Talk for Palm
Sunday - Morning
Baptism of Kelly and Sophie Bridgwood
Today's service is called 'Hopes and Dreams' for a number of
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
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.
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"
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
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
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)