The Third Sunday of Lent
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The Collect, Prayers and Readings can be found here:
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Then God spoke these words: ‘I am the Lord your God you shall have no other gods but me’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A book arrived for me on Monday. It’s only twenty pages long, but I was really looking forward to receiving it after seeing some really excellent reviews online. This is it. It’s called Making a better Confession. I’d seen people talking about it on Facebook, praising its content, and really recommending it, as a must have on any Christian’s bookshelf. So, I went ahead and ordered it. But I have to say, for all the praiseworthy reviews about it, providing so much new insight and giving good practical recommendations, about making a better confession, I was left disappointed. I was disappointed, because on turning the pages, nothing struck me as particularly new, nothing made me sit up and think, that’s a helpful insight, and what’s more, I’ve got at least another five books on my shelf, that are essentially the same.
And then I thought on, perhaps this book was better than I’d originally thought – because – maybe – just maybe – when it comes to recognising our sins and articulating them, in our hearts, in our minds and out loud, we do not need new-fangled ways, we do not need convoluted new insights, we do not need new methods, we need simply, in the words of the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, to trust not in ‘human wisdom’ but in God’s wisdom, and as the Psalm tells us today: ‘the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent’. What is the testimony of the Lord? We are told in the preceding verse, ‘the Law of the Lord’, it is the law that is perfect, and ‘revives the soul’.
And that is where we see the first reading come into play; the Ten Commandments, the ‘Law of the Lord’, given to Moses. My little book shows you how to examine your conscience, that is looking hard in the mirror at yourself, in advance of making a confession, by considering how you measure up to the Ten Commandments. The Law, the Psalmist tells us is ‘more to be desired than gold’.
Any yet how often do we take it superficially. The book instructs you how examine your life:
I am the Lord your God you shall have no other gods but me.
Everyone, every single person has a god. And I don’t mean the God we worship here. I mean a god that we worship wrongly, more often than not it’s another person, but it could be something else: money, or drink, or even yourself. What takes ultimate priority for you?
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Do your actions, and your speech really reflect your belief. How often do we say, “oh it was just something I said…” And yet, how often can our speech, what we say cause have immense consequences. Do we take God’s name in vain, in casual situations?
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
We are here this morning – but would we rather be in bed? Do our lives reflect the call to keep the day, ‘holy’ – do we keep it holy or do we degrade it, and therefore God himself by focussing our attention elsewhere, or engaging with it half-heartedly? Is Sunday just another day?
In many ways these first commandments relate specifically to God. The next commandments follow – and they are about our neighbours. Love of God gives way to love of neighbours.
Honour your father and mother.
Do you attend to the people closest to you? Do we give due time to our families, even those whom we find difficult? Or do we do it begrudgingly, focussing our attention elsewhere?
You shall not murder.
Now, unless I’ve missed something, nobody here is a murderer. But what do you think about life? Are you a life giver, or do you sap life out of people? Do your actions hurt and even kill them metaphorically? Do you actively move towards being somebody who shares life, and life to the full?
You shall not commit adultery.
Perhaps the commandment that’s broken the most today. Unfaithfulness is the acid in our society, people can be used and abused, with little consequence for the people involved. Are we faithful in all our relationships?
The seventh commandment: you shall not steal.
Have you ever stolen before? And by that, I mean both literally, and in the sense that you take what is not yours, but more than that, have you ever stolen the reputation of another with your words? Perhaps one of the most easily and often broken of the commandments. Do you steal?
You shall not bear false witness.
Do you bear false witness? Do you critique others? How often do you tear down somebody else’s reputation in one day? Do you say and do things to ridicule them secretly, perhaps without people knowing? Again, a common breaking point. How good would it be if we could not speak negatively about somebody else for just one day…
You shall not covet…
How often do we want X because somebody else wants it? We see what our neighbour has, our brother, sister, and then we covet…. And there we have the brokenness of society.
Think carefully, as a Lenten exercise, about how your life measures up to these fundamentals of the faith, these essential laws of the Lord. What are your ‘secret faults’?
In the gospel, we see Jesus take out his whip, turn the tables, and drive out the money changers – they were not focussing on God, but themselves, they were not profiting their souls, but in this case their pockets… They had placed there worship and their relationship in the wrong things. Do you?
If so, and I’m sure you break some of the commandments as I do, if so, let Jesus, cleanse you, let him cleanse the temple of our body and soul with his whip – let him whip you into shape, so that your lives may be conformed to God’s wisdom.
How? By trusting in the cross… by allowing the cross to both convict you of those sins, and at the same time, save you from them, that from the cross of ‘Christ crucified’ we may know that the Lord is both our strength and our redeemer, that he is righteous altogether.
Let him whip you into the shape of the Commandments. Amen.
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