The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Wise enough to trust

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Third Sunday in Lent March 19, 2006
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Cor. 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

SINGING All About You
How Great Is Our God
Be the Centre

PRAYER Sharon Armstrong
WELCOME Evie Richardson

MESSAGE Wise enough to trust
Monte Asbury

What did Jesus say was the first and greatest commandment? To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second? That we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And that’s where New Oaks gets its mission statement: growing relationships with God, self, and others.

I want you to see it in the Ten Commandments.

Picture the Israelites, recently escaped from Egypt and a lifetime under Egyptian law, and following this God they’ve just met. He wants them to understand some boundaries. And watch for things about relationships with God, self, or others here:

1GOD spoke all these words:
2I am GOD, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of a life of slavery.
3No other gods, only me.

Anything about relationship? With whom? And he goes on:

4No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. 5Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am GOD your God, and I’m a most jealous God,

Time out. What do we mean, among ourselves, when we say someone is jealous? Envious? Suspicious? Not trusting? I don’t think we ever use the word jealous in a positive way. But if you look in your dictionary, you’ll find an old positive meaning alongside the negative ones. Example: a wedding. I ask the groom and bride, one at a time, to make a promise like this: “forsaking all others, will you keep yourself only unto him/her?” Their expectation – the promise they’re making – is “no flings with others.” “Only you for me, only me for you.”

That’s what the Bible means when it says jealous. I’m expecting and trusting that you won’t be cheating on me. Relationship? With?

I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me.

Time out again – punishing children? Here’s how the universe is set up: if I live my life in rejection of God, I’ll end up hurting myself and those around me. I’ll leave a mark on my kids – and they may follow in my footsteps – and bring the same pain on themselves that I brought on us.

6But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

And the opposite is also true: if I follow God, let him heal me day by day, my children will reap the benefits of that healing, and some of that will become normal in their lives, too.

7No using the name of GOD your God, in curses or silly banter; GOD won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.

8Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Work six days and do everything you need to do. 10But the seventh day is a Sabbath to GOD your God. Don’t do any work–not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. 11For in six days GOD made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore GOD blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.

1500 years later, Jesus gets in trouble with the virtue police for picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath. And he says, “Don’t you know the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath?” Hear the kindness? It’s a gift from God to humans – take a day for worship and rest. Don’t work yourself to death; you won’t love much.
Relationship with? Self.

12Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that GOD your God, is giving you.

Not a mystical carrot and stick: their society depended on it – means of producing income was land, land came from dad. You mess up badly enough that dad throws you out, you are economically doomed. Eventually, the culture would fail if many did so, for it was dependent upon equal access to land. But it’s also said like this in the NT: “he who does not provide for his own has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
Relationship with? Others.

13No murder.

14No adultery.

15No stealing.

16No lies about your neighbor.

Relationships with? Others.

17No lusting after your neighbor’s house–or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.

This is what we call jealousy. The meaning is something like this: Don’t get bitter when someone has nicer stuff than you have. Why not? Wedges between you!

See how compassionate the Ten Commandments are? God is building a culture that tenderly respects him and oneself and others.

* * * *

OK, fast forward 1500 years, to AD 30, the life of Jesus, and tell me how this is completely different:

John 2:13-22
Tear Down This Temple . . .

13When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. 14He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength.

Thousands – maybe millions – of travelers are in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Writer named Katie Sherrod at gives a little background:
… The whole system of commerce in the Temple was well established, and indeed, quite a racket for the temple authorities. Historians tell us that once a year, Jewish males had to pay a temple tax, and that tax could be paid only in temple coin, not with Roman or Greek coins. Hence the moneychangers. But the moneychangers charged a huge fee for the exchange; often up to half the amount being changed went into their pockets, out of which the temple took its substantial cut.
Additionally any sacrifice offered at Passover had to be that of an animal without blemish. The temple authorities offered perfect animals for sale. Anyone bringing his own animal had to have it inspected by the priests. Not surprisingly, the animal was nearly always rejected, and the person had to buy another from the priests. Scholars tell us that a bird bought outside the Temple cost about 15 of our cents, but one from inside the Temple could cost many times as much.

And this took place in the only part of the temple that was open to everyone: the Court of the Gentiles. Anyone could pray there – but it was the only place non-Jews – people of low status in Jerusalem – were welcome. So the open spot for outsiders had been taken over by insiders squeezing money from worshippers.

The worship of God had become a means of taking advantage of people – all of whom would have said they were keeping the Ten Commandments. But how dif? How will God feel?

15Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. 16He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” 17That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”

It’s the only known time in the life of Jesus when we see him violent. You think it’s the building Jesus is hot about?

Daniel Clendenin,
No doubt the disciples tossed and turned a long, sleepless night that evening; it must have been terribly disconcerting to witness Jesus unhinged, throwing furniture, screaming at the top of his lungs, and flinging money into the air. Perhaps they ran for cover with the crowd. I would have. Did they look him in the eyes the next morning, or shuffle their feet, stare at the ground, and make small talk? I liken their experience to the “crazy uncle” syndrome—who could predict the next outrageous act or violent outburst?

I dare not demonstrate it! Babies would cry. All of us would go home troubled.
What is it that makes God that mad? People taking advantage of people – and especially religious people taking advantage of others who are seeking God.

Skip across the page to
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

18The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. 19It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.

Back to John, see what happens:

18But the Jews were upset. They asked, “What credentials can you present to justify this?” 19Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll put it back together.”

Huh? I’ll bet his disciples were dumbfounded. Here’s your chance, Jesus. And he gives them that? They won’t get that! We don’t get that! Jesus, are you crazy?
And sure enough, the temple leaders don’t get it:

20They were indignant: “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?”

Look over at 1 Cor again: seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out.

Here’s how powerfully – John again:

21But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. 22Later, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this. They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Whoa, what do you think it did for them to remember that? See, were the temple leaders really interested in learning about Jesus? He was giving an answer for those who were. And that was powerful.

Lets finish 1 Cor:

20So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? 21Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb–preaching, of all things!-to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

22While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, 23we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle–and Greeks pass it off as absurd. 24But to us who are personally called by God himself–both Jews and Greeks–Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. 25Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

And what’s his wisdom about? Loving God, self and others. And that will seem foolish to this world sometimes.

Muslim cartoons. One side had to prove it was free. Muslim side had to prove it was righteous. Occurs to me, Jesus way would be to be completely free, but to love Muslims, to listen to them, to understand where they’re coming from. See? His wisdom is sooo different from this world’s wisdom.

And his wisdom is gorgeous. Shut yourself in for a few minutes with a hymn to the beauty of God’s wisdom with Psalm 19. This is poetry – I’m going to play some music while you read and think. Choose about four phrases that especially click with you. Use the pew Bible if you like the NIV better. Feast your heart on God’s Word, sink into the beauty of it.

Psalm 19
A David psalm

1God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God–craft on exhibit across the horizon.

2Madame Day holds classes every morning,

Professor Night lectures each evening.

3Their words aren’t heard,
their voices aren’t recorded,
4But their silence fills the earth:
unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
God makes a huge dome
for the sun–a superdome!
5The morning sun’s a new husband
leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete
racing to the tape.

6That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies
from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts,
warming hearts to faith.

7The revelation of GOD is whole
and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of GOD are clear
and point out the right road.
8The life–maps of GOD are right,
showing the way to joy.
The directions of GOD are plain
and easy on the eyes.
9GOD’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold,
with a lifetime guarantee.
The decisions of GOD are accurate
down to the nth degree.

10God’s Word is better than a diamond,
better than a diamond set between emeralds.
You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring,
better than red, ripe strawberries.
11There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger
and directs us to hidden treasure.
12Otherwise how will we find our way?
Or know when we play the fool?
13Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins,
from thinking I can take over your work;
Then I can start this day sun-washed,
scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.
14These are the words in my mouth;
these are what I chew on and pray.
Accept them when I place them
on the morning altar,
O God, my Altar-Rock,
God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

SINGING Be Thou My Vision
BLESSING Sharon Armstrong


Written by Monte

March 19, 2006 at 10:00 am

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