15 March 2009/Lent 3B * Exodus 20:1-17/Psalm 19/John 2:13-22
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
The Meditation of My Heart
Psalm 19 holds today’s lessons all together. It is all in tension – the glory of God as seen in the created universe versus the glory of God revealed in Torah. We tend to translate Torah as “law,” but it can also mean “direction” or “teaching.” It might be better to say that the Ten Words – the Ten Commandments - is not a bunch of rules so much as it is proclamation from God’s own mouth as to who God is and how those of us created in the image of God are to be.
So the Psalm begins by directing our attention to the “handiwork” of God. Can we even begin to imagine the immensity of it all? Something like a billion universes out there, of which we reside in only one. To get the sense of it, a billion looks something like this. If one were to plant 1000 tulip bulbs every day since the day Jesus was born, you would need to continue planting 1000 per day for 750 more years to get to a billion. Or, think of it in terms of setting aside 1000 dollars a day for 2759 years to reach one billion dollars! We have developed a somewhat jaundiced view of all this what with billions of dollars being lost, and billions of dollars being given away. All in the name of what? Covetousness might be the right answer.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the current economic melt-down it would be that there has been abject disregard for the Tenth Commandment. We ought to note that it is the only commandment of the Ten repeated twice: “You shall not covet….you shall not covet.” In ancient literature such repetition means, “Alert! Pay special attention to this!!!”
Guess we forgot to pay attention and let our covetousness run wild. The danger now, of course, is that we begin to wish that Jesus and his whip of cords would return to smash his way up and down Wall Street with Hank Paulson and Bernie Madoff in tow!
But that would be to miss the true meaning of our Lord’s little demonstration at the Jerusalem Temple during the busiest time of the year – Passover – a time to remember that we were slaves liberated by the grace of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus so that we could enter into a covenant relationship based on the Ten Words. Now we find ourselves slaves to covetousness.
Which is why a little bit past the Ten Words God also commands The Passover so as not to forget who we are and whose we are. God knows how easy it is to forget: Just as easy as it is to forget that coveting – despite being the foundation of a consumer driven economy – is bad for us.
And Jesus is not upset with the need for money changers and the selling of unblemished animals for the appointed sacrifices. These were aids to visiting pilgrims. After all, who could hope to get a lamb all the way to Jerusalem from Galilee without it getting at least a little scuffed up? What he protests is the greed and covetousness that has turned “my Father’s House” as he calls it into a money making machine at the expense of poor people who were having a hard enough time staying in one place let alone getting ahead under the yoke of Rome’s military enforcement of oppressive taxation.
So Jesus is calling for a reform - a reform of the Temple customs. But as the inner edges of the text suggest, what really needs reform is the Church, His Body – which of course means that we who are by baptism His Body need to reform our ways. He seeks to raise us up.
Jesus and the Psalmist know that the Ten Words offer a way of being that is meant to help us remember how we are meant to live, and the pitfalls we are to avoid. How does the Psalmist put it? “The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul … the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes!” Who among us could not use a little more light? Who among us could benefit from a revival of the soul?
Note how the double warning against coveting is counter balanced by the commandment that takes up fully one-third of the entire Ten Commandment discourse – the command to observe Sabbath time. Sabbath was not about being religious and going to church. Sabbath offers an alternative way of being in a world driven by covetousness, profit and greed – to name just one of the Seven Deadly Sins(all of which depend on covetousness). The Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus knows that passion and covetousness cannot be vanquished by decree.
So God says in effect, “Do not covet anything that does not belong to you, do not covet anything belonging to your neighbor; rather, let me give you something that belongs to me. What is that something? A day – a day of rest, a day of no work, a day of no coveting, a day of gratitude, a day of prayer and meditation.”
May the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Sabbath time means to unplug from life as it is lived six days of the week – six days of coveting things of space – and instead learn to covet time spent only with God. Jesus and Psalm 19 issue a call to return to the Four Holy Habits: Daily Prayer and Study, Sabbath Time, Weekly Corporate Worship, and Tithing. Meditation and Contemplative prayer, Sabbath time with God, offers us a way out of a culture of Covetousness, which as we have seen in recent months and years is a problem for us all.
Rather than wishing revenge on Wall Street and Mr. Madoff, we might do better to join in this sonnet prayer of John Donne calling us to invite God in Christ into our hearts– the place which should be ordered with reverence appropriate to the dwelling place of God which is cluttered up with worldly ambitions, anxieties about our possessions, and designs to get the better of our neighbors:
Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me,and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped tower, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.