Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday in Lent, year B
texts: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; John 2:13-22
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
In the beginning, God spoke, and it was good.
God’s words were uttered into darkness and chaos and from them came light and order and beauty and life. This is what God does with words. God creates. God creates good. God creates joy. God creates life.
Exodus says: “Then God spoke all these words.” The God who made all things, who called Abraham and Sarah and their family, who rescued them from slavery in Egypt, this God now speaks words to the people at Mount Sinai. In Hebrew the Ten Commandments are “The Ten Words”.
If God creates good with words, creates joy with words, creates life and beauty and light with words, why do we fear God’s law, God’s words? Why is our theology so thick with language about how the law kills, cuts, destroys? Why are God’s words our enemy?
We sang with the psalmist that “the statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart.” When was the last time you heard the law of God and your heart rejoiced?
Mount Sinai is a moment of grace and promise for God’s people.
The Hebrews knew God desired a relationship with them, sought out their ancestors. Centuries of slavery and hardship in Egypt must have felt like abandonment. Has the true God forgotten us? Then came Moses, and rescue from Egypt, and even with hardships along the way, the people arrive at Sinai in hope of a new life in a land promised to be their home.
To these people, in that place, with this hope, God speaks a word of covenant promise. God has already fulfilled the divine part of the covenant: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” they are told. I am the one who has saved you, who is with you.
Now, God says, as my people, loved and saved, here’s the good path, your way of life. God’s not threatening to withhold grace: they’ve already received life and freedom. As always, God’s words are creating good, and beauty, and light, and life.
Seeing this giving of the law as grace and hope for Israel could set aside our ancient fear.
Our fear of God, seeing God as bringer of judgment and criticism, while we cringe. Our fear of God’s law, seeing the law as forbidding, harsh, judgmental. Afraid of God, of God’s words, we find ourselves enemies of the law, enemies of God.
Consider these people at Sinai, still learning about the Creator God who has just saved them from oppression and slavery, who now gives them direction for life.
In a world where people use violence, and kill to get their way, this God says, “that’s not a path of life. You won’t kill if you are my people.” What a grace for them.
In a world where people betray those closest to them and aren’t faithful, this God says, “that’s not a path of life. You won’t commit adultery if you are my people.” What a grace for them.
In a world where old people feel like burdens and fear not being able to care for themselves, this God says, “Honor your father and mother, that’s the path of life. If you are my people, you will take care of your elders.” What a grace for them.
In a world where it’s hard to know whom to trust, where people lie to get what they want, this God says, “Don’t witness falsely about each other. That’s not a path of life. Tell the truth and be honest, if you are my people.” What a grace for them.
In a world where people don’t know God, don’t believe in God, assume God is the cause of all suffering, this God says, “I have saved you, so get to know me. Don’t worship other things, only me; take time to rest as I do. That’s the path of life for my people.” What a grace for them, to be given the promise, the command, of a relationship with the eternal God.
God speaks and good things are made. God speaks what is good, and beauty, and light, and life. Just as it brought joy to the hearts of Israel – as it did the times they understood instead of the ones they resented, as we do – this confidence in God’s words can bring our hearts joy, too.
Especially when we remember what God’s Word has become for us.
God’s Word, the Word that creates good and beauty and light and life, took on our human flesh, became one of us.
All of God’s Word – creation and law and grace, everything God speaks – is now incorporated – embodied – in Jesus. His life and presence is the Word of God in the world. His voice is the Word of God. His actions are the Word of God.
But he also is one of us. Jesus not only is the entire speech of God in the world, as a human being he can carry our part of the conversation with God as well. Speak for us to God when we are afraid, when we hide, when we can’t see God’s Word as good. Jesus teaches us to speak with God freely, without fear.
Jesus holds the conversation between God and humanity in his own person. He teaches us in our own words that God’s good word for us and the world is still good, and beauty, and light, and life. In Christ Jesus we are reconciled to God, Paul has told us, because both we and God are brought together. Christ is God’s temple, as John tells us today, where we meet God.
At the cross God’s Word absorbs all our bad words, all our breaking of the law, and destroys death’s power over us. God’s Word creates good even in dying, and fully joins us to the life of the Triune God forever. There is no need for us to be enemies anymore. In Christ Jesus there is no way we can be enemies with God.
Look at God’s law, then, and rejoice: here’s the path to life.
In Christ we see God’s path – love of God and love of neighbor – as the only way we want to live. We understand God’s forgiveness in Christ not as avoiding punishment but as putting our feet right, our hearts right, our eyes right, our heads right, on the path God’s Word shows is life.
God’s law, Christ reveals, is the instructions for how we’re designed to live in happiness and love, the operating manual for humanity to live in joy and hope. It’s the wisdom to how we can live in a world of peace for all, the answer to the suffering of this planet. If we lived according to the Ten Words, adding to them Jesus’ deepening in the Sermon on the Mount and Luther’s expansion of them into positive actions toward God and neighbor, this world would be an astonishingly good place to live in. That’s our heart’s joy.
Today God still speaks and it’s still good.
God’s words are uttered into the darkness and chaos and evil of this world and from them come light and order and beauty and life. This is what God does with words. God creates. God creates good. God creates joy. God creates life. God creates a path that is good, and beauty, and light, and life, for all people.
When we understand that, we can really start to sing our psalm. We become people living in the heady world of joy in God’s goodness.
We can sing “the teaching of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul. The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart. The commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.”
We can sing it because we know now it’s true. Because we know now this is the path of joy we’ve been looking for our whole lives.
And because God spoke this Word. And when God speaks, it is good.
In the name of Jesus. Amen