Friday, March 30, 2007

Sunday 1 April 2007 - Palm Sunday

This is a sermon for Palm Sunday for a congregation that is observing both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It is based on Luke 19:28-40.



“Hosanna” is a rude word. It’s not a word like “Alleluia!” It doesn’t mean anything like “Praise the Lord!” or “Thanks be to God!” even though we often seem to use it that way. It means something more like “Down with the United Kingdom! Death to the Queen! Destroy the Government!”

If I’d been in Jerusalem on that day when Jesus rode into the city gates and I’d heard the crowd shouting “Hosanna!”, I would have got my children out of there as quickly as I could in the almost certain knowledge that something terrible was going to happen. “Hosanna!” was a call to arms on the part of a restless crowd who was looking for their world to change, even if it had to change by violence.

I want to try to help us picture the scene a bit better.

I don’t how many of you have seen the Old City in Jerusalem - the walled city which would have constituted the city in Jesus’ time? I don’t know for certain how big it is, but my guess would be that maybe the old city is about as big as Weaver’s Wharf plus the pedestrianised shopping area around the Town Hall and Swan Centre.

Now, just to give you an idea of how many people were at Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday, the entire town of Kidderminster - inside and outside the centre of town - has a population of just over 55,000 people. We think that on the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem that there were between 3 million and 5 million people in Jerusalem who had come to celebrate the Passover. Three million people is just over 54 times as many people as live in Kidderminster today and 5 million people is 91 times our current population.

So imagine 91 times the current population of Kidderminster today all jammed into the area around Weaver’s Wharf and the Town Hall. Imagine that they are all as angry and excited as stirred-up football hooligans and that they are all shouting “Down with the United Kingdom! Death to the Queen! Destroy the Government!” Is there anyone here who thinks that they wouldn’t want to get their children and other vulnerable loved-ones out of town as quickly as possible?

And, as if all of this weren’t bad enough, what if I told you that Jerusalem had survived over 6 political riots every year for the last five years?

Are you beginning to get an idea as to why Pilate was worried about what was going to happen?

The Crowd

We can imagine that the crowd would have seen things somewhat differently from Pilate. With so many people and such an apparent groundswell of support for Jesus as a political leader, I wonder if they felt the same way that the crowd at the Berlin Wall felt on the day that the wall finally came down?

From their point of view, there was a real possibility that morning that the whole miserable existence that the Jewish people had endured for the last sixty years would finally break apart. They expected Jesus to be their saviour. Their political saviour. Had Jesus wanted political power, it would seem that this was a sure-fire opportunity for taking it.

This is Satan’s temptation to become an earthly king being presented to Jesus once more, But this time the temptation comes with all the bells and whistles. This time, the temptation comes complete with adoring crowds ready to worship Jesus and follow him right there and then. As long as he conformed to the model of leadership that they were demanding.

From the point of view of inside the crowd, the adrenaline is flowing, and the opportunity is there to turn the tables on the Romans - to be the rulers at the top of the heap and to obtain vengeance for three generations of Roman occupation and humiliation.

Inside the crowd, there must have been a most extraordinary buzz. Here’s the opportunity to be finally and fully alive. To have a freedom and abundant life that the crowd’s grandparents could only have dreamt about. The Jews could be fully alive and the Romans and their supporters could be dead in slavery as a conquered and subjected people.

Jesus and the Donkey

But Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Or as one American preacher puts it - Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a jackass. I like the double-meaning of this word because everything that Jesus does from this point on is totally nonsensical and idiotic from the point of view of worldly values.

From this point onwards the scandal of Jesus’ mission on earth can be seen in all its stark reality. Because the whole meaning of this story - the march to the cross, and Jesus’ death and resurrection - lies in the way that it scandalises human values. The story goes against everything that “the world” wants and hopes for. This is a story that will give us a new desires and new hopes - the desires and hopes of God.

What is the scandal? Jesus had the ability to choose to wage a violent revolution against the enemies of the people of Israel and, unique amongst humans, he had a sure and certain hope of a military victory. But instead of choosing a military victory, he chose the way to the cross.

He chose to forgive those who saw him as an enemy and who were about to put him to death. And the consequence of his forgiveness was that he was crucified.

Jesus had the choice of certain victory on the one hand or certain death on the other hand and he chose certain death. Because to choose to forgive his enemies meant to choose death.

Forgiveness is costly. And as human beings we know only too well that forgiveness is costly. It might not cost us much to forgive the small sins done against us. With some cost to us, we might even be able to forgive the ‘medium sized’ sins that are done against us. But how do we forgive the really big sins done against us? To forgive the really big sins done against us, something has to die inside us. And this death is costly.

It’s the same thing with God. In order to forgive the way that human sin destroys God’s plan for creation, God had to die. The death of God – the death of Jesus Christ – was the only way that forgiveness could be achieved. If Jesus had chosen to smash his enemies, then there would have been naked justice, but there would have been no forgiveness.

If Jesus had acted in the way that the crowd wanted him to act, there would have been no redemption for the world. By the death of Jesus, forgiveness became a part of the cosmic reality.

Jesus understood that the purposes of God are for life in all its fullness. And so, Jesus chose the sure and certain hope of the victory of resurrection rather than the sure and certain hope of an earthly victory. The cross leads to death, but it also leads to forgiveness and to reconciliation between God and humanity. Jesus was free to choose death because he had faith in the resurrection.


In a few minutes, we will come before the Lord’s table. As we do so, I invite you to think about God’s forgiveness for you and for the whole world. I invite you to meditate on the sacrifice that God made on your behalf. And, I invite you to lay your burdens down as you come into the Lord’s presence.

Prepare to come as a guest to the table of the Lord who forgives us, no matter how costly the forgiveness. Prepare to rejoice in this forgiveness – whether you have already accepted God’s forgiveness or whether you wish to accept it for the first time today.

Prepare to come into the presence of the Lord who loves us so much that he was willing to die for us.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday 18 March 2007 - The Prodigal Son

The text for this sermon is Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32



Today is Mothering Sunday. No one is absolutely certain exactly how the idea of Mothering Sunday began, but we know that on this day, about four hundred years ago, people who lived in little villages made a point of going not to their local church but to the nearest big church - to what was called the Mother Church. And some would go to the nearest city to worship in the cathedral.

In the past, mothering Sunday was also known as 'Refreshment Sunday' or 'Mid-Lent Sunday'. It was often called Refreshment Sunday because the fasting rules for Lent were relaxed, in honour of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

But today is also the fourth Sunday in Lent and our Gospel reading for this morning is the story of The Prodigal Son – not a mother to be seen anywhere in the story!

Now the really useful thing about parables is that, because they are stories, different people can get different things out of them.

Traditionally this story is interpreted as being about God’s generous grace towards sinners. And I think that there is good evidence to suggest that this is undoubtedly the parable’s primary meaning. The story is told in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and Scribes that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. It follows directly after the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And it’s in a section of Luke that is concerned with the question of who is going to participate in God’s Kingdom.

The Two Brothers

But because it is a story, we can let our imaginations wander a bit, each individual hearing different things in the story. Let’s think for a moment about the two brothers. Can we identify with one of them or possibly with both of them?

First we have the ‘prodigal son’ of the title. The younger brother who is eager to explore foreign lands beyond the confines of his family. Perhaps originally he has nothing more in mind than having a bit of an adventure, making a name for himself, getting out from under the shadow of his older brother and his father. In this respect, we might be able to identify with him. Even people who were not arrogant or overconfident in their youth can probably understand the desire of a young person to spread his or her wings.

Then there is the older son. A paragon of virtue and duty – or so he would have us think. Now I don’t know if the following is an important omission or not – it’s part of me reading the story in my own way, but did you notice that the older son didn’t make a peep when the younger son asked for his inheritance?

Giving the younger son his inheritance would have involved a great deal of effort in terms of selling property and turning it into cash. But no-where in the story does the older brother raise any sort of protest. The older son sees himself as dutiful and loyal, but he hasn’t actually tried to stop such an outrageous event. Maybe he’s thinking that if his brother gets a £100 inheritance for this outrageous behaviour, that he’ll eventually get a £200 inheritance for his own loyalty.

Duty, Grudges and the Kingdom of God

Now, the approach to this parable in recent years is to point out how easy it is to identify with the older brother’s outrage when his wayward sibling is brought back into the fold. And, of course, it is easy to understand how he feels.

I don’t know about you, but I honestly can’t stand here and say that I wouldn’t feel hurt and cheated if I felt that my loyalty and good deeds had been in vain. And then, let’s admit it; there is a darker part of me that would have been waiting to see what my brothers’ punishment would be.

This is the religion of the Pharisees. But the Pharisees are you and me. Not always, of course, but sometimes.

The thing we need to understand about the Pharisees’ approach to God is that it was not all bad and it was not all hypocritical. Some of it may have been about useless purity laws but a good deal of it was about doing the right thing – the same way that Christians believe in doing the right thing. Where some of the scribes and Pharisees may have gone wrong, however, was in seeing reconciliation with God as a reward for their own good works.

Some of the religious establishment seemed to think that it was their own observance of the law that had earned them a place as a child of God. And they felt it was important to make a religious distinction between those people who kept God’s law and those who did not. Their ‘fences’ were not just about right and wrong actions, but they were also about who they considered to be the right and wrong people. Their fences were about who could be included in the people of God and who could not.

We do this too. I think that it is part of human nature to sometimes think our status as children of God comes from what we do. It’s human nature to sometimes think that we have been reconciled with God because we go to church, pray, give money and time to people in need and keep the ten commandments. Even though church-goers know that this is not true, sometimes we act as if it is.

Some will maintain that the dilemma of this parable is that if we worship a God who is like the Father in the story, then aren’t we saying that there is no need for anyone to bear the consequences of their own sin? Aren’t we saying that the canniest thing to do would be to go out and sin as much as possible and then return to God’s unconditional embrace on our deathbed?

I think that the answer to this lies in what the father says to his oldest son near the end: The obedient child has been with the Father all along. With perfect hindsight, and with the perspective of a reader of the story rather than a character within it, we can see that what the oldest son has failed to do is to rejoice in the fact that he’s been a part of his Father’s household all along.

All these years, he could have been celebrating his fellowship with his Father, but instead he’s borne a grudge against his brother. When the brother returns home, the elder brother’s desire is not for celebration and reconciliation but for some form of penalty.

So did the younger brother play the system? Did he have his cake and eat it too? Well, I don’t think so. Not only did he squander the resources he had at his disposal, but he ended up in starvation and degradation. True, he was eventually restored to his Father’s house, but unlike his obedient older brother, he wasted many years when he didn’t even the opportunity to celebrate his fellowship with his Father.

It’s ironic. The younger son did not have the opportunity to celebrate the fact that he was his Father’s child because he had put himself outside of his Father’s household. The older son did not celebrate because he focused on his resentment and desire for his brother’s comeuppance rather than on his own good fortune in being his Father’s child.


I said earlier that, besides being Mothering Sunday, this fourth Sunday in Lent is also called “Refreshment Sunday”.

I don’t know for sure, of course, but I suspect that this parable might be the favourite of a lot of people here today. It’s certainly one of my favourites and I think it is certainly a “refreshing” message in the middle of Lent.

The refreshing news – the wonderful, amazing, unbelievable news is that God really is like the Father in the parable. And loving parenthood is, I think, a good metaphor for God’s character. As one theologian puts it, ‘God delights in his creatures in the same way that a parent delights in his children.’ God loves everything that God has made, and therefore we and all creation are held in being by God’s love.

Just like the Father’s household in the story, the Kingdom of God is open and available for every single person: God runs with joy and celebration to meet each person who decides to come home. God also delights in the presence of each one of his children who is already home and he asks us to celebrate with him.

God’s love for us is ever-present His love doesn’t come into existence because of our repentance. Rather, it is our love for God that comes into existence because of our repentance.

This morning, we share in Holy Communion and partake in the celebration that is the Lord’s Table. This is a table that has been set for all and to which all are invited. During this season of Lent, we remember the faith of Jesus in his Father as he set his sights toward Jerusalem

And we remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, a Passover meal that celebrated God’s deliverance of his people from slavery. Together as brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom, we come round this table to be with Christ and to celebrate the love of a God who runs to meet us.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sunday 11 March 2007 - Repentance and Forgiveness

This sermon was prepared for a pulpit swap with a local Anglican church. The texts are: Isaiah 55:1-13 and Luke 13:1-9


Luke 13:5 reads "...unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." I think that you can imagine that this is not exactly the sort of Gospel reading that preacher wishes for when asked to be a guest preacher at a neighbouring church for the first time!

Our Old Testament reading for this morning is more like the kind of lesson that I wished for: "Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me; listen, so that you may live." (Isaiah 55:2b-3a)

So, had you been me, which text would you have chosen to preach on? What do you think that being a Christian disciple is all about? Is it about repentance? Is it about God's determination to bring each one of us into his kingdom? Or is it about both of these things?

Well, I guess you won't be surprised to hear that I think that Christian discipleship is about both of these things. Most importantly, to be a Christian is to accept and rejoice in God's determination to bring each of us into his Kingdom. But Christian discipleship is also about repentance. Repentance is an important tool in our partnership with God that helps us to grow in our Christian faith.

Unless you Repent

I'd like to address the Gospel reading first, because there are no two ways about it - this reading is calling for repentance and it's not a particularly comfortable reading.

First of all, I think that it's helpful to understand where this lesson is placed within the Gospel of Luke. Just before this particular passage, all sorts of people have been asking the question "When will the day of judgement come?" And Jesus has been saying "No one knows the day or the hour, so be prepared at all times." I think that in today's lesson the reader is also being warned that it is not just the end of time that we need to worry about but also about the end of our own time here on earth.

In this morning's passage, people seem to be asking Jesus whether tragic deaths are to be seen as the hand of God's judgement. There are places in the New Testament where Jesus clearly says that illness and tragedy are not signs of having been cursed by God. In this reading, however, Jesus doesn't answer the question directly but rather, he turns the question on its head.

Jesus says that the Galilean pilgrims didn't die because they were cursed by God. They died because of the wilful and evil act of Pilate. (This was a grotesque and ruthless act of mixing their own blood with that of their sacrifices in order to ensure that, under Jewish law, they would be seen as damned.) And Jesus says that the people killed by the fall of the tower of Siloam died in an unfortunate accident.

The big question that we are to focus on is not "Did these people die because they were sinners and had earned God's judgment?" The big question is rather "Did these people live their lives in an on-going attitude of repentance before they died?"

Come to the Waters

The Old Testament Reading is an altogether more encouraging passage. Prior to coming to Kidderminster, I served in a church in North London where 2/3rds of the congregation were African immigrants and 1/3rd were African-Caribbean immigrants. The choir of this church sang a Gospel song that I'd never heard before. The entire lyrics were comprised of 2 sentences and the song went like this: "All will be included in the feast of life! Good News!"

I'm not 100% sure, but I think that the lyrics for this song might have come from Isaiah 55, from this morning's Old Testament reading. If they didn't, they are nonetheless a good summary of the meaning of this passage.

This passage is an invitation to the feast of God's amazing banquet. And this is an invitation to everyone. It doesn't matter who you are. The covenant that God made with David has been extended to absolutely anyone regardless of nationality, status or any other characteristics that human beings use to define other people as being not quite acceptable to God. The good news is that all shall be included in the feast of life.

Isaiah is telling us that God's intention is that people be fed - and I think that means physically, emotionally and spiritually - and that joy and hope flourish. Here we see a God who is generous, joyful and open-handed. A God who wants every living being to enjoy life and live in peace and harmony with his creation.

Conflicting Ideas?

But how do we reconcile these two passages? In the Luke passage, there is an urgent call for individuals to repent before they perish. In the Isaiah passage, there is an open-handed invitation for anyone who desires to come and dine at God's feast. Aren't these two ideas contradictory?

Notice, though, that each of our readings contains echoes of the other.
Although the Luke passage makes an urgent call for repentance before it's too late, yet we are also given hope in the form of the parable of the fig tree which is offered one last chance to bear fruit. Although the Isaiah passage is an exuberant expression of God's open-handed offer of his Kingdom to all people, the passage also contains the instruction to "seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near."

Forgiveness and Repentance

I said earlier that to be a Christian is to accept and rejoice in God's determination to bring each of us into his Kingdom and to recognise that repentance is an important tool that helps us to grow in our partnership with God.

And I think that the order of these two statements is actually important: God's love and his forgiveness in reaching out to us come first. And our repentance comes second. Our repentance is a response to God's love and forgiveness, not vice versa.

"God forgives you. Therefore you are free to repent." God's forgiveness comes first and our repentance is a response to that.


Alan and Ray are father and son. Ray is grown up and is married with two teenage children of his own. Alan loves Ray and although they don't live very far apart, when it comes to keeping in contact with each other, Alan makes all the effort.

Then, one day, Ray asks his father to borrow a substantial sum of money. Ray's having a hard time meeting all his financial obligations. Teenage children, you know what it's like. They have to have the latest clothes and the latest computer gizmos. Not to mention the fact that Ray's oldest seems to have a hollow leg and can eat for England.

It's only a few months later when Alan learns the truth from his daughter-in-law, Ray's wife: Ray has a gambling problem, he's borrowed everything he possibly can on his credit cards, the couple can't make the payments and there is no way that Alan is going to get his money back.

Alan decides to confront Ray. Alan says: "I know about your gambling problem and your debt. I know you can't pay me back. I want you to know that I forgive you and I'm still your father and I want to help you kick your gambling habit." Ray might respond in one of two ways.

Ray can say: "Thank you. I don't deserve your forgiveness. It's such a relief to have everything out in the open. I could really use your support as I try to stop gambling." Or Ray could say: "Forgiveness! What do you mean, you forgive me! How dare you! I don't need your forgiveness and I don't need you or your pity!"

"God forgives you. Therefore you are free to repent." God's forgiveness comes first and our repentance is a response to that.

Come to the Banquet

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet calls to us: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." Or, in the words of the Gospel song that my friends in North London sing: "All will be included in the feast of life! Good news!"

As far as God is concerned, we are all invited to his feast of life. Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, slave or free, male or female. No matter who we are or what we have done, God is constantly inviting us to share in the banquet of his forgiveness. But in order to feast on God's forgiveness, we have turn in God's direction and walk toward that feast. In other words, repentance is necessary.

In a few minutes, we will share together in Holy Communion. We will come together as brothers and sisters united in the community of Christ. But we will also come to the table which Christ has prepared for us and to which he has invited us. We come in response to his invitation. It is my prayer that we will come with repentance and in the faith, hope and joy that God's forgiveness inspires.

Sunday 4 March 2007 - Trust In God

This is a two-part sermon based on Genesis 15:1-18 and Luke 13:31-35

Genesis 15:1-18

Faith without ‘results’

The theme of today’s readings, my commentaries reliably inform me, is “Trust in God” Today’s readings are about faith and trust and hope but neither of them are very comfortable readings.

Consider the Old Testament reading that we just heard. I expect that many of us are familiar with the story of God’s promise to Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah) but I want to quickly put this particular reading from the 15th Chapter of Genesis into context.

It was way back in Chapter 12 when God told Abram that he would bless Abram and make him a great nation if Abram would set out on a journey toward the land that God was promising him.

By Chapter 15, when this reading takes place, much time has passed. Abram has seen Caanan and been told by God that his descendents will live there although he will not. He and Sarai had been forced into exile in Egypt, they have lived with and parted from Abram’s nephew Lot, and Abram has done battle with foreign kings.

We can assume that Sarai is already too old to bear children because in the very next chapter, Sarai tells Abram to conceive a child by her servant. Although Abram has received a promise from God, he and Sarai have arrived at the twilight of their lives with absolutely no concrete sign that God’s promise is going to be fulfilled.

Now, of course, we know the end of the story, but in order to appreciate this reading, we need to forget what we know. At the moment, the story is one of unfulfilled potential, of longing, pain, disappointment and probably even a sense of mourning for what might have been. The man who was arguably one of the greatest Patriarchs of the Judeo-Christian tradition is barren and, at the moment, he is forced to continue to live in a state of barrenness.

Even when the longing of Abraham and Sarah is fulfilled by the birth of their son Isaac, I don’t think it’s a case of a fairy-tale ending of the “they all lived happily ever after” type. Abraham dies without seeing his descendents living in the Promised Land so he dies not knowing whether God’s promise is ultimately fulfilled.

To be a person of faith is to trust in the future that God has promised. To be a person of faith is to live assured of that future even in a barren or deathly present.

This kind of faith can be really difficult. By our nature, human beings like to deal with tangible things. It often seems contrary to common sense to be told, like Abraham: no, your prayers have not yet been answered, and they may not be answered in your lifetime, but I have made my promise to you that hope does exist, that new life does exist and I give you my solemn pledge that everything I am doing is for a future of justice and righteousness and for the best interests of humankind.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m really honest with myself, there are many times in my life when I don’t want to live with the tension required by faith. I want to know with certainty how God intends to bring about the Kingdom, I want to know what that Kingdom is going to look like and I want to know when it’s going to happen. And most of all, I want to see people who I care about be young and healthy and prosperous forever, even though I know that this is not the way the world works.

I suspect that lots of people think this way. The reason that I think this is because, as human beings we seem to be constantly searching out magical solutions to the challenges of being human.

I’ve recently heard of a new movement in the US called ‘The Secret’; It started with a DVD which claims that there exists an ancient ‘secret’ of success that has been suppressed by the powers that be and – surprise, surprise – by the Roman Catholic church, of course. The advert for the DVD claims that all successful people have known ‘The Secret’ and that by unlocking ‘The Secret’, a person can have health, wealth and happiness and anything else that they want.
In the Christian Church we have these movements as well. If you just ‘do’ Christianity the ‘right way’ or have the right beliefs about healing ministry or speaking in tongues, or whatever, all your problems will be instantly healed and magically go away.

This all too human desire for easy solutions is not so much about faith as it is about finding faith difficult. The consolation is that we are in good company.

The great Patriarch Abraham also got tired of having faith. He also got tired of waiting. He did continue in his faith, but not without asking God: Where? How? How Long?

Luke 13:31-35

Seeing God in the Emptiness

Every now and then someone says to me “Well, of course, faith is a crutch for those who are not strong enough to face life on their own.” But I don’t actually think that faith is a crutch and I think you know by now that I don’t think it’s always the easy option.

There are times when people of faith are somehow given by God the courage to stand and face the looming empty spaces of human existence. Perhaps an emptiness of illness, fear of death, fear for a loved one, or the fear of hopelessness, whatever the emptiness consists of. Faith in God gives us the ability to stop and linger in that uncomfortable place and live in that uncomfortable place despite the fact that you don’t really want to be in there in the first place.

But our culture is very uncomfortable with this experience of emptiness. We immediately look to fill the empty places with activity, with words, but most of all with the “certainty” that everything will work out OK in the end. We create a lot of noise and busyness to distract ourselves. But it is sometimes during these times and in these places of emptiness that we are able to see God more clearly.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus stood and looked into the void and he chose to walk toward it rather than away from it. Today’s Gospel reading – perplexing as it may seem – is, I think, about Jesus making an intentional choice to walk towards his crucifixion.

Now the way that you might teach this to a young person might be to say that ‘Jesus had to die for our sins, so that we could be saved. So Jesus made the decision to go to Jerusalem where he knew that he would die.’

I just want to unpack this a bit for adult ears because I don’t think the scenario was that simple.
In making this decision to walk toward his crucifixion, I think that there was a lot of faith involved on Jesus’ part. Remember that he was fully human as well as fully divine.

I think that the significance of Jesus’ incredible faith was his ability to look into the gaping emptiness of his upcoming crucifixion and see God in that emptiness.

The emptiness he faced included not only his own death, but also all the sin and hopelessness of the entire cosmos: past, present and future. Jesus looked into the gaping void of eternal death, despair, depravity and destruction and in this void he had the faith to see God’s purposes for the future.

Ultimately, Jesus had to trust in the Resurrection. With no reason to do so other than God’s promise and covenant – the same covenant that God made with Abraham - Jesus had to trust that God’s purpose was ultimately a purpose for life rather than for death. And so do we.

Why does Jesus set his sights on Jerusalem? Quoting Psalm 118, Jesus says that he is going to Jerusalem because it is the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.

The Temple City of Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the sign and the symbol of the Kingdom of God on Earth, is not. Jesus is going to tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days. The presence of God on earth does not dwell in the Temple. The presence of God on earth will dwell in the Risen Christ.

The sacrifice of the Temple is going to be replaced once and for all by Jesus’ once and final sacrifice. This is a sacrifice of Love (with a capital L) and a sacrifice of Forgiveness (with a capital F).

The worship of God through laws and prohibitions, through sacrifices and rituals is going to be replaced by God’s love and forgiveness. This divine love and forgiveness is costly. If Christian love is self-giving love, the crucifixion is the ultimate self-giving.

Martin Luther said that Jesus defeated sin, death and the power of the devil. Earlier on, I said that Jesus gazed into the abyss of the sin and hopelessness of the entire cosmos and that he had the faith to believe that God’s purposes would prevail.

I suspect that there are no words on earth that are adequate to express what our salvation is about. In very crude terms this is the ultimate stand-off between good and evil, between God and ‘Satan’, between hope and despair.

What is the eternal meaning of existence? Is it death, despair and destruction? Or is it life, hope and creation? The Christian tradition has always affirmed that the external meaning of existence is life.

As Christians, we believe that the Christ Event is the fulfilment of the covenant promise that God made with the Patriarchs. The Abrahamic Covenant is particularly meaningful to us, because Christians see this covenant as being not just to the Jewish people but to all peoples and all nations.


I said earlier that the theme for today’s readings is “Trust in God”. Both Abraham and Jesus had their faith and their trust in God challenged in extreme circumstances.

God asked Abraham to have faith, against all apparent reason, that he would be the father of God’s people and indeed, the father of God’s covenant with all nations.

As part of his divine mission, Jesus was called to look into the abyss of eternal evil and have faith in God’s purposes for life, to have faith in the resurrection and thereby to BE the catalyst for eternal life: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

On this second Sunday of Lent, I pray that we may be given the grace of faith both when faith comes easily and when it is difficult. I pray that when faith is difficult, that we may be inspired by the faith of Abraham but also take comfort in the fact that he too challenged and questioned God.

But most of all, I pray that we remember that it was Jesus’ faith in the love and forgiveness of God that brought salvation into the world.

During Lent, we examine our lives and our consciences, but we also look forward to Easter in the faith and the conviction that the eternal purpose of God is life, hope and creation. Amen