Lent 2 - Morning
John 3. 1-17
"God so loved the world" - words that are frequently
hear. Words that are said at every funeral. Words that we cling
to for comfort. God so loved the world....
But why? What is so loveable about this world? About us - humanity?
When you look around at the mess we seem to have made of it!
How come God still loves us and goes on loving, goes on sending
his Son so that we might have eternal life.
Now you might want to stop me at this point and say - No - God
sent his son - in the person of Jesus - in a once for all attempt
to get through to idiotic human beings. That was it! And in a
sense you would be right - but I think so too I am right in asserting
that this is a process that goes on and on. For if you believe
- as I do - that creation was not a once for all act, but carries
on into our present and into our future too, then so does the
sending of the Son and his crucifixion and resurrection too.
They are ongoing events that supersede the constraints of linear
time. Have I totally lost you yet?
Well, you would not be alone. Poor old Nicodemus was feeling
a bit confused and bamboozled too. And he was no slouch. Nicodemus
was a Pharisee - which means that he was an educated man - had
spent years studying the Scriptures and the Law. Thought he had
God taped, just where he wanted him. Safe and sound. But then
along came Jesus. This strange young rabbi from some Godforsaken
spot up north - Gallilee - that hotbed of hot heads! Probably
speaking with a funny accent and definitely saying some outrageous
things. Turning the accepted wisdom of the scholars on its head!
Turning Common Sense on its head too - many would say. Half the
time the things he said seemed to make no sense at all.... and
yet, and yet there was something about his words. Something about
the way he delivered them. Despite the northern accent he sounded
so sure of himself. So confident. It made one begin to doubt
all the accepted wisdom of the ages... What if he were right?
Nicodemus feels completely in the dark - which is why he chooses
night to come to Jesus. Seeking understanding, explanation. Wanting
to emerge from the shadows but fearing what his friends and colleagues
might say and think if they knew he were here - speaking with
Jesus the blasphemer and his rag-tag and bobtail pack of so-called
disciples. Ordinary working men most of them - hardly a scholar
amongst them! Some of them with decidedly dodgy backgrounds.
Maybe not out and out criminals, but definitely on the margins
of respectability. Best not be seen associating with them!
So Nicodemus comes at night, feeling confused and when he gets
to meet and speak with Jesus, he ends up even more so. We don't
know what difference this meeting made to Nicodemus - he disappears
from the story at this point with no more comment - except that
when he surfaces again, it is again night. This time one of the
blackest nights and worst times in the world. A time when God
himself seems absent from the world and his son lies broken and
dead upon a cross. God so loved the world. Nicodemus so loved
Jesus that he risked his life again to go at night with Joseph
of Arimathea and take down the body from the cross; find a decent
place to lay it to rest and begin the process of embalming the
corpse so that the women would be able to complete the task later.
In daylight, when they could venture out again.
Middle-eastern cultures love an argument - love a debate. They
have that in common with my Irish ancestors. My Mother (who as
far as I know had no Irish blood in her) always despaired at
family gatherings. For when my father and my aunts and uncles,
grandfather and great-uncles got together, there was bound to
be - if not a row, then a robust discussion - about something
or other! Politics, or Football, or Racing - and even sometimes
Religion. And she would end up nursing a headache, not brought
on by over-indulgence with the port and lemon!
But maybe the dialogue, the argument we overhear in this morning's
Gospel is not just that between two people, Jesus and Nicodemus.
As the reading goes on, it begins to sound more like the disputes
that arose as Christianity began to emerge, first as a sect within
Judaism and then as a separate entity. Family disputes can be
fierce. And when adolescents grow up and begin to leave home
there is frequently argument and debate...
Unless you ( the word is in the plural - all of you) are born
of the Spirit - born again. It has often been thought that John's
gospel teaches that Christianity fulfils and so takes over from
Judaism. But even if that view does lie behind the writing of
the fourth Gospel, it cannot be all in the conversation between
Jew and Christian. |But we cannot simply ditch our Jewish heritage.
It is woven too tightly into Christianity. Jesus came not to
destroy the Law, but to fulfil it and demonstrate how we might
all move into the light that is eternal life in God's presence.
'You must be born again' perhaps those words were indeed said
once to the synagogues. But here and now, should we again hear
them as a challenge to each and every one of us in the Church
today? We need to talk - to dialog - with each other, with our
partner church St Alban's Ashmore Park. We are going to be sharing
some of our stories and family histories that relate to wartime
as this year of commemoration goes on. Bringing them out of the
dark and into the light. 'Closing the Gap' - real and perceived,
between our two communities.
And God goes on showing us how much he loves the world - he invites
us to share in his bread and his wine; his body and his blood
- given once and given for all time that we might have life!
March 2014 - Lent 2 Evening- Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs
Sermon for Lent 2 - Evening
Luke 14. 27-33
This week has seen the passing
of a significant figure from our Political world - Tony Benn.
And - like him or loathe him - no-one can be indifferent to his
presence in this world. And even his political enemies have this
week been paying tribute to a man, a politician, who managed
to preserve his personal integrity - even sometimes perhaps to
the detriment of his party. Conviction Politicians are it seems
few and far between these days. And with the passing of Tony
Benn - much as with the passing of Margaret Thatcher - we are
all a little bit impoverished.
Now I don't know about St Luke, but I cannot help but feel that
St Paul might have approved of Mr Benn. And in thinking about
him (Tony Benn that is, not St Paul) we should not forget the
influence of his mother, Margaret Wedgwood Benn, born Margaret
Holmes. She was both a theologian and a feminist. A member of
the League of the Church Militant, (a phrase I never like) but
which in this instance was the predecessor of the Movement for
the Ordination of Women - and in 1925 she was apparently told
off by the then Archbishop of Canterbury for advocating women's
ordination! Her response is not recorded - but I doubt somehow
that she took this rebuke too much to heart.
His mother's theology had a profound influence on Tony Benn,
as she taught him that the stories in the Bible were often based
around the struggle between the prophets and the kings (in the
OT) or between Jesus and the Apostles against the Religious and
Civic Authorities in the NT... in other words between those who
had power and those who possessed righteousness.
And we might well reflect that Tony Benn spent most of his life
picking up the cross as he saw and understood it - and was not
afraid to lay down the possessions of a privileged upbringing
and a seat in the House of Lords, because he cared. He cared
passionately about working people, ordinary people and about
those who governed them and - as he saw it - sometimes took rash
and foolish decisions. So he was not afraid to speak up and speak
out - even when it made him very unpopular.
The image of a bronze serpent fending off the dangers from the
all-too-real serpents that are afflicting the Israelites as they
journey through the desert is also a powerful one. This is an
image that persists to this day. The image of the snake wound
around a staff or on a standard still stands as an emblem of
healing and is recognized by all members of the medical profession.
I often think that the significance of this story is that the
people are asked to look up in faith - to raise their eyes above
the level of the ordinary and the everyday - to believe in something
bigger and better that can heal their problems and woes. To that
extent it is both a theological and a political story.
|Moses prayed for the people. We too should pray for our leaders
and for ourselves. That they may be guided by the spirit of integrity,
truth, mercy and justice and that we may be guided by compassion
and love of God.
During the weeks and months to come we are going to be collecting
and listening to stories from within our community - and sharing
them with stories from our partner church, St Alban's, Ashmore
Park. Not just randomly, but - to begin with at any rate - focused
on family memories and stories of wartime happenings - War and
Peace in Town and Country. I (and Henry Ibberson and Iain Coleman
who are working with me on this project) believe that we will
find out some amazing things about ourselves as a worshipping
community and about the wider community of Pattingham and Patshull
as a whole. And that we shall find much in common with our urban
neighbours in St Albans and the surrounding area too. We may
also find ourselves in situations where we recognize the injustice
and the powerlessness of people who have fewer advantages than
Will we discover the courage to pick up the cross that we may
find? To speak out boldly and defend the rights of the powerless
to those who hold the power. Be they kings or presidents or prime
ministers, heads of unions or international corporations, local
authorities or parish councils.
I leave you tonight with this prayer - one that has always struck
me as recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of the ordinary,
extra-ordinary working man (and woman!)
Christ the Master Carpenter, who at the last, through wood and
nails, shaped our whole salvation, wield well your tools in the
workshop of your world, so that we, who come rough-hewn to your
bench, may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand.
We ask it for your own name's sake.