We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lent 3, Year B – March 3, 2024

I.Theme –  Old and new covenants

"Moses with the Ten Commandments" – Rembrandt, 1659

The lectionary readings are here or individually:

Old Testament – Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm – Psalm 19 Page 606, BCP
Epistle –1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Gospel – John 2:13-22

Commentary by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell:

We continue to recall the covenants of God with the people, remembering the promises of old. We have remembered the covenants of God with Noah and all of creation, between God and Abraham and Sarah and their family, and now God’s new covenant with the people journeying out of Egypt to be their God in Exodus. God’s covenant requires that the people live in community, and these “ten best ways” (a phrase I borrow from the curriculum Godly Play) are part of that covenant, what the people have to do on their end to uphold the covenant. As we know, the covenant is larger than this, and there are over 600 law codes in Exodus and Leviticus on how the people of Moses’ day were required to live in community with each other, but these ten are the ones that have stood the test of time and have become a part of even our secular society. We remember most of all that to be part of God’s family, we have to be in community with each other.

Psalm 19 is a song of praise about creation and God’s covenant. The writer delights in the law of the Lord–in following God’s law, the psalmist knows he is part of the faithful community, part of God’s family–this is beautiful to the psalmist. The writer desires to be in the company of the faithful to God, and sings the beauty of the laws and ordinances.

John 2:13-22 extends the idea of the faithful community to within and beyond the walls of the Temple. When Jesus enters the temple and sees all sorts of animals being sold for the sacrifices, the temple priests making money off of those coming to exchange for the temple currency, his anger is kindled. In the other three Gospels Jesus turns over the tables, but in John’s Gospel (in which this event happens much earlier, on a first trip to Jerusalem, not the week Jesus is killed as it is in the other Gospels), Jesus makes a whip of cords and drives out the moneychangers and sellers. Jesus desires to end all boundaries to relationship with God. No longer will the poor, who do not have the money for the temple currency or to afford the clean animals for the sacrifice, be turned away, and no longer will those in the temple appear to have special access to God. The temple of God will no longer be in stone, but in Christ, and in our very selves, the body of Christ. No longer will there be arbitrary separation based on human standards, but all who believe will be in relationship with God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 is the famous discourse of Paul, that we proclaim Christ crucified. The new covenant in Christ is not written on tablets of stone or seen in a bow in the clouds, but is written in our hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed. But more importantly, the new covenant is one in which death is no more. The cross is a stumbling block to those for whom the Messiah was supposed to avoid death. The cross is foolish to those who have had gods defy death. Instead, the cross calls us to put to death the sin within us, and to work to end sin in the world. But death itself is not something to be feared, because death has no power over us. The new covenant is new life–here and to come.

The new covenant, which is emerging in the Lenten passages this season, ends all separation from God. The covenant with Noah and all creation ensures that days and seasons, the passing of years, will never cease. The covenant with Abraham and Sarah promises a family of God that will endure for generations. The covenant with Moses and the people at Sinai ensures a community of faith, the family of God, participation with each other and relationship with God. But Christ calls forth a greater covenant, one in which there are no boundaries that can be drawn on earth or by any power to separate us from God’s love, and that by being the body of Christ, we are the temple for God, that cannot be destroyed because we have the promise of eternal life in Christ.

II. Summary

First Reading –  Exodus 20:1-17

Commentary by Paul S Nancarrow at "Process and Faith"

God’s covenant with Israel delivered through Moses, the third in the series of covenants related in the First Testament readings for Lent, increases the specificity introduced in last week’s reading. The covenant with Noah embraced all humanity; the covenant with Abraham and Sarah extended to a multitude of nations and peoples; the covenant through Moses is with one nation, one distinctive people, who are called to a distinctive way of life in the world.

The giving of the Ten Commandments marks the starting point of Israel as a self-defining community. They form a covenant between God and Israel but, unlike God’s agreements with Noah and Abraham, here both parties have a stake in it, and either can break it. (In the earlier covenants, God acts and promises but the recipients passively receive – although they do have obligations.)

The human side of this covenant is spelled out in the Torah, here summarized in the Ten Commandments. The divine side of the covenant is also summarized in this passage, mostly in the “asides” and glosses to the commandments. In the first place, the God of this covenant is “the Lord,” YHWH, who identified to Moses as “I am who I am” or “I am the one who is” or “I am the one who causes to be” — not so much a name as a description, not so much a proper noun as a statement of freedom to be creative. It is this Free Creativity who covenants to be “your God,” the center of value and worship for this people. Moreover, this is the God who brought the people “out of the house of slavery,” creating new possibilities for freedom out of the evil of bondage and oppression; this specifies the God of creative freedom as also the God of creative transformation.

The divine side of this covenant also includes future provision for the people: this is the God who is “giving” the people a land in which their “days may be long” and their prosperity empowered. Also for the future, the divine side of the covenant commits to “punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The note of punishment sounds harsh to modern, progressive ears; it is worth observing that the promise of steadfast love is orders of magnitude greater than the threat of punishment, and that both steadfast love and punishment are implied in the call to “be blameless” issued to Abraham in his covenant and now made more specific with Moses.

The core value in all of these ten commandments is fidelity: the Torah, the human side of the covenant, is designed to guide the transformed people in building relationships with God and with each other that are faithful, steadfast, just, and reflective of the integrity of both self and other. The prohibitions on murder, theft, adultery, falsehood, and covetousness are not just principles for social regulation, but are specific ways of regarding the integrity of the other as a center of value and intention, and not depriving the other of the things that pertain to that integrity; in other words, they are instructions for fidelity.

In this way human relationships are meant to mirror the relationality of God, whose steadfast love sustains the people, and whose love is respected in worshiping one deity, in refusing to limit the divine with images, in honoring the divine Name, and in keeping the Sabbath as a remembrance of the goodness of all God’s creation. The covenant with Israel through Moses, with its human side in Torah and its divine side in being the God of Exodus and Promised Land, is both more exclusive and more revealing: exclusive in that it is meant for one chosen people out of all the families of the earth; revealing in that it gives a much more detailed picture of the character of God’s steadfastness and the qualities of human fidelity that can represent God’s steadfastness. How that revelation is “re-inclusivized” for all peoples is one of the consistent themes of New Testament preaching, as for example in the passage from 1 Corinthians below.

Psalm –   Psalm 19 Page 606, BCP

Commentary by Paul S Nancarrow at "Process and Faith"

The Psalm for today falls neatly into two parts: the first, vss 1-6, a hymn of awe and wonder for the beauties of astronomy, and the second, vss 7-14, a song of praise for the Torah. This second part of the Psalm thus reflects the Exodus reading, giving thanks to God for the Law that lays out the human side of the covenant that brings right relationship with the God of creative transformation. When coupled with the first part of the poem, the praise for Torah is set in the wider context of praise for creation, effectively linking God’s power as Creator with God’s power to empower human co-creation in the transformation of life. 

Epistle –   1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Commentary by Paul S Nancarrow at "Process and Faith"

Having heard that there are “quarrels” (v. 11) among Christians at Corinth, Paul has urged them to be “united in … mind and … purpose.” (v. 10) Some claim allegiance to him, others to Apollos, to Cephas, or to Christ. He is thankful that he baptised very few there. because “no one can say that you were baptised in my name” (v. 15), for Christ sent him to Corinth to “proclaim the gospel …” (v. 17).

This passage strikes a universalist tone, in contradistinction to the Exodus reading, especially in noting that the good news about Jesus transcends and includes the messages sought by both “Jews” and “Greeks.” These terms might be taken here not so much as identifiers of specific ethnic/cultural groups, as indicators of types of religious expectations. “Jews demand signs,” Paul says: they represent a religious orientation that is focused on mighty acts of God, demonstrations of God’s power such as those connected with the Escape from Egypt that stand at the head of the Ten Commandments. “Greeks desire wisdom,” on the other hand, which in the first century included everything from moral philosophy to practical skill to thaumaturgical techniques; to desire wisdom was to desire a means to direct energies and effect ends in the world.

“Signs” and “wisdom” both, therefore, indicate power — and that is why neither “Jews” nor “Greeks” as such are able to accept Paul’s proclamation of “Christ crucified” and the ultimate powerlessness that entails. The lack of power revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross can only be a scandal and a folly to those whose main orientation is to some form of power. But to those who can transcend that orientation, the message of Christ is both “the power of God and the wisdom of God”: set in the larger context of God’s purpose of creative transformation, the powerlessness of crucifixion serves to break the cycle of violence and prepare the possibility of resurrection.

Accepting the scandal and folly and failure of death, and bringing forth from that wreckage the potential of a new dimension of life, is the definitive manifestation of God’s way of dealing with evil not by destroying it but by transforming it, as elaborated in the covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. This new covenant in Christ is available to all — both Jews and Greeks — who are “called” and are “being saved.” This call is not specified to a single ethnic or cultural group, but is extended to anyone who can set aside their own expectations of power and give their heart to the proclamation of Christ.

Gospel –  John 2:13-22

Commentary by Paul S Nancarrow at "Process and Faith"

Jesus drives the dealers in livestock and the money changers from the Temple precincts, saying, Do not turn my Father’s house into a market. Challenged by onlookers for an explanation and proof of what he was claiming, he proposes they destroy the building, still, after 46 years being incomplete, and he would rebuild it in three days. John interprets Jesus as here referring to his own body.

The Synoptic gospels place the cleansing of the Temple near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, and make it one of the key moments in Jesus’ few days in Jersusalem that particularly angers the Temple authorities and leads them to seek his death. John changes the meaning of this incident drastically, by placing it at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, occurring during the first of three trips to Jerusalem Jesus will make, and by explicitly linking it to Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection.

One of the recurring motifs in John’s Gospel is that Jesus includes and transcends key symbols of Jewish faith and practice, re-signifying them as aspects of the abundant life of his own filial relationship to God, and offering them as aspects of abundant life that his followers can come to know through sharing the relationship he himself has with God. That motif is introduced in John’s Gospel for the first time in this passage, when Jesus uses the Temple as a figure of speech for his own body. The Temple is the place where God promises to make the Name to dwell (eg, 1 Kings 8:13); but Jesus is the place where the Word of God becomes flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14); and this new personal dwelling-place for the Name of God both reinforces and changes the meaning of the Temple building.

It is changed because the Temple now points beyond itself to a living dwelling-place, but it is reinforced in that the Temple serves as an enduring reminder of God’s intention and desire to be incarnate among the people. It is because of the enduring significance of God’s desire to be present in the people that Jesus cannot accept the business-as-usual behavior of the money-changers and sacrifice-sellers within the Temple precincts. They are on holy ground, and they are themselves called to be holy people, and of this the Temple is meant to be an enduring reminder, but they treat the Temple as nothing more than a place to pursue their trades and make their profits; they lack the “zeal for God’s house” that is in Jesus, and that ought to be in every Jew, and for this reason Jesus drives them out.

Only zeal for God’s presence, at first focused on the Temple and then focused even more on Jesus, can motivate the keeping of the human side of the covenant, and its call for co-creative transformation of life, that comes through Moses and Abraham and Noah. For the contemporary interpreter, the call of the gospel reading is to be mindful of God’s presence in churches and temples and places of business and, most especially, in the lives of human beings, so as to move beyond business-as-usual motivations in our dealings, and to act instead with the compassion and generosity and abundant life that can transform the world.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old TestamentExodus 20:1-17

PsalmPsalm 19  

Epistle  – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 

Gospel  – John 2:13-22