Sermon III Sunday Lent.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Ps 19:4

I don’t want to preach on this passage. It would be much easier to give a “Jesus is not a wimp” sermon and preach on the gospel. But the first passage from Exodus gives us the motivation for Christ driving the moneychangers out of the temple.

They offended right worship, and offended God, for they were taking a profit out of God.

And God wants our entire worship, both private and public. Let us consider the text for today.

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 a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Ex 20: 2-6

What does this mean? The commentators talk about rejecting superstitions or traditions that got in the way of worshipping God. We should be not adding to his commands, or subtracting.

Let us then understand, after all, that those alone are accounted the legitimate worshippers of God who ... cleave to Him alone. John Calvin.

In this time, I would change Calvins comment to Mistrust those who preach spirituality. God does not care about our feelings of oneness with the cosmos. He cares about our trust in his words, and our obedience to his commands.

And I have no doubt that the merchants in the temple thought they we highly spiritual.

So why do we need these commandments? Were we not taught that you should love the LORD with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself, and all the laws fall from this?

For some will say that the commandments no longer have relevance, or that there was an evolution in the understanding of the Israelites. That the gospel can change, as society progresses: indeed there are some who demand that it does change.

As if we, the created, can control the creator. And there are consequences to this. An early translation of the Torah is into Chaldee or Babylonian and consequences of worshiping our own handiwork is there written in a way that challenges me as a father.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God and an avenger, punishing with vengeance, recording the guilt of wicked fathers upon rebellious children unto the third and unto the fourth generation of them who hate Me; but keeping mercy and goodness for thousands of generations of the righteous who love Me, and who keep My commandments and My laws.

Robyn and I come from two lines of believing parents and grandparents and great grandparents. But not all the children of the grandparents had a saving faith, nor all of our parents children. I pray that is not the case with our children. And the children of our great uncles, aunts, sisters and brothers who rejected Christ fall further away from him. The grief their parents have we feel. For their children rebel, and the parents find that cultural Christianity is the form of a religion (which they rejected) without any power.

For the faithful God will preserve for generation to generation, but the ungodlly parents train their children not in the ways of righteousness but in the ways of sin.

Which matters. For if you sin, you are a slave to sin.

They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, 'You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word

You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God." John 8:33-37, 44-47

Which brings me to the second point: Mistrust those who preach tolerance. Tolerance is the new idol: we are not to talk about Christ and the Cross, let alone sin or repentance, because we have to be inclusive and welcoming. There is a need to be hospitable, to bring people into church, but there is an agenda around this.

When we come to the word of God we will all be confronted with our sin. We will have a bleak choice. Continue with our evil habits or repent. This is continual – Paul talked about wanting to do good but doing evil, and though he calls himself the chief of sinners he has nothing on me.

Those who say that we should celebrate our vices and evil as a sign of inclusiveness have made something apart from God that which they cling to.

You may notice that I have not talked much about graven images. In both the Western and Eastern church, there is a tradition of sacred art: be it the ikons or Bach’s high mass. There is an anti-tradition of ikon smashing and a reduction of the high art as well.

And this can lead to problems. When we on holiday we found ourselves walking out of a church service. The worship was being done with the idea that we could amp ourselves up as if it was a rock concert and this was worship. I should add that the teaching in that church is solid, but they found themselves worshiping worship and not the creator. I have seen the same thing with some liturgies… and liturgies are generally good.

So this leads to my final comment. Mistrust those who over value the forms of worship. It is important – an imperative command – to meet together. At times I turn up not because I’m emotionally wanting worship – or indeed to meet with anyone, but as an act of obedience. For this I know: there are those in every church who worship what we have made and do and not the God for which it is made.

And this is a lot more subtle.

Let instead, the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in the sight of God and a witness that brings people to Christ.

Beginning with me.

Amen.