Sermon for 3rd Sunday in Lent 4th March 2018

SERMON for 3rd Sunday in Lent 4.3.18

Exodus 20: 1-17 Psalm 19: 7-end  1 Corinthians 1: 18-25  John 2: 13-22

 

How would you design people to live in harmony and look after the world?

Artificial Intelligence which is gaining momentum, suggests that electronic systems are increasingly able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence – such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. 

2 big questions here are,

When does an intelligent robot become a human being?  And can ethical and spiritual components be inbuilt – and if so, by whom and with whose standards?

 

The Nazis tried to manufacture a super race, and of course, it had all been done before in the sense that many races and Emperors declared themselves supreme and exerted their dominance over others.

So when Jesus comes on the scene, with his design for living, the leading secular powers - the Roman Empire, the Greek philosophers, and the leading rulers of the Jewish religion - all write Jesus off:

to the Romans, Jesus was just an executed criminal from a despised race;  they were not interested; it was just ridiculous

to the Greeks, Jesus didn’t make sense – just foolishness;

to the Jews Jesus was a scandal;  they wanted nothing to do with a messiah who was shamed by a common criminal’s death by crucifixion.

What sense was there in such weakness? 

Surely it was complete folly?

But if they were discerning and reflective, the Romans, the Greeks and the Jews could have seen the wise grace of forgiveness and reconciliation.

For, actually, the weakness and folly of Jews, Greeks and Romans, was shown up by the death of Christ.

 

The design of human nature needs to recognise our spiritual well-being – particularly our need for reconciliation -  as well as our intelligence and physical needs.

The Romans, (and many individuals today,) go with the philosophy of the ‘survival of the fittest’:  you develop and get on if you are superior to others.  Might becomes right, whatever the Roman gods say.

Where does that leave the weak and simple?  Written off.

The Greeks wrote off the weak and simple because they claimed superior intelligence was needed to solve the mysteries of ethics and religion.

Many Jews thought that a clear set of laws would ensure the safety of society, and rightful worship of God. 

But how can laws be kept perfectly? 

Does the law not become such a burden that spirits are broken and despairing, written off?

Jesus and St. Paul are clear: trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, is the way of dealing with human beings!: 

Christ Jesus died for us – nothing can beat that! 

It is the wisest and most powerful design for individuals and societies.

Where in Roman thinking was the place for repentance and forgiveness?  Surely that would be a sign of weakness!

Where in Greek philosophy could failures be transformed?

And why, the Jews asked, would we need a Saviour if we have such good laws?  - we can live and be judged by them. 

 

Paul often challenged his hearers on this:  choose which you prefer:  to live up to the standards of the 10 Commandments, or to trust Jesus for your failures to do this?

 

God’s wisdom in choosing Jesus to take our sins, inviting us to receive forgiveness, is the most powerful force in the whole world:  it’s the power of love, not of might. 

And it is the wisest and greatest motivation there is to forgive and love others as we have been loved and forgiven ourselves.

 

The Gospel Reading today of Jesus clearing the temple, is an acted-out illustration of God’s plan for people and planet.

He’s at the Temple in Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish religious authority, the place of law and authority.

And he overturns the whole system of perverted justice:  the extortionate temple taxes could not buy forgiveness for those who had broken the law;  even for those who could pay up, there was no guarantee of a cleansed/free conscience nor any commitment and strength to prevent a return time and time again for the same old sins.

Notice that Jesus drove out the animals that were there for sacrifice:  who needs animals when The Lamb of God is available and willing to die for us?

It was the Gentiles’ court that had been filled up with the market stalls: The Lamb of God was now available to them too – including the Romans and Greeks and Jews, and us!

God stooped so low that everyone could connect

 

And Jesus goes on to drive home the truth of God’s wisdom and strength in sending Jesus to die for us. 

He declares that no longer will the Jerusalem Temple be the focus of meeting with God; he himself will be that place:  those who come to him, come to his Father God. 

And those who do, he invites to be living stones, building lives where his very own Holy Spirit can live – where He can work from the inside and out into the world.

 

Accepting this good news – that Jesus died for us – does not mean that we have to leave our brains outside the Church door! 

We are intelligent beings, created to love God and neighbour. 

I think it does mean we have to think through the ideas we live by – especially when we remember that Jesus raised the bar even of the 10 Commandments:

Not only are we to worship the one true God – we are to love him with all that we have.

Not only are we forbidden to murder, we are not to hate;

No adultery, nor any lust; no stealing, nor anything by ill-gotten gains;

No false testimony, and no economy of the truth or gossip;

No coveting and no jealousy.

 

 

Not only,

Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

But, Jesus puts it even more strongly:  do to others what we would like them to do to us.

 

So, can we live with a clear conscience?  Probably not.

But we can have a conscience forgiven and free.

And we can have the help of the Holy Spirit, not to condemn us, but to save us – save us from a wasted life, save us from a downward spiral.  And in its place to give us a life with purpose because he calls and chooses all sorts of people – weak and strong, intelligent and simple - including you and me, all because Jesus died for us.

 

 


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