Sermon preached at Llanishen Methodist Church, Cardiff on Sunday 28th February 2016.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
May I speak and may we listen, in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, what a cheery Gospel reading this Sunday….I’ve come all the way to Llanishen and I fear that you might well mistake me for a prophet of doom from Birchgrove!
In a week full of political conversation about whether the UK stays in Europe or doesn’t….
in a week in which our politicians Mothers get repeatedly brought into political debate….
in a week when Mugabe celebrates his 92nd Birthday and Pope Francis says that people who build walls rather than bridges are not Christian….in regards to Donald Trump – in a week when the world seems to be spinning out of Control …the message of today:
‘Repent or Perish!’ is not the most exciting title for a Gospel passage…..and maybe if we had opened this passage at home, we would flick over a few pages and move on to something more exciting. Less threatening, less challenging.
Ministers included! Perhaps…!
In the face of this challenge to repent or to perish, we are inclined to run – in the opposite direction, as far away from Christ as possible….for today – he asks of us, that difficult thing – to, as we say on Ash Wednesday ‘turn away from Sin and be faithful to Christ’ as we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
Perhaps we are the silly ones for ever thinking that Lent was a time to feel happy, or to be complacent, or to live our lives unchallenged – when actually it starts with such a poignant, clear reminder on Ash Wednesday of our own mortality.
Ash Wednesday says to all of us – remember that you will have a final day….that’s not a particularly longed for message in our world today.
And yet, if many of our world leaders remembered it they might act differently. But that’s me getting on my soapbox!
Just last week, I was leading a housegroup with folk from Conway Road, on the topic ‘is God really all about love?’ and we got into a deep conversation about
Heaven and Hell.
We didn’t realize then just how relevant our conversation would be to the reading this Sunday – but it has helped me in some of my thinking for this morning.
But, friends for a moment lets just catch up with ourselves and where we are in the narrative today – here we are, the Third Sunday in Lent…
We’re journeying closer to Easter week by week…
I wonder do you feel like a citizen of heaven as St Paul described us last week….or do you feel ‘struck down in the wilderness’ as St Paul commented in our reading today from Corinthians?
Perhaps you don’t think that St Paul is right in telling us that we will not be tested beyond our strength…as we eat that packet of biscuits or break our fast too early…..!
I wonder how well your Lent is going?!
Does it feel like Lent at all? Are we looking eagerly towards heaven, as we journey the way of the cross – with our Lord…are we imitating the saints who have gone before us? Walking the way of the Cross…welcoming the way of the cross…embracing our crucifixion and resurrection?
Just what are we actually doing with this precious time? Time to slow down, time to actually take seriously God’s grace and mercy and sacrifice in Christ Jesus.
Maybe you’re crumbling under the weight of whatever it is that you’ve given up…
Or perhaps you’ve been a little more radical, and decided that for too many years, you’ve given things up and decided to take something on instead…
And maybe something someone in your family has decided to do this Lent has consequences for the rest of you…messes up the routine.
Like going to a Lent group,
trying to keep in contact with friends and family a little more,
Or just working on your personal relationship with God.
You see, actually all the other things we may or may not do, during Lent are really meant to do that last thing I just mentioned – work on our relationship with God…for the better.
That’s why we have these long periods of waiting in the calendar of the Christian community – Lent just like Advent is a time of waiting, yearning, hoping for that great mystery to unfold – the Incarnation when God becomes Flesh in Christ Jesus at Christmas, and the Resurrection when Jesus Christ is raised from the dead at Easter.
We prepare for the gifts of God, through waiting.
But, if you’re anything like me you’re terrible at waiting – and want things to happen immediately.
We want to jump from Advent to Christmas Day immediately, and we want to jump from Good Friday, to Easter Sunday….we don’t want the Palm Sunday and the Maundy Thursday and the Holy Saturday to get in the way of our eagerness….
But we miss out, in our rushing. And all our Easter ‘alleluia’s’ are empty and worthless, without having first gone to the cross, and through the tomb….
Jesus showed us, in the Gospel reading we had at the beginning of Lent from Luke 4, of the importance of waiting and preparation.
Jesus before his ministry begins, goes out into the Wilderness for forty days and forty nights, to prepare.
For the beginning of his ministry.
How much more then, do we need to prepare for our own ministry as disciples of Jesus through fasting and prayer and times of testing?
Like Gold refined in the furnace, we must pass through the fire…the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of life, the fire of testing….the fire of waiting.
Perhaps that is part of true repentance also – to be refined by the fire of God’s Holy Spirit.?
We heard in the reading from Isaiah:
‘Come! 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.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
‘you that have no money come, buy and eat – come buy wine and milk without money and without price’.
What consolation do these words give to the Mother or Father who single handedly tries to raise their children – benefits cut, sanctions slapped on them for situations they cannot help –
What does this mean for the disabled, and the pensioner, or those who suffer with poor mental health and find
That everything has a price, and nothing can be bought without money.
What does it say to the poor beggar, who looks upon the riches of the Church and on the affluence of many Christian people and sees no compassion or consideration or sacrifice made for them by those who claim to know and love Jesus Christ?
Indeed, where shall my wondering soul begin – how do I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
It’s no good facing our own mortality, or giving things up for lent, or repenting if we do not do so in order to change the world around us, to challenge the status quo, to live as Citizens of Heaven – if all we do in our discipleship and service is for our own benefit then we do not really do it for Christ.
The call of Lent is a call to follow the way of Christ –
The crucified, risen and ascended Christ.
The Call of Lent is a call to die, to self, to sin, to pride –
The Call of Lent is a call to follow the way of Christ, which is a way of sacrifice –
It is the losers way. The way of the cross. The way that speaks of loss, and defeat before it speaks of victory and triumph.
It is the way of mockery, and shame – of humiliation and denegration – of repentance and conversion,
of renewal, martyrdom, upheaval and finally of joy.
Lent asks us to tak seriously the words “I am no Longer my own but yours’. Because when Christ calls us to follow him – he bids us, come and die.
‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near, let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’
Yet it is God who in Jesus Christ seeks us out –
It is God who in Jesus Christ calls out to us – in our frailty, and darkness, and sin –
Whether it be in Bethlehem with his tiny feeble arms outstretched in the manger.
Or by the sea of Galilee when he calls out to us in our fishing boats – ‘Come and Follow Me’.
Or on the cross when he pays the total price for our redemption.
Or early on the first day of the week, where the greatest miracle of our faith took place – and in that locked room, he stood amongst us and shows us the wounds in his hands, and his side and says ‘see’ touch these wounds, put your fingers where the nails have torn me open – I bled and bleed for you…..all this for you, before you can know anything of it.
And faced in the depths of our heart with that crucified but risen reality that is CHRIST – we are given two choices, and they are choices….to fall down on our knees into the dust like Thomas and to proclaim ‘my Lord and my God’ or to turn away, unmoved and perish in our ignorant foolishness.
God loves us enough, to give us that freedom – He will not drag us into his Kingdom kicking and screaming – but only if we choose to live with him freely. And that is part of the mystery of it all.
We journey toward that great mystery – the mystery that we proclaim time and time again in this place – everytime we break the bread and share the cup – that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
Lent asks us, to make that mystery our own.
To take that mystery into the deepest parts of who and what we are –
And to live that mystery in the world.
To inhabit the passion of Christ – to have the story live out again within us – within the world – within this place.
To be followers of Jesus, means to follow Jesus to the Cross, to take up our own cross – to repent to turn away from sin, to live out the Gospel in all its beauty and demanding challenge –
As best we can – not just now, for this hour, but each and every day of lives. Until that time when sacraments and longing cease, when we see Jesus face to face, in the eternal kingdom – in that New Jerusalem – That New Heaven and New Earth –
in the Glory of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ – who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
One God, now and forever.