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29th March 2015 Palm Sunday - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Talk for Palm Sunday - Morning
Hopes and Dreams
Baptism of Kelly and Sophie Bridgwood

Today's service is called 'Hopes and Dreams' for a number of reasons.

1. Because tomorrow we begin "Experience Easter" for our Church School here in Pattingham, and 'Hopes and Dreams' will be the name of one of the special stations we will be setting up here in church - and it is the one that focuses on the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

2. Because today is Palm Sunday - when we too remember how Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem by the people. Their hearts and heads were full of hopes and dreams. Sadly not the same hopes and dreams as Jesus had himself.... they were hoping for a great military leader and were dreaming of the day when the Romans would be gone from their country.

(And when Jesus refused to be the kind of Messiah they were expecting, how quickly the cheering crowds turned into a Mob, howling for his blood!)

3. Because today we also welcome Kelly and Sophie into full membership with us in God's family and God's Church. And because next Sunday - Easter Day - they and some other youngsters who have been busy preparing during Lent - will make their First Communion. Kelly and Sophie have very definitely decided for themselves that following the way of Jesus is something they are choosing to do - and we all support and applaud them in that!

4. Because too we all know what it is to have hopes and dreams, don't we? We look forward in our lives too - planning what will happen when the summer comes, or you go to a new school, or we start a new job, or finally manage to shed those extra pounds!

When that day comes, we say to ourselves, everything will be fantastic, we will all be happy. The sun will shine every day.... I'll have loads of friends ... I'll be good at sports or maths, or some other subject...

Well it was a bit like that for the followers of Jesus. Finally their great day had come! At last their hopes for a new king were becoming real. All their dreams were coming true!

Jesus, their hoped-for Saviour was going to set them free, and everyone would be happy for ever.

The problem was, it didn't turn out quite like that.

Oh yes, Jesus is the king. But not like they were expecting. It was different from their hopes and dreams.

During this coming week we will hear the whole story and we will think about it every day - as we journey towards the terrible events of Friday.
We are going to find out what it really means to follow Jesus: and it isn't easy.
Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me. And that it what we try to do during Holy Week.

And of course, in a strange way, all their hopes and dreams of a Saviour and a King did come true. Beyond even their wildest imaginings and expectations, but not according to their ideas - or even ours...

Haven't we found that out for ourselves from time to time? The journey is sometimes harder than we expect - but when we reach our destination, when we get there, it will all make sense! Amen.

29th March 2015 - Sermon for Passion Sunday Evening

Exodus 7. 8-24
Romans 5. 12 - end

Why did Jesus have to die?

As we enter Passiontide - just two weeks to go to Easter Day - and we start to really contemplate the events that led up to that momentous event - the time when heaven and earth meet, clash, and move apart again - perhaps it is as well to turn our thoughts to that thorny old problem? How is it that one man dying horribly on a Roman gallows well over 2000 years ago somehow makes up for all the stupid mistakes that I (or anyone else) may have made in my life?

The common Christian reading of the Bible - which I am sure you have all heard hundreds of times - and maybe no longer even really hear, is that "Jesus died for our sins"

In the first 1000 years following his death, it was sometimes taught that this was to repay a debt to the devil... or more commonly - to pay a debt to God the Father (proposed by Anselm of Canterbury 1033 - 1109 - William the Conqueror's Archbishop ). His infamous treatise has been called "the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written."

But 100 or so years later, a Franciscan philosopher and theologian by the name of Duns Scotus (1266 - 1308), agreed with neither of these understandings. Scotus was not guided, you see, by the Temple language (the OT language) of debt, atonement or blood sacrifice. Instead he was inspired by the high level cosmic hymns in the early chapters of Paul's letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians and by the first chapter of John's Gospel.... "In the beginning was the Word" etc.

Those Christians who followed Anselm's teachings have paid a huge price for what the academic theologians called "Substitutionary atonement theory ..." the rather strange idea that before God could love us, God needed and demanded that Jesus should be a blood sacrifice to atone for our sin-drenched humanity. And my guess is that this is what lies behind a lot of modern denial or turning away from faith. It all seems so unfair. With that view, salvation - the hope of eternal life - depends upon a problem, instead of a divine proclamation about the core nature of reality. As if God could need payment, and even a very violent transaction, to be able to love and accept his own children! Well that may work for those who had angry, distant, absent or abusive fathers.... but thankfully it doesn't have to be like that!

For Scotus (remember him?) the incarnation of God and the redemption of the world could never be simply about clearing up after our mess - a response to human sinfulness, but rather was the proactive work of God, from the very beginning. We were "chosen in Christ before the world was made" - as a passage in Ephesians has it. Our sin could not possibly be the motive for the divine incarnation - for God entering into our humanity in all its messy and wonderful glory, - but rather only perfect love and divine self-revelation! For Scotus, God never merely re-acts, but always supremely and freely acts, and always acts totally out of love.

Maybe the best way of trying to understand all this is to think about the notion of retributive justice.... and this is how Scotus wanted to change it.
Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity - because God never changes and anyway it didn't need changing! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.

Think about that for a moment... God in Jesus moved people beyond the image of a cosmic accountant or Judge - counting, weighing and punishing model that maybe easier in a strange way for us to deal with. Instead he opened up to us an utterly new world, where God's abundance has made any economy of merit, sacrifice, reparation or atonement both unhelpful and unnecessary. Jesus undid, 'once and for all' all notions of human and animal sacrifice and replaced them with his new economy of grace, which is the very heart of the gospel revolution.

Jesus was meant to be a game changer for the human soul and for religion itself.
But we still get ourselves trapped - like a hamster in a wheel - focused on sin.... when the crucified one was pointing us towards a unity with the very suffering of God and of all creation. And this changes everything. Change the starting point, change the trajectory!

We all need to know that God does not love us because we are good; God loves us, because God is good. Nothing we as humans can or will ever do can decrease or increase God's eternal eagerness to love us and to see the best in us - the best sort of individuals we could be.... if only we listened to him.

There are no magic tricks about it - no changing water to blood - or even to wine ( although there will be those who speak of changing wine to blood and bread to flesh in some mysterious way)