Third Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you from the one who is found among us. Amen
Where do you go to find God?
In Jesus’ day
if you wanted to go spend time with God,
you went to the temple in Jerusalem
and the way you communicated with God
was by offering a sacrifice,
certain animals depending on what you wanted to say
or if you were poor
you could substitute some doves.
That was it. Very clear.
It all started back at Mt. Sinai
when God claimed the Israelites
as the people of God.
This was particularly unusual at the time,
People chose which God to pray to,
usually the one thought to be most helpful in that moment,
having troubles with your crops?
Pray to the fertility goddess,
need some help winning a battle?
pray to the God of war
and so on
but God tells the people of Israel
that from this point on God,
I am who I am who appeared to Moses in a burning bush
will be the God of the people
and outlined how the relationship would work in the ten commandments.
Fresh out of slavery from Egypt
God gave the Israelites structure and direction
for the newly freed life,
life that had meaning
because it was a life claimed by God
and directed by laws written on stone tablets
by the hand of God
and brought down off the mountain by Moses.
And these tablets came to signify not just the covenant
between God and the people
but also the place to find God.
The tablets were placed in the ark of the covenant,
(yes the one Indiana Jones was looking for)
it was the home of God
and because the Israelites were a nomadic people
they carried the ark with them, wherever they went,
even into battle,
because it meant that God was present
and if the ark was there, if God was present
the Israelites would win,
even against much larger armies.
Eventually, 40 years later,
the Israelites enter and settle into the promised land
and once the question of leadership was settled
King Solomon built a more permanent home for God,
the temple in Jerusalem,
which by all accounts would put the most baroque palace to shame,
covered in gold and silver,
the finest linens and most expensive decorations
and that was where God lived,
that was where God could be found.
When the Babylonians came and conquered Israel
and sent them into exile
they destroyed the temple,
but the tragedy of the Babylonian exile
was not only that the people had lost the promised land
but that the Israelites were physically separated from their God.
Eventually the Israelites were allowed to return home,
they were reunited with their God
and they began rebuilding the temple, the home of God.
All this to put in perspective
what Jesus does in the temple today in our gospel lesson,
he brings the whole system to a screeching halt,
calls into question everything the temple stands for,
interrupts people’s communication with God
and when confronted makes the outrageous claim
that if the temple were destroyed he could raise it in three days.
That’s it, centuries, generations of tradition
Wiped out with the crashing of a few tables
And a wild claim to some priests.
but in this claim
Jesus shifts the location of God
from the temple to himself.
Jesus is the new temple,
the new home of God.
If you want to find God,
know what God thinks,
go to Jesus,
if you want to talk to God,
talk to Jesus
because Jesus is where divine and human meet.
This is the claim that John has been making since he started his gospel
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
God has gone from residing in the temple
to residing in Jesus,
as a human, with humans,
experiencing all the joys and sorrows
of what it means to be human
even the experience of death,
death on a cross,
as our reading from 1 Corinthians puts it,
and yet that foolishness is how God
brought us back into a healed relationship between divine and human.
It’s as simple as that,
and of course more complex.
Our relationship with God
has been healed
but as we have daily proof
the perfection of the world has not yet come into fullness,
those original covenant laws are broken daily.
So where do we go to find God?
Especially post ascension
Some days it seems like God is both everywhere and nowhere
at the same time.
We go to Jesus
who meets us at the font in the waters of baptism,
who comes to us in the bread and wine of communion,
his body and blood forgiving and strengthening us.
Who speaks to us through the words of scripture and preaching.
who makes himself available for us to serve
in the bodies of the least of these,
the hungry, poor, sick, imprisoned.
And while it may not make sense according to our human wisdom
this is how God has chosen to work in the world
always present in and through us.
Some days we may wish that it were as simple
as offering a sacrifice at a temple,
and other days we get distracted by life swirling around us
and we fail to see Jesus right in front of us
that is why our yearly calendar includes the season of Lent,
the season that invites us to return to God,
to become aware once again
of the places God comes to us in our lives,
to renew that covenant relationship
and bask in the foolish love of God that makes us whole.
To find Jesus among us. Amen
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God who died for us. Amen
Our texts for today portray a God who
in the words of Walter Brueggemann
“refuses to be domesticated”
Brueggemann is a Biblical scholar
specializing in the Hebrew scriptures and a master of preaching,
I got to see him last month at the preaching festival I went to
and I’ve been working my way through a collection of his sermons.
One of them, titled “God’s Relentless If”
is based in part on our first reading from Exodus
where we join the Israelites,
freshly freed by God from the Egyptians,
are as they are Led into the wilderness
when they finally make camp
Moses goes up the mountain for further instructions
God tells Moses to say to the people
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on Eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation.”
that sounds pretty good right?
To be God’s treasured people,
and here Brueggemann notes that
“Already with Moses, God has said that the status of Israel depends on an enormous IF”
God says if you follow what I say to you,
you will be my people
and though it is unspoken
the other side of the if holds true as well,
if you don’t you won’t.
The people heartily agree to God’s terms,
but it doesn’t work out as easily as saying yes for them,
because their actions must follow their words
and pretty soon they are building a golden calf
and starting the cycle
where the people break the covenant,
there are consequences and the people suffer,
the people turn back to God
and follow God’s ways for a while
until they get distracted and the whole process starts over again
all turning on that big IF.
in this cycle with the people
is characterized as overly harsh, vengeful even
but this is unfair to God
because what we witness in the stories
of the interactions between God and the people,
is a God who keeps promises,
who refuses to be domesticated,
taken as a push over,
(honestly, would we want it to be any other way?)
A God who loves the people so much
that God stays with the people in their suffering,
reaches out to them with prophets and judges,
offers them second chance after second chance
even while standing firm on the big IF.
Brueggemann concludes from all of this
that it costs to live in God’s world.
There are expectations and consequences,
and he notes
that when we try to domesticate or cheapen God
our neighbors become inexpensive.
When we try to tame God to fit our whims and desires,
to fit the way of life we want to live
we justify to ourselves all kinds of ‘if’ ignoring actions.
Right now, in the world around us
it seems that neighbors are inexpensive and only getting cheaper
Our neighbors with black and brown bodies are cheapened
as time and again they are judged according to their outward appearance
and not their humanity,
when fear is found to be a valid excuse
for violent interactions among people of all shades.
Our neighbors fleeing violence are cheapened
when they are refused entry into safety
and become targets of fear because of their homeland.
Our neighbors with whom we disagree are cheapened
when instead of listening we turn to violence.
Our neighbors who need medical care are cheapened
when money and profit is of more importance
than access to basic medical care,
and so on and so forth you get the idea
and maybe the covenant
God made with the people
all those years ago seems irrelevant
and we ignore it
but ignoring it doesn’t make it go away
we feel the consequences of our covenant denying actions,
the increased fear and division,
the news that we don’t watch anymore because we can’t handle another depressing story
we might even wonder where God is in all of this.
Where is God?
Right in the thick of it all,
where people are suffering,
that is where God is found.
Even as God stands firm on the if,
God loves us and reaches out to us,
assuring us that we are at peace with God,
because in the words of Paul to the Romans,
“God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Jesus came into the world
in a time when neighbors were extremely cheap,
and he came to the people who were the cheapest.
he gave them hope by proclaiming the kingdom of God come near,
he gave them dignity by curing every disease and sickness he came across,
he felt sick to his stomach
when he saw how they were being treated
and how they had no one to speak for them,
so he empowered some of their own to continue his work.
He proclaimed a peace different than that of the Roman Empire,
whose peace was built on cheap neighbors
and whose emperors styled themselves Lord and savior.
Jesus’ peace is built on the reconciliation between creator and creation,
and God does the heavy lifting in the relationship
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly”
and through this act of grace
offers us peace with God,
which we receive through our faith.
Over the centuries
people have tried to explain exactly how this works,
how Christ’s crucifixion made peace for us with God,
and frankly, all the explanations fall short
but we trust that what God promises is true,
because our God is a God who keeps promises,
who refuses to be domesticated
even when the consequences of promise keeping are painful
and who continues to love and be present in the midst of the pain.
Jesus is God’s recognition
that we need help living in God’s costly world
especially because it is through us
that God works to transform the world.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit,
we are God’s hands in the world,
so the only way that our neighbors will go from cheap to valued
is if we value them,
the only way that people who are suffering
will know that God is with them
is if we are with them,
the only way that people will get medical care
is if we give it to them,
the only way that people will know that God loves them
is if we love them.
And here we are back to that little two letter word
and the unspoken other side,
if we don’t they won’t.
It is costly to live in God’s world,
Paul recognizes that,
in the midst of his expounding on the glorious gift of God
he mentions suffering.
the suffering he talks about
is the suffering that comes
when the world reacts to people who dare to live as God calls them,
who value neighbors and call others to do the same,
and dare to hope that through them
God is transforming the world
one helping action at a time
We are God’s chosen people
Claimed by God at our baptisms
so we stand firm in the knowledge that
“since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Amen
Brueggeman, Walter. The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness (Minneapolis: Fortress press) 1996.
 Brueggeman, 70.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.