What I said a couple of weeks ago – 3rd Sunday of Lent

It was only while getting ready for the services tomorrow that I realised I had forgotten to post my last sermon which was two weeks ago now. Usually someone in the congregation reminds me, but this hasn’t happened on this occasion. Perhaps the sermon wasn’t that memorable and no-one wanted to read it again! Last week being Mothering Sunday I put together an interactive talk using Powerpoint so nothing to post.

Anyway, here is my sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Lent which I based on the psalm for the day.

Exodus 20.1-17; Psalm 19; John 2.13-22 I’m sure that all of you hear consider yourselves to be good, upright, law-abiding citizens, who would never wittingly break any laws or statutes currently in force. Even if you don’t always agree with them. Not even ever breaking the speed limit or trying to be creative with your tax return.

Of course – that rather depends on you knowing the law. Just in case you should want to brush up your knowledge of the law, to avoid inadvertently committing any  breaches, the British Library rather conveniently keeps copies of all the laws in force – you can go and consult them if you wish. Though I wouldn’t advise it. Apparently our general laws and statutes currently fill 358 volumes, while local laws and other private acts fill another 682 volumes. Adding in even more volumes containing statutory instruments that’s 104 shelves of the British Library for you to work your way through. However, this morning, to help you stay within the law, I’d just like to reminder you of some laws that are currently in force – I wouldn’t want you to inadvertently run foul of the authorities.

If you are Welsh you should avoid going to Chester during the hours of darkness. After the rebellion of Owen Glendower in 1403 the future Henry V order all Welsh people to be expelled. The ordinance states “No Welshman may enter the city before sunrise or stay after sunset on pain of decapitation.” The law has, amazingly, never been repealed. If you ever think about moving to Kidderminster, you should be aware that it is illegal to own a bath without a watertight plug.

If you go to Newmarket for the racing, whatever you do don’t sneeze in the street. A person going about the street with a head cold or distemper is liable to a fine. When this law was passed it wasn’t to protect other people but to stop the horses catching anything.

And in London it is illegal to hail a cab if you have the plague.

Ladies – if your thinking about a trip to Broadstairs mind how you dress. You can still be put in the stocks for showing your ankles in public. And since the 1405 Act requiring every village to have a set of stocks is still in force Thanet District Council re-installed stocks in Broadstairs a number of years ago.

And while not technically illegal, you are not allowed to die in the Houses of Parliament. If you do so, your body is removed and a death certificate isn’t issued until the body is outside. This is because historically Parliament is part of the Palace of Westminster, and anyone dying within the Palace of Westminster is entitled to have a state funeral.

Right! Having established clearly that, as Mr Bumble put it in Oliver Twist, the Law is an ass – let’s turn our focus to God’s Law.

It’s a good thing that God’s Law is a little easier to understand and remember than the Law of the Land. Today we are focussing on Psalm 19, which is one of a group known as Torah Psalms. These are psalms written in praise of God, the creator and lawgiver. The first five books of the Old Testament are known in Hebrew as the Torah, or ‘The Law’. But the broader concept of the Torah, which literally means teaching or guidance, includes the whole content of God’s revelation that we have in our Old Testament. Through the stories of Israel’s ancestors in the faith and the writings of prophets and historians, God’s nature and purposes are made known in the Law, or what the Israelites came to know as Torah. Through Torah Israel learns how to live in the covenant relationship that God has established with them. And the term implies not so much a legalistic adherence to a set of principles. Rather it implies that life is an ongoing relationship, as suggested by the term “teaching.” Psalm 19 uses several terms for the Law – decrees, precepts, commandments, ordinances – to remind us that the Law, God’s Law, is rich and varied.

The psalm begins with a riddle – what is it that tells of God’s glory without uttering a single word? The creation shows us who God is and what God wants us to be. The sun is not a god, as it was in some other religions, but points us to God the creator. The order of creation is unchanging – the sun rises and sets reliably each day. So God’s Law is certain and everlasting. Just as there is nothing hidden from the sun, so the Law illuminates and reveals. Like the sun the Law is life-giving. God’s Law, unlike the Law of the Land, is always a good thing and a pleasure to keep. It’s not meant to feel like a burden, like something that is there to be broken or to be got around somehow. God’s law brings rewards to the law-abiding. The psalmist describes God’s Law as sweeter than honey and that in keeping God’s laws there is great reward.

Okay, so what sort of reward might this be? Well, the psalmist is clearly not thinking of wealth or possessions, nor of a life free from trouble. It is more a description of how, when a person honours God’s Law, they deepen and strengthen their relationship with God, who gives life and wholeness. For that, ultimately, is what the Law is designed to do. When we fall short in honouring God’s Law, the psalmist reminds us to pray for God’s forgiveness because God is our strength and our redeemer. Now, the word redeemer is, in the original Hebrew, a word that implies kinship – a family relationship. God is close in relationship with us and can deliver us from the consequences of not following in his ways. When we think of the Law, God’s Law, perhaps the first thing we are reminded of is that central portion of the Torah, the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai and the Ten Commandments. They are described as the words that God spoke to the people of Israel after delivering them from slavery in Egypt. And for the people of Israel following in the wise ways of these ten lead to stronger relationships with God and neighbour. They were – and still are today –  a vision of the community that God longs for us to live in.

And, as God’s community here in this part of Caterham, we should always be asking ourselves how we see this vision coming to life in our midst. In what ways does our community of believers live in justice with creation and with the people of the world, and in what ways does our community of believers seek the pre-eminence of God and the true worship of God? And how – like the psalmist – can we celebrate God’s Law for us? For that is what it should be – not a burden but a celebration of what God wants for us, how God wants us to live. Jesus came to teach people what it means to live in God’s way and to truly fulfil God’s Law. He overturns the tables of the moneychangers, challenging those who would bind God’s Law with human rules and traditions, and who couldn’t see that the Law was intended to be life-giving and life-releasing, not life-constricting. Jesus came to fulfil the Law; and living in the gospel of Jesus Christ is a fulfilment of the Law.

Let us pray

Lord God,
your Law is life-giving, beautiful wisdom,
teaching us how to live in relationship with you and with other people.
Help us to see how your Law is liberating and life-giving.
May your Law mark the way we live,
as individuals and as a church. Amen.