Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. You shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 

Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof)

Exodus 20:8-11

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

We live in a world that is busy. Busy with work. Work that needs to be done to live, work that seems fruitless yet we are bound to it for reasons we know or may not know, work that seems to take life out of us. Perhaps even as you come to worship there is work that feels like an obligation, a burden. Oh how we need rest, rest physically, rest for our heart and soul. God constitutes rest as part of our life for it is holy and sacred. And in Jesus, God makes a way for peace that is the essence of rest. Where striving ceases and creativity thrives, where survival gives way to abundance.  I invite you now to take a moment to reflect prayerfully. A slide will come up on the screen to guide you.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. You shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 

Song: ‘This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made’

Welcome and Notices:

Praying the Psalm:

In this part of the service we pray a psalm together. We listen in on the story from which the psalm arises in order to pray these words for us and for the world. We will pray the concluding section of Psalm 19 together. Before we do, I will provide some background.

This section of the psalm praises the law of God. What may be surprising is the way the law of God is praised. It is praised as life giving, delightful and sweet. In other words, the intention of the law of God is not for legalistic purposes. Legalism is contrary to God’s purposes. Perhaps a better way to understand the law of God is to think of it as God’s way for life, the way for life that gives wisdom and insight. This is why the psalm eagerly invites God to see into faults hidden away without shame or fear. For God invites us just as we are so that we may have life.

People of God, how do you understand God to be? How do you understand God’s intention behind the laws of life, God’s way for life? Do you feel you must live up to the standards God sets? Are you burdened by the feeling of needing to get things right and proper? Let us meditate on God’s way for life that we see in Jesus.  For in him, we shall see that Grace is grace, freely given, which was won for us through his life.

Let us pray the psalm together. Please respond with the words in bold.

Psalm 19:7-14 (abridged for worship)

The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,

   making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,

   enlightening the eyes;
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover by them is your servant warned;
   in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.    

Prayer for others:

We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]:

Offering and Dedication Prayer:

Song:All That I Am’

Scripture: John 2:13-22 reading from the New Revised Standard Version

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Sermon Reflection: As a youngster, I used to believe something that defiled something that was sacred. Once I used to believe that my parents looked after me because they are responsible for me. I used to say things like, “Parent and child, it’s part of the contract that I had no say in. So, of course, they have to look after me!” I have since matured to realise how foolish I’ve been. More recently, I have had an opportunity to understand this more deeply. Now that I am a parent myself, as I am wakened up by Naomi’s cry in the middle of the night once again (after the last three times) for a split second, I catch myself thinking, why am I doing this?

Of course, we have laws of the land and human rights that makes me obligated to look after Naomi. But really, laws are there to protect rather than to make us want to protect. Protection is an expression of love. However, obligation, legalism, has nothing to do with love. In that split second, I didn’t consider the law. I did consider how this seemed all unfair and how I didn’t sign up for this. During the day, as I am looking after Naomi, as we are playing together, as I am hugging my daughter and I am hugged by her, for a split second, which feels like an eternity that expands the space of my heart, this is why I get up at the ungodly hour. Law protects, desire motivates so that love is true.

I want us to explore this sometimes dichotomy between law and love. I want us to ponder this prayerfully together, as we humbly listen to the voice of God, in the words that I humbly bring, and the sincere meditation of your hearts as invited by God and led by the Holy Spirit, in and through Christ Jesus the true Word of God.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel, takes us to a scene of a real drama. Jesus – like his fellow Jews – makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to participate in the Feast of Passover. The Passover is the largest of the Jewish religious festivals. It is celebrated to remember God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, from their affliction and bondage. This was the beginning of the formation of the nation of God’s people, set aside to be a blessing to the nations. Every nation requires a constitution of sorts, well, for the people of God, the Ten Commandments was given through Moses.

The celebration of Passover drew great numbers of pilgrims throughout the country to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was the epicentre of Judaism. With the pilgrims arriving and leaving, the whole city swelled with those wanting to observe the religious practice of devotion to God as it was their custom. Jesus enters the temple, he sees “merchants bustle among their animals, moneychangers busily exchange coins, and pilgrims perusing the stalls, bartering with the tradespeople and seeking priests to complete sacrificial rituals.”

If you find it difficult to imagine the hustle and bustle, perhaps imagine yourself going to Ballentynes for Christmas shopping – finding parking (if you can) going into the mall to the sound of carols, going to the shops that promises to deliver the joy of the festivity, whether it’s a bargain or luxury. Once you have selected your gift, you take out your plastic and wave it to pay, while it is carefully wrapped up for your convenience and for the delight of the recipient of your gift. With the bags of gifts digging into your hands, there is a sense of satisfaction – participating in our custom of Christmas celebration.

Though a world apart, what is remarkably similar is that both celebrations rely heavily on the marketplace. This is Jesus’ critique. I want us to fully appreciate the significance of this critique of Jesus. And to aid this, I want to highlight something for you. Many of you would know another version of this story from other Gospel writers in the Bible. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell this story too. And there Jesus uses a famous line comparing the temple that is supposed to be a house of prayer which had turned into “the den of thieves.” But here in John the emphasis falls on something different.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke (21:12-13; 11:15-19, 19:45-48), Jesus is concerned for “temple malpractice” This is indicated by Jesus’ condemnation of “thieves.” The concern largely falls on those who are benefiting through dishonest gain. However, in John, Jesus would not have his Father’s house made a marketplace. What’s startling about this is that for the temple system to survive, the ordered transactions of a marketplace were essential.

The temple relied on the market practice itself to continue its existence and providing religious service. “The temple had to function as a place of exchange for maintaining and supporting the [structures of making sacrifices] for preserving a relationship with God.” Well, in John, by criticizing the marketplace that allows the temple system to exist, Jesus envisions an overhaul of the temple system – it is a call for a wholesome re-imagination of the religious practice.

So what is the marketplace? The marketplace is a place of bargaining, a place of profiting, a place of making ends meet – a place of work, a place of burden, a place where we are valued not for who we are but for what we can spend. Market profits, by dividing up the society into classes of people. Branding people and through it giving status. Through branding those who pay more are given a sense of prestige and those who pay less for a cheaper brand given a sense of bargain. In doing so, a gulf is created through socioeconomic line where the rich receives honour and the poor ashamed. What’s underwriting it all is the rule – you receive what you pay, you have a right to demand because you have paid. In other words, the relationship that is fostered here is transactional.

Can you imagine needing to do all that is required of the market in order that we can gather and worship? Can you imagine the rule of the marketplace underwriting that which is sacred to us, our gathering for worship of God of Jesus Christ? Can you imagine our relationship with God being transactional? Can you imagine our relationship with one another being transactional? What might this look like in our church if it existed? I have heard of stories from ministers being confronted by a rich donor threatening to stop their giving unless the type of music they like are sung. But also I have heard phrases used in churches like “he does so much for the church” as a rationale for a special attention. I have also heard phrases like “I feel inadequate to come to worship.” Such misconceived understanding of God and how God relates to us is soul destroying.

The pilgrims went to the Temple to give thanks to God and to reconnect with God. They were well meaning. They believed they were participating in meaningful religious practice. What else could they do but participate in the way provided to them through the temple and through the religious authorities? Yet through it a further burden was added to them when worship of God was always given to us as a gift for a true rest. As we began our worship today, God invites us to God’s way for life by practicing Sabbath, by practicing holy day, holy pause from all that demands obligation from us, that drains life out of us through transactional way of relating to God and one another.

This is why Jesus enters the temple. Jesus does not enter the temple to play a blame game, to point the finger. Rather Jesus enters the temple in order to redirect the devotion of the people to God whose purpose for us is to find true rest, true peace, that sense of wholeness with God, within ourselves and with our neighbour. Jesus enters the temple so that we take God’s way for life into the barrenness of the marketplace that demeans relationship between God and us, between one another into transactional responsibility.

Jesus comes to free us from the chains of the marketplace that bind us to values and customs that put demands of obligation on us. Jesus comes to cut the ties between our religion and the marketplace that mutually benefit from relying on each other at the cost of compromising the essence of our worship. Jesus comes to our temple of worship so that our worship is reliant on God rather than on the back of our work of the marketplace. Why? So that the love we experience is a holy love, truely and freely given. Jesus comes to the temple of our hearts so that our wants and desires are not determined by the market practices and values that demand obligation but determined by love for God and for one another that breaks down every wall that keep us apart and bridges every gulf to bring us together.

Friends, what do you rely on when you come to worship? What do you rely on when you seek God in your life? What do we consider is necessary for worship right and proper? Perhaps another important question is, what demands or obligations do we place upon ourselves or are put on us by others or by our religious culture in order to worship God? In Jesus, I hear God coming to us to say, “Just you wait, I will come to you”. In Jesus, God comes near to us to give us true rest from all our strivings and the burden of work that we believe to be necessary to reach God. True rest that comes from knowing the love God pours on us in Jesus is freely given, no strings attached, yet love so true and holy that we will love God and our neighbour because we want to, rather than because we must. God loves us because God desires us.  This is the love by which our lives will bring rest and peace to ourselves and to our neighbour. Amen.

Song: ‘My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less’

Sharing the Peace of Christ: Peace of Christ be with you.

Song of Sending: ‘Now As We Go’


The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Love of God

The Communion of the Holy Spirit

Be with us all now and forever. Amen