Second Sunday of Lent
24 February 2013
Readings: Phil: 3:17 – 4:1 Luke: 13:31 –end
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning – it is wonderful to be here in St Mary’s Hadlow and I want to say “thank you” once again to everyone who put so much work into my installation service on Tuesday. I know that an army of people worked very hard to make that happen and I want to let you know beyond any doubt that it was and is very much appreciated. So “Thank You” one and all!!
At the installation service the choir sang “I was Glad”, the magnificent anthem by Parry, and they did it magnificently. Despite my own slight nerves about the service I closed my eyes and was transported by the beauty of the music and singing. I can’t claim any credit for choosing that piece because it was chosen by Vivienne, my better half. Vivienne choose it not only because it is a wonderful piece of music but because it expresses something of our joy and, yes, gladness, that we have come to this place to live and work and to worship amongst you and with you in the name of Christ.
Of course moving jobs and moving house and moving schools is never easy and we are very much in a process of transition at the moment. We may not be fully in the Vicarage and fully into the proper routine of being here until Easter. Whilst that is not ideal I would ask for your forbearance and charity. In the grand scheme of things it will not take that long and when we are here we shall be fully here and, yes, ‘glad’ and ‘blessed’ and ‘excited’ to be able to undertake this ministry.
In many ways making this change, this transition, over Lent is quite appropriate. Lent is a time of preparing ourselves for the new things that God is doing, the in-breaking and transforming power of the resurrection – the defeat of death by dying and rising again. But the road to the resurrection is not and should not be easy. It was not easy for Jesus and as followers of Jesus we should not shirk from the reality that sometimes life is hard, the road has potholes (now more than ever it seems!) and that sometimes we need to make both a spiritual and a physical effort to get to where we want to be.
I know that is deeply unfashionable and my parents told me that they heard a vicar on their local radio essentially saying that there was no point trying to give up anything over lent, which may be sadly indicative of the state of our collective spiritual life. Nonetheless most of us know deep down that anything really worth doing in this life does take a bit of effort – athletes have to train if they want to compete, students have to study if they want to pass exams and disciples of Christ have to exercise a little bit of self-discipline in order to become more Christ-like, which is surely part of our goal.
So , during Lent we are encouraged to strip away those things which hold us back from being the people that God made us to be – to dispose of distractions, to make changes to our life and, yes, to be prepared to resist the temptation to give up and be the same as everyone else.
And it is that temptation to give up, to throw in the towel, to go with the flow, to let go of the vision of Glory and settle for second best which is such an important part of the Lenten narrative.
Last week the gospel reading was of Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness. As Jesus underwent real physical hunger and suffering, time and again he was offered an easy way out – he could eat and drink and even enjoy earthly power if only he would take his eyes off God the Father, renounce his Sonship and his mission. Just because we are familiar with that story does not mean that we should underestimate or downplay either the reality of Jesus’ suffering as he fasted or the attractive reality of the temptation he was being offered. At any point Jesus could have given up and it is worth thinking about the meaning and impact for the world had he done so.
This week’s reading from Luke is a little less obvious, but it nonetheless concerns the temptation to give up and take the easy path, the road more travelled.
In today’s reading Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and we know from the predictions he made that Jesus knew what awaited him there – the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday would, he knew, soon give way to his arrest, trial and execution.
As Jesus travelled towards Jerusalem, he was approached by some Pharisees with a warning – they say:
“Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you.”
This is no idle warning on the part of the Pharisees or idle threat on the part of Herod because we know from Luke 9 that Herod has already beheaded John the Baptist. The threat to Jesus’ life is very real – we know it, the Pharisee’s know it and Jesus knows it.
I have been to a few dangerous places in my time – a couple of week’s ago Vivienne and I had a short holiday in Gambia and whilst we were there we went on a trip to Southern Senegal which has been having an on-going struggle with separatists and is considered too dangerous for most of the excursion operators to go there. Nonetheless, perhaps foolishly, we went there and had an amazing day. However, although I didn’t mind a bit of generalised danger, if someone had said to me that there was a very powerful person waiting in Senegal who would definitely kill me if I crossed the border then I suspect that we would have stayed on the beach instead.
Whilst that may seem facetious it is useful to be reminded that Jesus was fully human, as well as being fully divine, and he could have chosen to save his life at any time. He could have heeded the warning to avoid Jerusalem and perhaps have had a slightly different ministry – he was being tempted to take his eyes from what God was calling him to and to settle for second best.
However, Jesus’ response is robust and even amusing:
“Go and tell that fox…”
Whenever we are tempted to think of Jesus as an ethereal hippy it is useful to be reminded that he could be quite cutting when the occasion required:
“Go and tell that fox – I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow and I on the third day I reach my goal. In any case I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”
He could give up and be ordinary but he knows that he is called to something else, something much greater – he will keep going today and tomorrow and the next day until he reaches his goal, even though he knows danger and death lay ahead.
Jesus then laments over the tragedy that has befallen Jerusalem and will befall it in the future – it is God’s chosen city, the place where his presence came to dwell in the Temple, and yet it is also the place where his prophets are killed by those in power, where his words are ignored and which is ruled over by those who are far from knowing God. Jesus say that God’s greatest desire is to gather together the children of Jerusalem like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing.
We are so used to having very male images of God and often very strong male images at that, but here we are offered a picture of God as a matriarchal hen gathering her chicks to safety and it is beautiful. But the tragedy is that these chicks are being ruled over by foxes like Herod, and we know what foxes do with chicks.
Finally, Jesus says that the people of Jerusalem will not see him until they cry: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” – which is the cry of the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and which, of course, is part of our liturgical cry during communion. However the people in Jerusalem allowed their cry to turn from “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” To “crucify him” within a week and we must watch ourselves, our motivations and our lives to ensure that we do not praise Jesus with one breath and deny him and crucify him with the next. How we do that is a lifetime’s work but the discipline of travelling with Jesus during Lent and not giving in to every temptation to give up is a valid and a valuable part of that lifetime’s work and don’t let anyone tell you different.
So my prayer not only for this Lent but for the whole of my ministry here is that we shall always strive to be the people that God has called us to be and that we shall ever journey together with God the Son, towards God the Father in the power of God the Spirit.