve our neighbors (vocation.)  We cannot put our trust in our abilities, in money or in anything else other than in Jesus.

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

The First Commandment: 

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

No one puts God first in all things. We are not capable of obeying the Law.  We all get obsessed with having enough (or not having enough) money at times.  Money in and of itself, like anger, is not a bad thing.  But do we love money more than God and others?  Do we get angry without having a good cause and an appropriate release for our anger?

Jesus took the penalty for all the times we violate the law.  We don’t deserve His pardon. We can’t earn His pardon.  Jesus took the penalty of death for us because He loves us.  Jesus was angry at the money changers and the temple vendors because they were turning a holy place that was supposed to be reserved for prayer to God and worship and turned it into a place to rip people off.

How maddening it must have been for Jesus to watch people ripping each other off for the love of money and worshiping the acquisition of wealth when He was right there in front of them- the Creator and Source of all.

The priests and scribes put their love of money above the love and worship of God.  Most of us would be guilty of the same sin against the First Commandment.

Yet God turned the priests’ and scribes’ intents- as well as our intents- for evil to our good.  The people who plotted the death of Jesus did not know that His blood would be spilled for the forgiveness of their sins. They looked right at God but didn’t know Him.  They rejected the stone that God had made to be the cornerstone.  The reproach of the reprehensible fell on God in human flesh alone.

Save by the power of the Holy Spirit, no one can come to faith in Jesus.

Lord, we thank You for Jesus, and we thank You for the gift of faith that we cannot earn and do not deserve. Help us to always remember Your death on the cross to save us from our sins. Comfort us and give us confidence that in our Baptism we have died in Christ and are made Yours forever.

We pray that we would trust in Your provision- that we would have enough for ourselves and some to share with others- neither too little so we would be tempted to steal, nor too much, lest we worship the thing (money) rather than the Creator and Giver of all.

We pray these things in the holy Name of Jesus.

 

April 3, 2019- The Widow’s Mite, the Shema, and the First Commandment-Mark 12:41-44, Deuteronomy 6:4-8, Matthew 22:34-40

poor widow

And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

Jesus’ account of the poor widow isn’t meant to guilt trip us into putting all of our money in the collection plate. Jesus isn’t really even talking about just our money.  While we should be good stewards of what God provides us, and we should be mindful of our giving of time, talent and resources to the mission of the church, Jesus is really talking about the First Commandment and what it is to take it seriously.

We can all agree that the shema – which is the primary prayer and petition of the Jewish people- is good.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (ESV)

Jesus underscores the shema as being the foundation of God’s Law as well:

But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

So the question Jesus asks of us is, “Do you really love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Do you really love other people like you love yourself?”

The answer to this question is, “No, we don’t.”

We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and we certainly don’t love others like we love ourselves because we can’t. No matter how hard we may try, we fall short.  Cats meow, dogs bark, and sinners sin.  As long as we live this life in these imperfect bodies, we will still be subject to the curse of sin. We are powerless to love perfectly, and we cannot love God and others in and of our own strength.

We can only love God and others, as imperfect and fallen as we are, by the grace of God in Christ.  We, like the poor widow, have nothing to offer God but ourselves in our weakness and poverty.   Jesus loves God, and loves fallen humanity perfectly in a way we are not capable of.  He gives us the faith we need to be able to give even our imperfect selves.

This isn’t to say that the Law is a bad thing. The Law is a good thing because it shows us our desperate need for Jesus.  Jesus lived out the Law perfectly, not only in love toward God, but also in love for us.  He gave His life- which was all that He had here on this earth- so that God would see us as being justified under the Law.  He freely took the punishment that brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5.)

That is what love is, and why it is so difficult for us to trust God so fully that we give freely of ourselves for the good of others. In Christ, we know love.  In Christ – by His grace, through faith, we are free to give all that we are and all that we have to Him.

August 16, 2018 There is a God- and He Ain’t You….or Me!-Exodus 20:1-6, Ephesians 2:1-3

love commandments

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6 (ESV)

The first lesson in the Catechism is on the First Commandment:

Thou shalt have no other gods.

What does this mean?–Answer. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Martin Luther,  Small Catechism

There is a God- and He ain’t you….or me.

This simple truth seems so painfully obvious, but the First Commandment shows us the sin of the Fall, the root of all sin.

We want to be God.  We want to be the center of our own universe.  We want things to go our way, according to our will.  We don’t want to pray that hardest petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”  We don’t trust God. We aren’t able to.

Intellectually we get it- sort of- that God is the Creator, but every one of us has that screaming toddler inside who wants his or her own way.  We want to trust ourselves, but we aren’t fit to be trusted.  Left to our own devices we are still those toddlers who would throw tantrums in the middle of Kroger’s and demand M&Ms and ice cream for every meal.  When we try to live by “my will be done,” it doesn’t end well.

Historically the church has referred to our inability to obey God as “original sin,” which the apostle Paul discusses here:  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” – Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

Paul does not mince words here.  We aren’t “kinda good.”  We are no good through and through.  The theologian John Calvin would describe our state before God (apart from Jesus) as the total depravity of man. 

God demands we put Him first, yet we are constantly distracted and chasing after everything but God.

Apart from Jesus, apart from being covered by Him in baptism, apart from being covered by Him because He died to save us from sin, we are completely incapable of putting God first or obeying any of His laws.  We are not able to be perfectly good like God requires. We aren’t even “sorta good.”

Thank you, Lord for the faith you give us as a free gift, the faith in Jesus that saves, the faith that counts us righteous in your sight for Jesus’ sake.  Forgive us for all the times we fall and forget to trust You alone.

September 19, 2017- The I AM God- Exodus 20:1-6, Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-5

in the beginning

I AM, the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before Me.

You 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.

You 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, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (NRSV)

The Ten Commandments are about healthy relationships and safe boundaries. The purpose of the Law is to maintain harmony and order and keep our lives productive and safe.  It is God’s will for us to have a right relationship with Him and with those in the world around us.  The first three Commandments have to do with our relationship and our boundaries with God.  The final seven have to do with our relationships and boundaries with others- rules for harmonious society.

Genesis 1:1 introduces us to not only our journey in Scripture, but to the Source of everything: In the beginning, God. John 1:1-5 expands upon that beginning, letting us know that Jesus is the Eternal Life and Light and Hope.

In the First Commandment as in Genesis 1:1, and in the introduction to the Gospel of John, we are reminded Who God is. This revelation about the being and nature of God is important for us to bear in mind.  He is not a material object.  He is not someone or something we can dismiss or ignore.  We may choose not to believe in God, but God is real and active as He has been and will be throughout all of time. He is the One from Whom all creation springs forth.

Because God is God, He commands certain respect and exclusivities from us.

Idolatry is not confined to golden calves or various venerated man-made icons. We can worship at the altar of money, or status, or attention, or pleasure.  We can set up mortal people as idols, especially ourselves.

There are some that claim that the ultimate idolatry- the sin of the Garden if you will- is the condition of pride. Instead of surrendering the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done,” in our own weakness and arrogance we insist that, “my will be done.”  It’s the rebellion of man that is old as time, and that we struggle with daily as long as we have breath and walk this earth.  Pride is the sin of Eve believing the serpent when he tempts her with, “If you eat of it… you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:4-5)  We all know how that one turned out.

For our own good, God set a boundary around worship. In the First Commandment, He says to us, “Worship Me only, because I made you, I am your Creator, and I have only good for you in My heart.”  When we worship God and put Him first, our lives reflect His sovereignty.  The Law shows us the way to run toward Jesus and the Gospel- so that His light and love in the Holy Spirit are free to flow in and through us.