Sunday Sermon 13th March - Communion
Welcome to our reflection for 13th March.
In the space of a week we have moved from just before the start of Jesus’ ministry, to near the end of Jesus’ ministry.
That is what Lent is like. Three decades have passed.
Jesus had the choice at the start to take the quick fix of power and influence and wealth to achieve his aims.
Now three years later instead of ruling the world with Jerusalem at its centre, he is weeping over its path of self destruction.
But where does that leave Jesus and his ministry, where does that leave us when we wonder if it is all worth it?
As I mentioned earlier...
Last week we were looking at the temptations of Christ. Jesus hadn’t yet started his ministry and we looked at his reflection on how he should do his ministry.
There was the temptation to take the quick fixes; grab power and wealth, take influence, go for the spectacular.
Who knows? If Jesus had taken that road maybe at this point, three years later near the end of his ministry, Jesus would have been lying luxuriously as king of Israel having defeated the Romans and united the people of Israel under a religious banner of the chosen people.
But instead Jesus is looking from the ridges opposite Jerusalem, looking across to the Temple mount, aware that when he enters he will probably be facing his death, and worse Jerusalem will be going down a path of self destruction, a path that a few decades after Jesus’ death will lead to the utter destruction of the temple and the city.
And maybe there is a piece of reflection going on here, a wondering if it was worth it, if it will be worth it?
Maybe he should just turn away?
Maybe he could become anonymous and live out his life in peace?
Maybe he could go back to Satan and ask to be offered the power again?
Maybe he could still unite the people under a religious army that would conquer the world?
So where does that leave us?
There are many churches in a time of uncertainty just now; many individuals going through a time of uncertainty.
I suspect that we always have been, that maybe we were just unaware of how vulnerable our lives have been.
The morning I started to write this sermon, during my personal time of prayer I instinctively, like many of you, started to pray for what was happening in Ukraine; started to pray for them because they are going through a tough time.
And then it dawned on me that the people of Yemen have been going through a worse time for over a decade, maybe I should have been praying more for them?
Then it dawned on me that the Palestinians had been living precariously in a war zone for about 70 years, maybe I should have been praying for them a lot more.
This conflict is in our face so it concerns us, but the world is always in conflict, there are always people struggling.
The question is, how should we deal with it?
And I want to make that point clear at the start.
The question is NOT, ‘How should someone else deal with it?’
For there is always that statement close to our lips, ‘Someone should do something about that.’
The question we are forced to confront is, ‘How should we react?’
I was made aware of that when I read the first sentence of this passage.
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘You must get out of here and go somewhere else, because Herod wants to kill you.’
That sentence doesn’t make any sense to our internal narrative.
You see the story we create is that there are good guys and there are bad guys.
In the Jesus story Jesus was the good guy and the Pharisees were the bad guys.
The Pharisees were the bad guys that wanted to kill the good guy Jesus, and they did. They created false witnesses and had Jesus killed, but the good guy, Jesus, wouldn’t put up with that and he rose for the dead.
That fits in really well with our good guys/bad guys theory.
Because in our personal story there are good guys and bad guys and we know we are not the bad guys, so we must be the good guys.
But our theory is wrong.
It is wrong because supposedly the bad guys are trying to help Jesus.
It is wrong because supposedly the good guy is listening to them and doesn’t see them as the bad guys.
So if that theory is wrong, then what is the truth?
The truth is that it doesn’t matter what the world does, what matters is what motivates our heart.
I think we have two great temptations; the same main temptations that Jesus had.
The first is to blame the world for everything.
Look at the mess of the world; I blame those children that have a sense of privilege.
I blame the parents that have no sense of responsibility.
I blame society for not supporting the families.
I blame the government for being corrupt and our leaders not having a sense of servanthood, for only being in it for what they can get out of it.
I BLAME THE LOT OF THEM.
AND MAY THEY GET WHAT THEY DESERVE.
Jesus would have had that temptation. His life was his gift and he should be left to live it in whatever way he wanted. Why waste his life on those that didn’t deserve it?
That was the temptation that the Pharisees were offering him. Run, go somewhere else save yourself.
Then there was the temptation of Satan that had always been there. Grab the power force them to be good. They can’t be trusted with anything so make yourself invulnerable to them, use them to create the world in your image, the way you think it should be.
Neither of these temptations work out.
Running away doesn’t help because the world is a small place and we all need each other.
And trying to control it as best we can doesn’t work out.
Look at Putin just now. He wants to create a world where he is safe from all his enemies, where he has a buffer zone round everything that is precious to him so that he is perfectly safe. And in trying to create a world where he is safe from his enemies, all he is doing is creating more enemies.
Jesus offers us another option.
Right at the start of his ministry he was tempted by Satan to grab power, and instead Jesus decided that his ministry was to show God’s love in word and deed, and to invite others to show God’s love in word and deed.
That was it.
But what did that mean? The rest of his life was showing what that meant.
What did that mean when he was faced with a hungry crowd?
What did that mean when he was faced with those scarred by life?
What did that mean when he was confronted with someone with mental illness?
What did that mean when faced with someone with an incurable disease?
What did that mean when sitting with a woman whose life was a train wreck?
What did that mean when talking to disciples that wanted him to move forward in power and create an army?
What did that mean when challenged by the religious caste that felt their rituals were threatened?
Jesus had spent the last three years working that out;
how to show God’s love to these people in word and deed.
And in this moment, after three years of living this life of showing God’s love in word and deed, Jesus has a choice; does he stick with it, or does he leave the people to themselves?
Because from here on in the way will be even harder.
What does it mean to show God’s love and care to those who are angry that you don’t fulfil their expectations of you?
What does it mean when you are being tortured? Does it mean enduring the torture without letting hate and anger into your heart?
What does it mean when you are being falsely accused of a capital offence? Does it mean offering those that want you dead a way to find redemption?
What does it mean when you are being crucified for something you didn’t do? Does it mean offering the crowd, the world, forgiveness?
Jesus was true to his calling; to the very end his option was not the grab at power and try to shape it in a way that he felt safe, and it was not to horde and run and try to protect himself from the world.
Jesus’ option was to show the love of God in word and deed.
And as we face the world, we are faced with the same choices.
It doesn’t matter what our stressors are;
It could be the plight of the world just now.
It could be personal grief and the death of someone we love or the death of a dream.
It could be worry over family, or ourselves.
It could be uncertainty of innumerable kinds, uncertainty in our health or our finances or our relationships or our job prospects.
It doesn’t matter what our stressors are; we either have them or will have them or know someone who has them.
What matters is our response.
Will we try to control it all with everything we have?
Will we try to run away from it all, escape in one form or another?
There is another choice; we can follow the path of Christ, neither running nor controlling, but showing God’s love as best we can in word and deed, and letting that change the world for the better.
Let us pray
The world is so uncertain just now.
We seem to be lurching from one crisis to another, to another.
It feels as if all areas of our life are struggling; our health service, our education system, you welfare system, national and international politics.
It is so tempting to protect ourselves, to hide somewhere, make sure we have enough and then cut our self off from the world.
It is equally tempting to leaders to try and control the situation, to force others to do what we want them to do so that we feel safe.
Help us to take the harder, greater path.
Help us to follow the path of your Son, who showed your love in word and deed.
To rely on your strength, to trust in your ways, to have hope and even joy in the vision that the world can change.