Search

I THIRST

Sermon for Rogation Sunday

(James 1.22-end & John 16.23b-end – BCP Lectionary)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today we celebrate Rogation Sunday.  This has traditionally been the day when parishes would ‘beat the bounds’, to make sure everyone knew where the parish boundaries were.  Every seven years the parish markers would literally be beaten with branches – to mark them, but also to create a sort of mental map.  Its purpose was so that everyone knew which parish they lived in, so where they could get married or buried.  Over time this walking the land became linked with prayers for the growing of crops and a day to ask God for protection from calamities.  

The minor rogation days are held on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday, but in the Anglican tradition it became celebrated on this, the 6th Sunday of Easter.  Why?  Well, this is your annual reminder that the word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin ‘rogare’, meaning “to ask”.  And Rogation Sunday is rooted in the Book of Common Prayer.  This is one of those times when the contemporary church might not realise where the link comes from.  

The Gospel for this Sunday includes these words from John’s Gospel: ‘if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name… ask, and you will receive.’ (John 16.23-24).

We probably all have things we want to ask God for, but truthfully does any of it link to the land any more?   Even here in rural Sussex the majority of us are at least one step away from the land.  But it doesn’t take much for us to realise how much we depend on the land.

In a week when inflation has risen to a 40 year high we are all well aware that the cost of living is going to become painful for many people.  The war in Ukraine will cause pain far beyond its borders.  Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of the world, producing wheat, sunflower oil, barley and potatoes.  Unable to bring in the harvest, where the land has not been decimated by bombs, the resulting shortage will push the cost of food up around the world.   Praying for peace means praying to end world hunger as well as an end to the violence. 

There is also another kind of need.  When Jesus met with people he rarely made assumptions about them, often inviting them to say out loud what was on their hearts.  

This reminds me of a passage in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ by C.S.Lewis.  Digory and Polly are sent on a journey back to the garden of Eden, to retrieve the fruit of tree of life.  When they arrive, Fledge, the talking and flying horse settles down to a nice grassy dinner, but Digory and Polly have nothing, and stared at one another in dismay.

“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.

“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

Just as when Jesus met with people with visible disabilities, he never just healed them.  He asked what they wanted.  That’s a good model for the church – we should never being doing mission or evangelism to people.  We walk with them, and together we share in the journey.  So asking God is part of outstanding of our need for God, and an opening up of ourselves to God.

And there is another type of rogare – to ask to join in with God’s work, to ask how we can help.  This is the crux of James’ epistle, that faith without works is dead.  We must be doers of the word, remembering that it is God’s word.  

So this Rogation Sunday, we actually have lots to ask God:

  • for our land, for farmers and their crops and animals, that the harvest would be fruitful.
  • for the the world, especially where life is particularly fragile and reliant on the land, and where war is impacting on food production, that peace would come swiftly.
  • for those in our community who are struggling financially, for support to enable them to put food on the table or to pay the bills.
  • for the wealthy, that they would use their abundance to help those in need.
  • for our churches, that we would be blessed with greater income and people, to enable us to focus on the missionary work of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
  • and for ourselves, that each and every one of us will become more aware of our need for God.

Amen.

(Artwork: ‘Rogation Sunday’ by Enid Chadwick)

Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter

(Acts 11.1-18, Ps148, Revelation 21.1-6 & John 13.31-35)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We continue through the season of Eastertide with the theme of transformation.  For the disciples they were still processing everything which had gone before, including the Resurrection.  For them there were still major events ahead, the Ascension and Pentecost, which again they would have to get their heads around.  This was very much a transitional time.

We might not think it is the same for us, however it is worth reflecting that we have, at some point in our lives, gone through a similar experience as we came to faith.  Some of us will have had ‘road to Damascus’ experiences, others a slow and steady deepening of faith from childhood onwards.  There is no right or wrong way to come to Jesus – all that matters is that we do.  But its worth taking time, now and then, to reflect on our journey so far; what we have learned, the key moments, the people who have walked with us.  It’s an opportunity to say thank you to God.  It’s also an opportunity for new growth to begin.  Sometimes in looking backwards we see a new path to go forwards.  Sometimes in looking backwards our whole journey suddenly makes more sense.

The wonderful thing is that God is a faithful God.   He is always there with us, even when we don’t necessarily feel him.  His promises are trustworthy and true, and will last for all time.

However we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that means that God is limited by what has happened in the past.  If the Easter story tells us anything it is that nothing is impossible with God. All three of our readings today remind us that God, the one who does not change, can do still do exciting and new things.

In the reading from Acts at first sight it appears that the purpose of Peter’s vision to change the dietary requirements of the law.  Peter, a faithful Jew, initially refuses to eat anything considered unclean.  It’s worth noting the context though: Peter has been criticised for eating with Gentile followers, and thereby breaking food rituals.  After he receives the vision (3 times – perhaps Peter always has to hear something three times before it truly sinks in, like so many of us) he is immediately called upon to go to Caesarea “and not to make a distinction between them and us.”  

God is doing something new here, for salvation is being offered now beyond the Jewish people to the Gentiles.  It does not diminish or negate what has gone before; rather it broadens the opportunities for eternal life to all people.  As John writes of his vision in the Book of Revelation, God tells him “See, I am making all things new.”  

This is the journey we make from non-Christian to follower of Christ.  We move from the old life to the new one.  And how do we live this new life?

Well, we can certainly look to the Law and the Prophets.  There is a lot of good stuff there about how to treat the weak and the vulnerable, the poor and the alien, the widow and the orphan.  The Ten Commandments remain a pillar of Christian behaviour – recited in the Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service (even if only at Advent and Lent), and often churches have them engraved on a stone plaque somewhere near the altar.  Jesus himself said in Matthew 5.17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

And yet at the Last Supper he also said these words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”  This commandment is so important to the Christian life it appears 11 times in the New Testament: 3 times in John, 5 times in John’s letters, twice in Paul’s letters, and once in Peter’s.  

Love is a verb – it is an action.  This is underpinned by the fact that Jesus gives this command after he has washed the disciples’ feet and shared his last meal with them.  Even when we cannot feel it, we are called to do it.  That means when we are confronted by someone we don’t get on with, don’t really like, and we ask God ‘how am I meant to love this person?’, the answer is think about how to do loving acts towards them.  Acts of mercy and kindness will be the route to loving our neighbour, and in loving we will be transformed anew into the imitation of Christ.  

As John said in his epistle, “We love, because he first loved us.”  Once again God does something new and transformative, and the result is life giving.    Amen.

Sermon for Passion Sunday

(Hebrews 9.11-15 & John 8.46-end – BCP Lectionary)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today marks Passion Sunday, beginning the last two weeks of Lent when we become much more focused on the events that led up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It’s easy to get distracted by all the preparations, inviting family for Easter Sunday lunch, or perhaps planning to go away a holiday.  Passiontide gives us a renewed focus on what truly matters – Jesus.  In our Gospel reading, John makes sure that we are entirely clear about the true nature of Jesus.  Because once we have that in our minds, then the events of Holy Week, leading to the cross and the empty tomb, will have an even greater impact, as the true depth of what happened in those few days becomes clear to us.

Today we listened to how Jesus taught about glory, death and the fate of the prophets.  As is so often the case, with hindsight we know what he is speaking about, but to his contemporary listeners it was much more opaque, and they become stuck in the literal detail.  Jesus told them that his hour was going to come, that the work he would do would save anyone who believed in him, and that Abraham, the great Patriarch, would have known it.  Instead of realising that they are being shown the glory of the cosmic Christ, the one who has always been and always will be, his listeners could only think in terms of linear time.  So they ended up arguing against him, questioning how Abraham and Jesus could possibly know each other? They live hundreds of years apart!  What he says makes no sense!

And then Jesus says something which completely changes the tone of the conversation.  He says ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’  The response of those listening to him was extreme.  They picked up rocks, ready to stone him to death for blasphemy.  

Now it may have become suddenly clear to the crowd what Jesus was talking about, but you may be wondering where this extreme reaction comes from.  

It is the words ‘I am’, in Greek  ego eimi.

In the Gospels of John, there are seven ‘I am’ sayings – I am the bread of life, the vine, the good shepherd, and so on.  In addition, Jesus said it in today’s passage and was threatened with stoning.  And at his arrest, John recorded Jesus asking the guards who they were looking for, and when they said ‘Jesus the Nazarene’, again he replies ‘I am he’.  The Greek is the same, ego eimi, I am.  The guards in response didn’t immediately arrest him, but instead they moved backwards and fell to the ground.  Again, why this strange physical reaction?

Well, the ‘I Am’ sayings that litter the Gospel of John have a resonance with God’s revelation of himself, most often linked to God’s self-identification to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3.13-14).  When Moses asked God what is his name, God replies ‘I am who I am.’

So John’s use of ‘I am’ reminds us that Jesus was not just a good man, and a powerful teacher.  He is the Word of God made flesh.  For the Jews listening to him who were hoping for the Messiah, a great political leader to rise up and save them from the Roman oppressors, it would have a huge shock to hear that God himself had turned up.  The responses are understandable – shock, denial, anger, rejection.

And what happens next leads us to the tradition that from Passion Sunday we veil the crosses and statues in church.  When the people took up stones to throw at him, “Jesus hid himself.” (John 8.59)

This veiling of the cross can jar us, and make us feel uncomfortable.  And that’s partly its purpose.  It can make us think more intentionally about the last special weeks, and prompts us to think about our faith and our relationship with Jesus.  Perhaps over time we have become used to the symbols in our churches, and the Gospel has grown familiar.  Do we no longer truly see what is in front of us?  Do we take the beauty for granted, and even more worryingly, do we take what they represent for granted – the merciful love of God poured out for on the Cross?  

Let us be shocked, unnerved, uncomfortable by what Jesus says and by this momentary veiling of the cross, so that we can look afresh and with more longing.  And perhaps suddenly God will reveal himself in new and surprising ways…

Sermon for Mothering Sunday

(Exodus 2.1-10, Psalm 127.1-4, Colossians 3.12-17 & John 19.25b-27 – 2022)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

As you listen to my sermon this week, you may think that it does not sound much like a sermon for Mothering Sunday.  However, as we reflect together on the saving of baby Moses, I invite you to pay attention to the women in the story, for they are compassionate, they are courageous, and they are motherly.

So let us begin by setting the scene which led to the extraordinary events of Exodus.

I’m sure many of you have seen or listened to the musical ‘Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’.  Joseph, the son of Jacob (otherwise known as Israel) was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. However, God used this evil act for good, and Joseph rose to be the most important man in Egypt, second only to Pharoah, and from his position of power was able to save his family and many others from famine.

Many years later, Joesph died and so did his protector.  The acts of Joseph were forgotten.  The promises of this Pharoah were forgotten. But the Hebrew descendants of Jacob still lived in Egypt, and over generations they thrived.  They grew in number, until the new Pharaohs became threatened.  They spread rumours, incited fear of the  Hebrews, creating a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ mentality.  They claimed the Hebrews were traitors and would rise up against Pharoah. 

But Pharoah needed the Hebrews for physical labour, so he forced them into exploited slavery.  Pharoah could not do this alone.  Tyrants need willing hearts and hands to help them to oppress others.  Oppression requires social structures and propaganda that reinforces prejudices and prevents equality and justice.

And if you are thinking that this sounds very familiar, if you see shades of the Holocaust, or echoes of the killing fields of Cambodia, or even the language and actions of Putin, then you are right.  Here in the Book of Exodus we see the first recorded example of the Ten Steps to Genocide.

And what comes next?  Pharoah tells the midwives to kill the baby boys when they are born.  This is an act of extermination.  The Hebrew women will have no male counterparts to marry, and so they either have no families or they are forced to marry Egyptian men and assimilate. Pharoah’s words, but requiring governmental structures to enforce.

But God has given us free will.  And God is able to use the righteous acts of human agents to turn the tide against oppression.  Enter the midwives, Shiprah and Puah.  They love and fear God, and want nothing to do with Pharoah’s vile command.  They are compassionate, and they have courage.  So what do they do?  They find a loophole, and claim the babies are being born before they are able to arrive and kill them.

Pharoah then commands that every baby boy is to be thrown into the Nile.  Moses mother, Jochebed, hides her son for as long as possible but then takes an enormous risk to try to preserve his life.  She sends him away, floating in a basket.  She is compassionate, and she is oh so courageous.

Free will exists not only for the oppressed, but also for those on the other side.  There is no way that Pharoah’s daughter does not know the commands of her father, and when she finds the basket floating on the river, she acknowledges that this boy is a Hebrew child.  She had much to lose by defying her father, but she is compassionate and she is courageous, and she rescues baby Moses.  Later she would take him into her home adopting him as her son, thereby creating Moses as an intercessor, one could stand between the Hebrew people and the Egyptians, understanding each side more have lived as both; and so the scene is set for the liberation of the people of God…

Of these women only one was the biological mother, but it took all of them to save Moses.  Each one of them in their own way played their part in God’s story, by using their free will to stand up against evil and act righteously.  I’m sure we all know the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child” and we see that here.  In the big scheme of things, these women were powerless and voiceless, but they were not without choice.  The things they did required compassion and they required courage.  

As Paul wrote  to the Colossians, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3.12), or as our school motto tells our children every day: “be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16.13-14).

We are facing the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.  Sadly, there will always be people trying to be new Pharaohs, but I saw such compassion and courage from our communities during the pandemic, making sure that people were cared for and loved, that I have no doubt that in the face of cruelty and war we will once again be inspired by God’s love, and ready to use our free will to be compassionate and courageous.  This Mothering Sunday let us be inspired by Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed and Pharoah’ daughter, and let us together be God’s agents at work, the loving mothers and fathers that this world needs.  

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent

(Isaiah 55.1-9, 1 Cor 10.1-13, Luke 13.1-9) – Year C, 2022

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Lent is a season when we are called to think seriously about sin.  Today’s readings, at first glance, are a little confusing.  We have Isaiah’s warm invitation to a feast ‘Come and eat’, but then Paul’s warnings from history, and the words of Jesus about the barren fig tree that follow sound rather harsh.  

Passages from the Bible take on new meaning in the light of current events, and there are questions being asked in today’s Gospel which we might well be asking God right now.  Why are people in Ukraine suffering and dying in the war?  Why have over 6 million people worldwide died from Covid? What did they do to deserve this?

That’s pretty much what Jesus was responding to when the people told him about a disaster that they had just received news of.    A massacre had taken place in the Temple of Jerusalem, on the orders of Pilate, and this event is recorded in other independent sources, such as the works of a historian called Josephus.  

A massacre in the Temple would have been a heinous crime indeed – think of how we feel when we hear of church shootings in the US or attacks on churches in Nigeria.  The Temple, like our churches, was a place of worship and of sanctuary.  

The unspoken question of blame arises because of the prevailing thought of the day, that sin and suffering are linked.  Therefore, the pilgrims must have been sinners and their fate was brought down upon them by God.  

Jesus halts that train of thought immediately.  As much as it would make life simple, the world isn’t some enormous slot machine where you put in an action and you get out a corresponding result.  The truth is sometimes bad things happen through no fault of our own.  They just do.  Jesus pointed out that no-one is more or less deserving than anyone else.  

However, Jesus doesn’t leave it there.  In the face of this news, rather than focusing on the people who died, he gives his audience a direct challenge: “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”  This isn’t about death – that comes to us all.  This is about the state of our souls. That is what we are to focus on.

And this is what Paul was trying to get across in his letter to the Corinthians, when he took the warnings of history and presents them to the Church.  He pointed out that the people of Israel were chosen by God, set apart, made special – but that did not make them immune from judgement for their idolatrous behaviour and sexual immorality.

Indeed, as the rather dark parable of the fig tree points out, being special is not without its responsibilities.  Fig trees were often planted in vineyards – they were good for the grapes, but the soil was precious and a fig tree which did not produce any fruit was taking up space and sustenance which could be of use to other plants.  This parable was aimed at the Jewish people – Jesus was pointing out that they had a special position, and as much as God gives chance after chance after chance, at some point, there would be a final reckoning.  

If that goes for Israel, then it also goes for Christianity and Christians. If our lives are not showing the fruits of the spirit, then there are chances to try again – just look at saints Peter, Thomas and Paul – but we mustn’t think that we are safe and secure just because we’re Christian.  

Because what is also clear from the parable is that at some point in the future there will be a final chance.  The invitation is currently open to us, but if we don’t respond, then when that day comes, it will not be that God shuts us out, but we, by our deliberate choice or neglectful apathy, have shut ourselves out.  

So the big Lent question here is – are we bearing fruit for God’s kingdom?  Imagine yourself as that fig-tree – are the fruits of your life ones of the spirit – acts of kindness and compassion, gentleness, fellowship, patience, charity, good works, and above all, love?

God is very patient – but we never know when our time is up.  Towers fall, earthquakes and tsunamis happen, cruel hearts and hands start wars  – not everyone will get a last chance reprieve to have time to think about how their lives should have been lived and make changes; not everyone gets the chance for deathbed confessions and reconciliations.   

The Easter hope today is that the fig tree is not cut down.   So act now – to say sorry, to forgive, to live in love.   We have to live each day ready to face our Maker by living each day worthy of the wondrous gift that life is.

There is no doubt that the Lent lectionary throws us difficult texts like the one today – they can seem uncompromising and challenging, both to what we think we know of God and to our comfortable way of life and faith.  But this is precisely why we need to engage with them, and to spend time thinking ‘what does this mean for me?’  Only spending time in prayer over this text will you come to your own conclusion about whether you are living the life God wants you to, and if not, then now is the time to make some changes.  Amen.

(Artwork: ‘Parable of the Fig Tree’ by Jan Luyken)

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

(Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18, Philippians 3.17-4.1 & Luke 13.31-end) – Year C

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It’s often said that religion and politics shouldn’t mix.  However, I prefer Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s response, when he said “When people say that religion and politics don’t mix, I wonder which Bible they are reading.”

Anyone who thinks that following Jesus won’t affect their politics is missing the point.  My place is not to say who you should vote for.  That is for each of you to read up on, pray about and decide for yourself.  But let’s be clear here – how you vote will be influenced by following Christ.  

Jesus was radically political.  We heard in today’s Gospel that a group of Pharisees told Jesus that Herod was plotting to kill him.  Were they helping Jesus, warning him of danger?  Or were they threatening or trying to unnerve him?  Probably the latter – there are points earlier in the Gospel where the Pharisees as a group are said to have had a grudge against Jesus (Lk 11.35) so it’s unlikely they were now trying to be helpful.  Regardless of their motive, Jesus responded by calling Herod a ‘fox’.  He had no time for this puppet king and his machinations.  

Instead Jesus ignored this threat and spoke of his work, his on-going healing and freeing of people from oppression by demons.  Throughout Luke there is a motif of exorcism and it’s often linked with the chaos and oppression of the political situation of the time, of the Jewish people being held in chains by Rome, and of the rigid religious rules of the Scribes and Pharisees that bound the people so tightly they couldn’t even see God any more.  Here Jesus mentioned Herod and then exorcisms in the same sentence.  He wanted the Jewish people to be saved from all spiritual, religious, and socially systemic oppression.

But equally Jesus wasn’t interested in becoming a king himself or in overthrowing the Roman occupation.  His ministry subverts all this type of party politics.  This is a bone of contention with his opponents, for his authority is not given to him by another human agent, but by God.  Furthermore Jesus didn’t fulfil the Messiah role in the way that many of his supporters had thought he would, and when he described himself as a mother hen he subverted the gendered language of the time – a rabbi, a king, a God, who is caring, compassionate, motherly, nurturing.  It’s such a beautiful image, so tender and loving.  The hen as she walks about is followed by her chicks; you can just imagine them running to her side, huddling against her breast.

But the picture is not entirely rosy.  As Christ described it, the chicks, his people, refused to gather under the spiritual safety of his wings.  Instead they scattered, falling away and ignoring him.  Throw into that mix a fox…well, we all know what happens when a fox gets into the henhouse. 

Jesus knew this.  In this passage he set his face towards Jerusalem, and talked of the past, of the catalogue of prophets who had tried to call the people back to God, and for their pains had been put to death.  Jesus as our mother hen will sacrifice himself for his brood.  

So where does that leave us today, on this the second Sunday of Lent?  Just as Jesus was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, literally as he went there to celebrate the Passover, but also as a spiritual journey, so we too are on our Lenten pilgrimage to the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday.  How are you doing in your prayer, self-denial, giving of alms, or whatever it is you are undertaking to draw closer to God this Lent?  How might you gather closer to Jesus under his wings?

Our Lenten journey is only as challenging and transformative or as easy and superficial as we as individuals make it.  There is no Roman occupation to oppress us, no Herod to threaten, and if you disagree with the religious authorities’ teaching you have the right to say so.  We have freedom to worship, freedom of expression.  That is not the case around the world.  I’ve watched in horror the brutal treatment meted out to anti-war protestors in Russia, and to women trying to express their freedoms in Syria and Iran.

Working for that oppression to be lifted from others is a political act, and no matter what anyone says about politics and religion not mixing, it is one we are called to be a part of.  Again Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it perfectly: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.  If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

We are called to listen to Jesus and respond to his Good News.  Later in the service we’ll sing ‘Facing a Task Unfinished’.  This hymn was originally written in the 1920s by the China Inland Mission.  They were praying for 200 new missionaries when the number of Christians in China was estimated at 100,000. Today, that number is calculated to be around 100 million.  

When we pray and act, with the Holy Spirit at work, amazing things happen; political structures are transformed, lives are transformed.  It’s too easy to say that as individuals we can’t make a difference, because we can.  In singing this hymn we remember the difficulties that Christians face in countries around the world in the face of evil acts and oppression.

The words of the hymn take us back to Herod and Rome, of the forces that defy Christ, but more so there is a challenge to us:

From cowardice defend us
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake.

It’s a stark reminder that Christians right now are faithfully following Jesus in places where it is dangerous to do so, and if they can do so, then we should jolly well be engaging properly with Lent and the Gospel too.  

So, together let us live out our Lenten pilgrimage with acts of defiant love, prayers for ourselves and the world, and lives lived out in the knowledge that we have been freed from all that might try to oppress us, safe under the shadow of Christ’s wing.

(Artwork: ‘Christ in the wilderness – the hen’ by Stanley Spencer

Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

(2 Corinthians 6.1-10 & Matthew 4.1-11 – BCP Lectionary)

The two readings today invite us to see how Christianity, the way of Christ, have elements fo the paradoxical.  Those who do not know Jesus may see us as foolish and weak, but we have confidence that by trusting in God we have wisdom and strength.  

On Ash Wednesday we had the opportunity to have a rather paradoxical cross of ash marked on our foreheads as a sign of repentance and renewal.  The ash, made from burning last year’s palm crosses, is a reminder of our mortality, but the shape of the cross is a reminder that we have a saviour who has put an end to death.  

Holding fast to this knowledge means that we can face terrible calamities, such as Paul wrote about in his letter to the Corinthians – beatings, imprisonments, hardships and hunger – and we can do so with a rejoicing heart.  Not because these hardships don’t matter, but because they do not define us.  Therefore even when life strips us of all we have, we still possess everything, because we have the love of Christ, our Redeemer.

This requires confidence in God, and we are given Jesus as the example on which to model of godly life.  St Paul elsewhere referred to Jesus as the second Adam (1 Corinthians  15.22, 45 & Romans 5.12-21).  Unlike Adam and Eve who could not resist the temptation of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus represent humanity’s tendency to disobedience, Jesus was faithful and obedient, and so provided the path back to righteousness for all humanity.

We see this on the Cross, in the garden of Gethsemane, and as in today’s Gospel reading, during his time in the wilderness.  Not only are we hearing a reverse echo of the choices made in the Garden of Eden, we are also shown a pattern first seen in Exodus. The temptation of Jesus occurred immediately after his baptism in the River Jordan, after which the Spirit led him into the wilderness for forty days.  Compare this with passing through the Red Sea and Moses leading the people into the wilderness for forty years, a longer period than was necessary caused by the Israelites’ disobedience.

Jesus is then offered three temptations, each designed to challenge his obedience to God, and his identity.  

He is offered bread.  Our physical needs are important but again they need not define us.  We are not to focus on material possessions, but rather the word of God.  In Lent we spend time fasting and studying the Bible.  These are, despite what we might think, meant to be joyful activities.  Learning leads us closer to God, and fasting or giving up something for Lent might show us where we have become entangled in bad habits or addictions, which we can then address.

Then Jesus was invited to test his identity, or perhaps a more insidious suggestion, that he should prove his identity as the Son of God.  We live in a world where so many people seem to base their understanding of their worth on how many likes they get on social media, but external validation is never going to be enough.  Jesus did not rise to the devil’s challenge – he was entirely secure in the love of God and in knowing who he was.  Likewise we are invited to rest secure in the knowledge that we are beloved children of God, our identity born in the waters of baptism and with a lifetime guarantee that will last for eternity.

And finally, the devil offered power.  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Jesus showed that God has a different approach to leadership – it is servant-hearted, and it begins in worship of God.  For us, the Lenten disciplines include prayer, confession and Sunday worship, each one drawing us closer to God.  We then live out our faith in alms-giving and works of charity, serving others, not ourselves.

The Gospel reminds us that the devil, the spiritual battle between good and evil, is real.  It’s not about a cartoon character with horns and a trident, but if we look we see sin and evil happening in the world, and we called to resist it.  Lent is part of our response to salvation, and preparation for the choices we must make, the temptations we must resist.

So may the example of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness help you to hold fast to God, resist temptation, and take up your cross and follow him.  

Amen.  

Sermon for the Sunday Next Before Lent

Exodus 34.29-end, Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2 & Luke 9.28-36 – Year C

Four days ago I already had my sermon for today.  I was quite pleased with it, actually.  It had an amusing story about how a mistranslation of the Vulgate, the Latin Bible, had led the sculptor Michelangelo to create a statue of Moses with horns instead of a veil.  It had, I think, a light touch.

But as I sat watching the events unfold on Thursday, as tanks rolled into Ukraine, the world became much darker.  A couple of weeks ago there was a whole country who thought they knew what the future held.  It was a time of tentative respite and recovery following two years of pandemic and full of the day to day-ness of life: work, school, and every day special events, birthdays, weddings, a night out at a show, a football match….  

And now the people of Ukraine are facing the reality of war.  Incredibly brave people are protesting against the war in cities across Russia, knowing they risk arrest and worse.  People are fleeing their homes, or making the unspeakable decision to take up arms.   For them the world has changed.  For us too.

There will be time enough later to reflect on what this all means, to ask the difficult questions, such as ‘where is God in all of this?’  and ‘what, if anything, could we have done differently to prevent this?’  What words we speak now must be chosen with care, for broken hearts and open wounds will feel sharply even the slightest mis-touch.

This is also a great responsibility which now falls upon the priests and ministers of Ukraine and Russia, to care for and comfort their people, and to lay so many to rest.  Without realising it, people will be looking to them and there will be expectations upon them, and they will need our prayers to help them.

Because prayers matter.

It would be easy to hear today’s Gospel reading on the Transfiguration with its vision of Christ’s future glory, and get the idea that it doesn’t matter that nation rises against nation, with all the pain that entails because everything will be alright after death.  

But the Incarnation of Jesus denies that – Jesus came in human flesh because God cares about us, body as well as soul, right here and now and in eternity.

So what are we left with?  We are left with three readings which are about encounters with God face to face.  The New Testament readings underline who Jesus is.  The Transfiguration is a moment when we see heaven and earth touch, and we are given a glimpse of just who has come to save and redeem us.

Peter, James and John did not know that their journey was taking them to stand at the foot of the Cross; however we do.  It means that as we enter Lent we do so with this image of the Transfiguration in our minds, of Jesus radiant with the glory of God.  We take that knowledge with us as we travel with Christ to the Cross, for we know we are walking with our God, who understands our suffering, feels our pain.  And he walked that path to bring us life, life in its fullness.

Even when the clouds descend and overwhelm us, we are encouraged to keep listening for God’s voice, for his invitation to listen to his Son, Jesus, his chosen and beloved.  Trust in Jesus, and as we spend more time with him, we will be changed from glory into glory as we become more Christ-like.

As we go into Lent, it’s worth taking the time to think how we could use these 6 weeks as a spiritual journey of peace with Jesus, just as Peter and James and John did, out of the busyness of our daily lives, to a quiet space, to pray, to study, to read the Bible, the Law and the prophets, and to simply be with God.  

We don’t have to worry about what will happen on the other side of our encounter with Jesus.  We don’t have to plan ahead and start building.  We can simply spend this time in wonder and awe as one who is invited to come and listen to Jesus.  

And do not underestimate the power of prayer.  Prayer transforms our hearts.  It gives us strength and courage and inspires us to action. 

And ask God to protect the innocent, to hold back hands that harm, to inspire those in positions of authority to influence decisions that will make for a just and lasting peace.  Prayer matters.  Prayer changes things.    

This Lent by gazing upon the light of Christ, may we too be transformed and then reflect his light into the world.  For the world is more in need of it than ever before.

 Amen.

(Artwork: ‘Dove of Peace, 1949’ by Pablo Picasso)

Sermon for the Second Sunday before Lent

(Genesis 2.4b-9, 15-25, Psalm 65, Revelation 4 & Luke 8.22-25) – Year C

Jesus asks a lot of questions.  It you look at the Gospels closely many of his encounters begin with him asking a question.  Often he responds to a challenge or a test from his opponents by asking them a question in return.  Some open up a pastoral encounter (e.g. ’What do you want me to do for you?’ in Mark 10.51).  Others, like in today’s passage, require courageous learning, from those he was speaking to there and then, and from us. 

He asks: ‘Where is your faith?’

As the storm rose and engulfed them and Jesus lay asleep, perhaps the disciples thought he didn’t care, or didn’t understand the danger they were in.  The disciples who had made their living from fishing, they certainly knew the danger.  Jesus, on the other hand, was the son of a carpenter and a teacher – perhaps they assumed he had very little experience of sailing.  No doubt they put all their experience to good use as they struggled with the sails, but as the boat was starting to sink, they finally decided to wake Jesus.

His response is immediate.  He spoke and there was a calm.

Who is able to do such a thing?

The act of calming the storm might be enough to guess, but it is in scripture that we are shown, over and over again, exactly who has command over creation.

Reason tells us that it must be someone who was involved in creation, that spark of life that brought the universe into being.  In Revelation we are given the wonderful words of praise which we will hear echoing through the Memorial Acclamation in Eucharistic prayer: ‘who was and is and is to come.’    And St John went onto to write, “for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”  And so the final book of the Bible, Revelation, leads us back to our first reading and the first book of Bible, Genesis.

Furthermore in our psalm today, psalm 65, which is a great hymn of praise to the creator of the world, we find in the middle an acknowledgment of the power of God, not just to create but over creation:  ‘You still the raging of the seas, the roaring of the waves and the clamour of the peoples.’

Who then is Jesus?

Jesus is the one who can do all these things. 

Jesus is the one we can trust to bring us peace. 

Jesus is God.

So why does he asks the disciples, ‘where is your faith?’  

He asks because they has already seen so much of his work that by this point they should not only have understood his identity but also have begun to trust in him, and yet they still haven’t got it.  What would it take for the truth to sink into the disciples hearts and minds?

Our relationship with Jesus changes the way in which we see the world.  As we start to understand who Jesus is, then we can begin to trust in him in a completely new way.

The problem is: trust is something people find difficult to do.

Self-reliance has become one of the modern idols of our world.  We fear relying on God.  It feels much safer to rely on ourselves, on our own abilities.  Then we can’t be let down by others.  

But if these last two years have taught us anything it is that relying solely on ourselves is exhausting, and ultimately futile.  In the whole history of humankind, never have we had so much knowledge, the ability to travel across the world, even to control our homes from our phones.

The past two years have been like an endless storm.  We’ve gone from super busy to suddenly super alone and isolated.  Even now we have not passed into a calm.  

We need space to breathe and to be refreshed; to lament what we have lost, and to revive our hope in what is to come. 

As we reflect on Jesus, serenely asleep in the boat, I wonder whether it would be a good idea if this Lent we gave up being competent.  How might our lives look if we stopped trying to do everything, stopped relying on ourselves to save the world, and trusted a little more in Jesus?

How would you feel about letting the storm go?  

If amongst the chaos of life, we said to Jesus, ‘I’m going to sit down beside you.  I’m trusting in you, Lord.  After all, what can happen to me if I am with you?’

The truth is we do not know if this particular storm is coming to its end, or if there are more variants to come.  We do know it will not be the only storm of life we will face.  

But we can face them with a lighter heart if we spend the time we have living life to its fullest, joyful and vibrant, by sharing it with others around us, and, very importantly, with God.  The more time we spend with God, the more we come to know him, the more we will trust him.  

And when the wind and the waves do once more roar around us, then we will open our eyes to find that Jesus is right there beside us, and we will find true peace and calm.

(Artwork: ‘Christ asleep in his boat’ by Jules Jospeh Meynier)

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑