A Sermon preached by Assistant Curate Richard Hutchins on 17 Mar 2019 2nd Sunday in Lent
On this second Sunday in Lent, I want us to think for a few minutes on a very Lenten theme – that of repentance. Specifically are there areas of life to repent of this Lent, as we prepare for Easter and beyond. I say “beyond” because it has struck me quite forcibly that the wilderness time of Jesus, which we remembered last week and which is a pattern for our Lent journey, was preparing our Lord for more than a single day, a single event. This 40 day period in the wilderness, following his baptism with water and Spirit, was the preparatory foundation for the whole three years of his ministry – up to and including the cross and resurrection.
So as we think during this Lent period – about Easter, and perhaps about our ministry together and individually beyond that glorious celebration – are there things we need to bring to the Lord as part of that preparation.
Our Gospel reading is, if I may be so bold, just a bit of an obscure one. It sits in Luke’s Gospel between teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven, where the last will be first and the first will be last, and one of Jesus’ healings on the Sabbath. I find it interesting that some Pharisees at this point seem to be trying to protect Jesus from Herod – a stark contrast to what comes later when the majority of Pharisees are plotting how to get rid of this upstart.
But anyway, here we have Jesus ignoring the warning and declaring his intent to keep on keeping on with his ministry; and then grieving over Jerusalem. I think there is a strong lesson for us in this passage – the call that echoes what Chris said a few weeks ago about peace. Jesus here declares his intent to pursue his Father’s will. I get a real sense of Jesus’ faithfulness to the start of our Psalm today – hear those words again “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus again and again looking to his Father, only seeking what is his Father’s will, totally committed and trusting in his Father. And as a result he is able to face down the threat of Herod and stay on track, pursuing the Kingdom of God and revealing it to his disciples and all that would listen.
There are amazing words in the Psalm – words of trust in God; I think they bear reading again :
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.
7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Saviour.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
12 Do not hand me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.
13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Contrast this with words from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Let’s turn this around for a moment as we think about things we might need to hand over to God, things we might need to turn around from this Lent, thing we need to repent of. We can set our minds on earthly things, trusting in things other than our Lord, drawing our strength and confidence from worldly things – I believe that lies at the heart of the words “their god is their stomach” – and seeking glory and recognition for ourselves rather than always pointing to the glory of our Lord God. If that sounds a bit heavy to you then I’m not hugely apologetic because this Lent I recognise this as a problem I face.
Take those words from Psalm 27, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life”. I’m sorry to say that despite the words of the Prayer Book prayer that I will earnestly offer for Bishops, Priests and Deacons in a moment –“that by life and doctrine I may set forth God’s true and lively word”, that is not a 100% reality. I’ve come to recognise that I still have strongholds, areas in which I place my confidence, that are not wholly surrendered to God. There are things that I take comfort in, material and habitual things that are a real struggle to lay down! And in these areas the stark truth is that I risk being an enemy of the cross of Christ – and that’s alarming. Why an enemy? Because where I don’t put my trust and confidence 100% in God then I am relying on things of the world, and I am robbing God of some of the glory that is His due.
This may be quite heavy stuff – but I believe it is good for us to have time to really focus on what is important in every area of our lives; where our trust lies. And in that reflection to recognise that we withhold some parts from God – areas such as work, family, money, emotions, possessions, time – and hold these in service to ourselves and the world rather than God’s Kingdom. When we have identified such areas then we can turn them back to God, we can turn from our reliance on them and the trust we put in them. We can repent, which just means to turn around; to turn away from any of these areas that we are holding onto and so move our focus, our eye-line to seek God’s face, God as our stronghold.
I would like us to all do something together as a response – but this is an invitation not an instruction. The Methodist Church has a prayer that they use at least once a year at a service of recommitment. It is a covenant prayer where they offer themselves to God, lock, stock and barrel.
For a few moments I would ask that we each keep silent, that we reflect and examine ourselves and look for areas where we trust something or someone other than God; to look for strongholds that we rely on for our comfort, our confidence and our peace that are not surrendered to God. After those few moments I invite you to join me in saying this Methodist Covenant prayer – it is a risky prayer because God is very likely to cash in on it if it is said with honesty and integrity; but it is also an exciting prayer, because God is very likely to cash in on it. Please do only join this prayer if you are praying from the heart – perhaps you are not ready to say it now and can take the paper home with you for a later occasion; it is up to you.
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with who you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.