GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Economy of God - 03/07/2021

I heard a passionate retelling of our Exodus reading of God’s covenantal law handed down to us through Moses. The comments were made by the Rev. Dr. Joy J. Moore, who is an African American preaching professor over at Luther Seminary.

She framed the reading in a way that firmly planted it in the ears of those who do not feel free – like the newly liberated Hebrew people Moses was leading when he came down that holy mountain, tablets balanced in the crooks of his arms. Or perhaps even in the enslaved grandparents and ancestors of Dr. Moore herself; or some of us who have felt trapped or overwhelmed by disease, loss, hunger, isolation, our sin, the transgressions of another, etc., etc.

She said what this story speaks to those ears is not another set of laws like those so-often imposed by human rulers and institutions. Rather the ten commandments are a way of life given by this covenantal God who just will not give up on us.

Dr. Moore said this is God speaking freedom to these ears: you are free to worship me and no one else, God offers. You are free from making images and idols of me because I have already done that. You are made in my image. You are free to honor your ancestors and heritage, even if others are dismissive of them or try to erase them.

Imagine what it must be like for the ears of the enslaved, the trapped, the overwhelmed to hear this way of life from God. Maybe you can imagine it quite vividly. And then imagine what it must be to discover there is more!

Because of this freedom, you are also free to believe that what God has given you is enough, and you do not need to take from another, or live steeped in jealousy and bitterness, coveting what someone else has.

This is incredible liberation! I think we tend to gloss over the astounding nature of this liberation. The story of Moses and the ten commandments is familiar to many of us. Many of us have not experienced what it is to be truly enslaved or oppressed by something. And so, it might become easy to hear this story again and not realize how radical it is; we may not detect the way it shakes the ground beneath our very feet – the feet of the oppressed as well as the feet of whatever or whoever oppresses them.

I also think it is helpful to hear Dr. Moore’s retelling of this story as we wrestle with this rather challenging gospel reading from John. It’s a human side of Jesus we don’t see very much. He is explosive, aggressive in speech and action. It’s easy to get distracted by that and interpret it with a broad brushstroke. We might think Jesus was acting against preparation and worship at the temple, or the festival, or even that Jesus was acting against the multitudes of Jewish people who were also there.

But I would suggest pushing past these kinds of broad strokes. Jesus, and the estimated million other faithful Jews were in Jerusalem for a time of preparation, very much like how we are in a time of preparation at Lent, and as we move closer to the uncertainty and scandal of Holy Week and the glory of the Resurrection Sunday that always follows. Jesus and the others came early to make offerings and prepare for the Passover meal.

And do you remember what our Jewish siblings mark at each Passover? It is when they retell and re-enact the story of the night the final plague passed over the houses of the faithful and enslaved Hebrews but killed the first born of every other living thing in Egypt. It was the night Pharoah finally relented and released the Hebrews from captivity; the same Hebrews who are receiving God’s covenantal law, God’s covenantal way of life as Moses comes down from the mountain in our reading today.

This is sacred memory for the Jews and Jesus was there to remember it with his community, to give thanks and praise to God for bringing them out of Egypt and to the promised land.

Jesus, like so many others, and much like we are today, was faithful, one of God’s beloved, making a sacred pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem for Passover. The idea he was anti-law or anti-temple, or anti-Jewish just doesn’t hold water.

But imagine that you are the descendant of the liberated Hebrews Dr. Moore so helpfully points us to – imagine you are of a people who hears this law, this way of life, that frees instead of enslaves; a way of life that delivers God’s abundance like no small “g” god ever could.

Imagine that you are of a people who God never gives up on, no matter how many times they wander from the covenant; no matter how many times they must be invited back to God’s ten commandment way of life.

And imagine you make your pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the highest festival of the year, and you are stopped in your tracks by people profiteering and exploiting your Passover needs. First you must visit the money changers because you can only use temple currency to buy an animal for your burnt offering and pay your temple taxes. And guess who controlled the exchange rates? If you were wealthy, you might purchase a perfect bull to offer up as a sacrifice to God, but for most, a perfect little dove was all they could afford with a few sacrificial coins.

The merchants and money changers and temple authorities who condoned it all had turned the pilgrims and their faithfulness into an economic engine, where it should have looked and felt more like a sacred time of preparation.

Apparently, it got on Jesus’ last nerve, and the one who we know to turn our world upside down literally turned the temple upside down, he unseated the money changers and chased off the animals and merchants.

“Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” yells the whip-wielding Savior of the Cosmos.

Jesus’ behavior here is unusual and maybe even alarming. It’s also consistent with his overall criticism and warnings about the inclusive and abundant economy of God being made small and stingy by people.

And so, here’s something we might think and pray about in Lent – our annual time of preparation … here’s something we might think and pray about as we slowly and very hopefully begin to come back into cautious gatherings …

… how have we made God’s economy small and stingy?

Do we knowingly or unknowingly put obstacles, conditions, expectations or judgments between someone or some people and their experiences of the joy of God’s presence in our worship and praise?

When we say, “All are welcome,” do we really mean “all” the way Jesus does?

When we say, “Come as you are,” do we mean, like … “no matter where you are in your faith journey, no matter your belief or unbelief, come as you are and see for yourself?” Or do we mean something smaller?

When we ourselves come to worship, here in person or through the gift of virtual attendance, do we really get out of the way and let this story of Jesus work on us continually and deeply? Do we truly expect that in our worship and praise, in our Lenten preparations, in our survival of the pandemic – do we truly expect that God has and does change and inspire us profoundly?

Or do we make even ourselves and our worship something smaller than it would be in God’s economy?

As we make our way to Holy Week and the retelling and re-enacting of the Passion of the Lord, do we just carry on like nothing much has changed? Like we don’t see the enormity of God’s economy for the liberation of everything in the Risen Christ? – or do we make that somehow small and stingy too?

In our time of preparation for Holy Week, for the Resurrection that faithfully follows, for the end of pandemic, it’s something we might think and pray about. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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