Oh Jerusalem! : Jesus’ cry for the world God would gather in….

Sunday 21st February 2016 Lent 2C

Luke 13:31-35

 Oh Jerusalem! : Jesus’ cry for the world God would gather in….

I don’t know whether you’ve ever found yourself in the centre of an intrigue. Perhaps that’s not an unusual occurrence for you. Having to read a situation, wonder what is really going on – what people’s ulterior motives are – what the end game is? I think todays pericope starts out a bit like this.

A warning comes from some Pharisees about King Herod Antipas’ murderous intent. Jesus is in danger. But how much danger? And why now? And why are the Pharisees, who are working in cahoots with the Roman authorities to keep the populace under control, coming to warn Jesus?

Herod Antipas had killed John the Baptist. It is very believable that he also wanted to remove Jesus. Why? The eastern flank of the Roman empire was unstable. When you are trying to maintain stability and security, the last thing you want is popular movements critical of government. If you are running the temple and trying to sustain a balance between Roman demands and your commitment to the survival of Israel and its faith, then you also do not want people from ‘left field’. Military revolutionaries are more easily categorised. People like John and Jesus brought unrest.[1]

Jesus is in danger. He has a choice here. He could disappear quietly. Go about what he’s doing, healing the sick, casting out demons, but try to do so without arousing the anger of the Synagogue officials and the Romans. However, nothing will deter Jesus from the course he is set on – not even the threat of murder. Instead, Jesus calls Herod a “fox” – a wily animal, known for its cunning and its indiscriminate destruction of any small animal that comes in its way. And then goes on to make a prophetic statement about who he, Jesus is – and something about his Father, and the Father’s relationship to the people.

Speaking in the persona of divine Wisdom and anticipating his later weeping over the city ( Lk19:41-44) Jesus begins a prophetic lament.

Michael spoke earlier about the lament tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament. (…..) There are lots of examples of lament – the book of Lamentations, Job, Jonah, Jeremiah and others. What I think makes this different is that here it’s Jesus who is lamenting – these are God’s words from God’s mouth – not simply through a human prophet. This is God’s lament about the way God’s people are being unfaithful to God. The way they reject him.

On the face of it, this might not seem different from the relational cycle that plays out throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: God enters into a covenant relationship with the people. The people turn away from God, and act unfaithfully. Things go badly for the people. A prophet laments the faithlessness of the people and calls them back into relationship with God. The people repent and come back to God. And the cycle begins again. And Again.

But something different is being foreshadowed here. This is God’s son speaking. In this lament over Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” Jesus is suggesting that the outcome will be very different. Not the endless cycle of the History of the Israelites – but a one off event when God will draw all of God’s creation back to God’s self.

How is this going to happen? In one of the most beautiful images of the New Testament, Jesus describes God as a hen, gathering up her chicks under her wing. It’s a beautiful maternal image of God.

Episcopalian priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor tells a beautiful story about buying an orphaned guinea chick. It needed a foster mother hen if it was to survive. Taylor bought a Blue Silkie hen, brought it home, and set it down outside the pen that held the guinea chick. She watched them watching each other. Then she put the hen in the pen with the chick. She writes:

“Both [the hen] and the baby froze. The baby cheeped. The hen did not move a feather. The baby cheeped again. The hen stayed right where she was. The baby took a few steps toward her. I held my breath. The grey hen lifted her wings. The baby scooted right into that open door. When I checked on them an hour later, all I could see was a little guinea chick head poking out from under that grey hen’s wing.”[2]

How does Jesus foreshadow Jerusalem will respond?

As Jesus points out, Jerusalem’s tendency has always been to reject with violence the emissaries (Prophets) sent to it by God – even though the divine intent was ever benign: simply longing to bring all of creation back into relationship with the one who made it. As benign in fact as the action of a hen gathering a brood of chicks under her wings in fact.

Barbara Brown Taylor continues: “But the context is anything but sweet. Some Pharisees have come to Jesus and told him, “You had better get out of here. Herod wants to kill you.” I don’t think that they cared one bit about Jesus’ welfare. It is pretty clear that they were trying to scare him off, to get this troublemaker to leave town.

And if he had had concern about saving his skin, Jesus would have left town. Herod Antipas was not quite as ruthless as his father Herod the Great, the one who killed all the children in Bethlehem, but he was close. If anyone even appeared to threaten his power, Herod quickly executed them. Jesus called him a fox, who is both wily and cruel and will kill just for the sake of killing.”

There is such beautiful vulnerability in the image of a mother hen raising her wings so that her chicks can cuddle in and seek sanctuary beneath them. Because in the raising of her wings, and the raising up of herself (RAISE ARMS – RISE UP ONTO TOES) the hen makes her breast bone – and her beating heart beneath vulnerable to attack.   Likewise Jesus. The only way for Christ to complete his role as savior to creation is for Christ to be raised up. Arms spread wide. Vulnerable unto death – death on a cross.

The language of the “three days” also shows us the path that Jesus is choosing here. He’s not just denoting to a short amount of time, but pointing to Easter: his death and resurrection that happened in “three days.” Pointing again to the incredibly vulnerable open armed action of God – seeking to draw all of creation back to God.

And again – how will Jerusalem respond? Will they run to the hen and nestle beneath her protective wings – re entering a relationship with the creator? Jesus in a final prophetic statement again forshadows that this will not be the case. It’s not a condemnatory or threatening statement but simply and tragically alluding to what will happen (or what for the first readers of the gospel had already happened): Jerusalem’s house will be left desolate. It’s an allusion to the destruction of the temple in 70n CE. For despite God’s incredibly extravagant outpouring of love in the cross and in raising Jesus from the dead not all of creation will turn back to God.

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that there are many things in our world today that God might lament. Ways in which the brokenness of the world harms and degrades people. And God, as ever, seeks to draw these things up into God’s self as a hen draws the chicks in.

At the end of today’s service we are going to invite you to respond to two such places of brokenness and despair. You will have the choice whether you would like to respond or not – remember that Cross Gen is a community of people who see and understand the world differently – so if you are uncomfortable in any way with what we are suggesting I encourage you to not join in – that is your right and we will respect that.

Here are two situations that are taking up enormous amounts of media attention right now that I personally believe cause God to weep, just as Jesus did over Jerusalem:

1) As you know we are in the middle of a 4 year Royal Commission in to Institutional Child abuse. Whilst it is true that abuse has happened in many organisations that have cared for children, including orphanages and schools run by the churches that preceded the formation of the Uniting Church, there is much attention on the systemic abuse of children by catholic priests. Next week the Royal Commission will hear further evidence into the horrendous abuse that took place in Ballarat. Cardinal George Pell, the most senior cleric Australia has had will be called to give account of what he knew about the abuse of children, and what if anything he did about it.

I do not wish to comment on the work of the commission, or the evidence the Cardinal will bring. I simply wish us to join in an action that has begin in Ballarat and has spread internationally. It is called a LOUD FENCE – the simple tying of ribbons to a fence to bear witness and stand in solidarity with those who were abused as children – and so say that we as a community will no longer stay silent. We will listen to children. And we will act to keep them safe.

At the end of the service you will be invited to go outside and tie a ribbon to our fence – creating a LOUD Fence to declare that we stand in solidarity with victims of abuse and will no longer be silent about abuse where it occurs. Photographs of the fence will be posted to Facebook along with images of other LOUD fences around the world.

We can provide more information about this later so as to help you understand what this action is about.

The second action is to declare our solidarity with the #sanctuary movement. As you may know, the government is seeking to return 267 people who are currently seeking asylum in Australia to detention on Manus and Nauru. This includes a number of Children and babies. You may have seen last night a vigil to stop the removal of one of the babies from hospital where she is receiving care. You may have also seen that a number of churches, including Uniting Churches are offering sanctuary to families should that become necessary. This morning Mountview, where Brendan is Minister declared that they are a church that are prepared to offer sanctuary. Our network has also been part of a discussion about this – and while we have not yet made a decision about whether this is something we can or will actively participate in – we can declare that we are in solidarity with those churches that can offer sanctuary – and offer them our prayerful support.

The children are doing some work on this and making a sign – we will take a photograph of us with the signs outside our building as a display of solidarity.

2016-02-21 19.42.39 2016-02-21 19.43.23 2016-02-21 18.17.53But for now – let us pray.

 

 

 

 

[1] First Thoughts on the Lectionary, Bill Loader, Lent 2C http://www.staff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkLent2.htm

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Barnyard Behavior, “The Christian Century, September 19, 2006 http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2006-09/barnyard-behavior

 

Advertisements
Posted in Lent, Sermons, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A journey in the Wilderness

Lent 1 C: A journey in the Wilderness.

I am coming to the conclusion that Lent is by far the most problematic season in the church calendar. For people both inside and outside the church it seems to be a time that is deeply misunderstood. In the last week I’ve read lots of jokes about what one might ‘give up’ for Lent, along with holier-than-thou comments from atheists that giving up chocolate won’t make you a better person. (Oh Really?)

For many Christians, Lent and the setting before God of the burdens they carry, is a deeply significant part of their spiritual practice. It is a time of strengthening faith and abiding in God that provides nourishment for their journey. Those of us who engaged in the Ashen SPACE on Thursday night, certainly felt that way.

We begin the Sunday readings for Lent with the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This story, coming at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, just following his baptism, tells us something very important about who Jesus is, and the nature of his mission. It also gives us a useful template for our own spiritual practice: it shows us the need to step back from the hustle and bustle of life, to avoid the temptations put before us, and to focus on God in order to prepare for what lies ahead just as Jesus does at the start of his ministry.

What happens in the wilderness?

At the start of Luke’s version of the temptation story we are reminded of the context – Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. Although interrupted in the text by Luke’s genealogy, the preceding event was Jesus’ baptism. Jesus and the others who were baptized are praying and the heaven is opened, the Holy Spirit descends on him in bodily form like a dove and a voice is heard from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Then, in a precursor to what would develop as one of the great prayer traditions of the early church, Jesus goes out into the wilderness to pray. We are not told anything of the difficulties and trials of being in the wilderness – but simply that he is “famished.” And while he is famished, Jesus is visited by the devil who has come to tempt him.

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891 – 1959) Driven by the Spirit (2)Here’s an image that I think helps us to unpack the themes inherent in this passage:

Stanley Spencer – Christ in the Wilderness – Driven by the Spirit into the wilderness (1942)

I have found Spencer’s work profoundly moving since I discovered him when I was at Theological College. This painting comes from a series painted by Spencer between 1939 and 1954. This was a period of great strife and turmoil in the artist’s life. Spencer spent 2 ½ years on the front line in Macedonia in the First World War. The experience had a profound effect on Spencer; the memories infiltrated his spirit. He painted these images when he was living in a single room in deep poverty, estranged from his wife and well into the 2nd World War which was for many a time of bleakness, of uncertainty, of destruction and loss of hope. Spencer originally intended to paint 40 images – one to be displayed each day during Lent. Only 18 sketches were made and 8 paintings finished.

In this painting we see a massive figure of Jesus striding through a bleak and desolate land, with the ground giving way beneath him, providing no sure footing. (When Sophia and I were discussing this very painting at the Ash Wednesday service we attended together on Wednesday night, she said she though Jesus was doing Karate. He does look a bit that way, doesn’t he!) He is doing battle with the temptations in the wilderness and finding something to cling to.

A wilderness is a wild place, a waiting place, a place of preparation. Life is not comfortable in the desert. When he arrives there, Jesus fasts for 40 days: the text states simply that as a result he was: “famished.” In reality it’s almost impossible to go this long without food, we know from people who go on hunger strikes in prison. It’s a one word description that belies the depth of suffering and struggle that lies beneath.

There is no coincidence that the 3 ways in which the Satan tempts Jesus are ways to end his current suffering. Firstly he suggests that “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” For Jesus, Famished as he is, the suggestion of bread to help his earthly body survive the torture of starvation might make some sort of worldy sense.

Secondly the devil shows him in an instant all of the kingdoms of the world. “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

And Thirdly he took Jesus to Jerusalem and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple and said “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Bodily sustenance. Worldly glory and authority. Power over death. It’s the ultimate set of temptations, don’t you agree?

After each temptation Jesus answers the devil. And each of his answers shows one thing. Jesus has his gaze set firmly on the Father. On the task he was sent to do. Even at the beginning of his earthly journey he has his eye set on the cross. And on resurrection. Even when offered all the worldly temptation there possibly could be, Jesus has his eye on God. And that is what gives the sign of hope: the tiny signs that at the end of the story things will be different.

The temptations that the Satan throws at Jesus are things that call into question his deepest motivations. They strike at the heart of his humanity. It’s far, far more than just giving up chocolate, or resisting the temptation to have a second helping of cake. It’s about making choices – clinging to the things which bring life and hope – and turning away from the temptations which can ultimately only lead to death.

We see something of this struggle in Spencer’s painting. Jesus clings to the trees about him for support – and although they appear dead, they are nevertheless firmly rooted to the earth. They give Jesus something to cling to – as if they are a direct connection to the Father – the creator who brought the very branch he clings to into life. When Spencer looked back on the painting of the wilderness series, created at a time when he was walking in his own personal wilderness, he wrote: “I loved it all because it was God and me, all the time.”[1] For Spencer as for Jesus, his connection to God in the wilderness is what enables him to survive – and indeed to hold hope that there may be life beyond. In the background of his image we see groves of green trees on the hillsides – signs of the resurrection that is to come at the end of the Lenten walk in the wilderness.

 

So what is this wilderness journey of Lent about for us?

I suspect that for all of us there are dark places – deep seated motivations and shadow sides to our personalities that we’d rather not take out and examine. If we accept the invitation to enter into the metaphorical wilderness for a time of stillness and quiet reflection with God, we will hear a call to explore the dark places of our soul.

To think about the things which motivate us. Which tempt us. These are the things that prevent us from living the fullest. Selfishness. Greed. Addictions. Illness. Desire for wealth. Lust for power. Each one of us will have our own list of things which not only damage or destroy our human relationships, but which ultimately have the potential to separate us from our God.

We are called to put down the temptations the things that bind us. This is actually what happens every Sunday when we say a prayer of confession: one of my teachers at college used to say that the prayer of confession is an opportunity for us to: “Put our shit down.” We all need somewhere to put our shit. Because we are human beings who struggle with life, we need to be offered that opportunity every week. We do it at the start of a service so that once we’ve laid our “shit” at the foot of the cross, and have been reminded that God’s forgiveness is for us all, then we are freed to focus on God.

In this way, Lent is like a prolonged opportunity to unpack the things that tempt us, that bind us, to examine them, and then to choose to leave them behind at the foot of the cross.

So Lent, like a journey to the wilderness is a wild time, a waiting time, a time of preparation. To observe Lent is to actively spend the 40 days in the lead up to Easter waiting on God. Listening to God. Being open to where the Spirit of God might lead you. Far from being a time to give up chocolate to let the world see what a spiritual giant you are, Lent ought to be a time of growth and deepening faith. It is a journey that for some of us is deeply private. For others, a study group or opportunity to share with one another is really helpful. Choose the method that helps you most – it doesn’t matter which it is – merely that you take the first step.

So I invite you to travel the journey of Lent. To open yourselves up to the voice of God and see how God might be challenging you. Inviting you to lay down your burdens. Encouraging you to grow. Inviting you forward to follow him. Come.

[1] Schama, Simon, Hang Ups: Essays on Painting (mostly). BBC Books, London 2004. (p132 on iPad)

Posted in Lent | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Look for the ‘sign’….

This short reflection is from the Cross Generation Christmas Eve Service, 2015. Merry Christmas – may the joy, peace, hope and love of Christ be with you all.

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Those of you who braved the weather to come to the Carols under the Ironbarks on Sunday night might remember that I began my reflection by confessing my guilty secret about being a collector of nativity sets. On Monday morning I had a phone call from Jeff Wild, Margie’s husband who spoke at the service about Act for Peace, to let me know that he works with a woman who supports Christians in Palestine who import Nativity Sets in Olive wood from Bethlehem. Did I want one?

Well how could I say no to such an offer? And the result is here on the communion table. A beautiful nativity scene, carved in olive wood grown on the West bank near Bethlehem.

There has been an industry carving Christian paraphernalia for pilgrims and visitors to Bethlehem since the 4th century when the Church of the Nativity was completed. The timber comes from ancient Olive trees: some of them are thousands of years old. Whilst the industry is ancient, it is particularly important to the locals now: Bethlehem lies in Palestine and as part of the annexation of the West Bank by Israel many of the ancient Olive groves and farming land where sheep once grazed have been bulldozed to make way for housing for wealthy Israelis colonizing the area. As families lose their land and their livelihood, the only way they can make money is to make use of the wood to create products for sale. Today in the region around Bethlehem, among its population of about 15,000, there are 135 registered olive wood carving workshops.[1]

But there is a strange element in my particular nativity set that is not usually there – can you see it?

There’s a wall across the middle – preventing the holy family from reaching Bethlehem. A reminder that today, Bethlehem lies in highly contested, dangerous country. A war torn state, where daily life is a dangerous thing.

Not that life was terribly different when Joseph and Mary made their journey to Bethlehem to register for the census at the instruction of the Emperor Augustus. Luke tells us that this was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. We could skip over this historical detail because it doesn’t make much sense to us, but in fact it tells us something important about the place where Jesus was born. Then, as now, Bethlehem, as with the whole of the Holy Land was occupied territory. Jesus and his family were bought there by decree of the greatest earthly power of the day. An irony, because the census means that Jesus will be born where Israel’s messiah should be born: in David’s city, Bethlehem.

At the Carols we focussed on the character of Mary and what her story told us about what God was up to, and who Jesus is. Tonight I want to focus on that other group of characters: the first people who come to visit Mary and Joseph– the shepherds.

Bethlehem. From the east, showing Shepherds Fields, figure seated - Date Created/Published: [between 1934 and 1939] - Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Matson (G. Eric and Edith) Photograph Collection - Reproduction number: LC-DIG-matpc-22258 (digital file from original photo) - Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.

Bethlehem. From the east, showing Shepherds Fields, figure seated – Date Created/Published: [between 1934 and 1939] – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Matson (G. Eric and Edith) Photograph Collection – Reproduction number: LC-DIG-matpc-22258 (digital file from original photo) – Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.

Shepherd I found this wonderful image on the internet, a photo taken some time just before the outbreak of the second world war. A shepherd sits under an ancient olive tree. (is it the tree my nativity set is made from?)

 

It’s a barren and harsh landscape in which to graze sheep. I wonder if this is the kind of field the shepherds in our Christmas story were sitting in when the angel appeared to them? Shepherds are marginalized and poor people – on the outskirts of society. Not the powerful. Not the elite. Out in a barren, rocky field, eking out a meager existence caring for sheep.

So Jesus, the Son of God, who will bring God’s hospitality and relationship to all of human kind is born in an occupied and marginalized town. His parents are unable to find hospitality anywhere themselves –Mary ends up giving birth and placing her baby in a manger, which suggests that the only place they could find was where the animals lay. And the first visitors to come and experience the hospitality of God are likewise poor and marginalized.

It is precisely this location and these visitors that renders this story accessible to us. As they are out in the fields that night, the shepherds hear the third ‘annunciation’ from God thus far in Luke’s gospel: an angel appears and announces to them good news to all people: “Today in the city of David is born a savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001Like Mary, who was sent to find a ‘sign’: in her case to see her elderly relative Elizabeth who was also pregnant – the shepherds are told to go in search of a sign. A child lying in a manger. One who has come to bring peace to the world.

And this is the message of hope for us this Christmas. For those of us who are marginalized. For those of us for whom Christmas will be difficult or painful for one reason or another: we who miss loved ones absent from our Christmas table, we who have suffered family breakdown, difficult relationships, anger and maybe even violence. Christmas brings a message of peace and hope for those of us who suffer from brokenness, from alienation from God, from mental illness, from addiction, from despair. For those of us who are outsiders like the shepherds, who need a sign of peace and hope: that God, who created the universe, who put the stars in the sky, the birds in the air and the animals on the earth seeks a relationship with the likes of us. Imperfect, marginalized people like the shepherds. Imperfect, marginalized people like you, and me.

And that is why I like this nativity set. Because the message to us all is that Jesus comes to bring peace. To break down walls that separate us from God. (remove the wall from the nativity scene) Jesus is born in a stable in a dangerous and difficult place to provide a way for all of human kind to come back into relationship with God. I pray that we might all experience something of God’s deep peace, birthed into the world at Christmas for the sake of all of the world this year. AMEN.

 

 

[1] Bethlehem’s Olive Wood Carvers, Al Jazeera 19 December 2014 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2014/12/pictures-bethlehem-olive-wood–2014129132359492485.html

Posted in Christmas, Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gentle Mary, Meek and Mild?

This is a brief reflection for our annual “Carols under the Ironbarks” service. It’s going to be a scorcher (either that, or there’ll be a thunderstorm…) so this is attempting to be meaningful… and brief!

I cannot resist a picture of Mary or a Nativity Scene. We were in France earlier in the year and I really enjoyed gazing at the images to see what different insights each one would bring.

  • The cathedral of “Notre Dame” at Chartres has hundreds of images of Mary that we spent hours gazing at. They’re all different, and each one tells us something different about the story of God.
  • EPUB000552The NGV in Melbourne has one of my very favorite medieval portraits of Mary – it’s tiny – but incredibly beautiful. Mary is wearing a beautiful blue veil, her eyes down cast in prayer. Every time I go into the gallery I have to spend a few minutes standing before it.

I also collect and make Nativity scenes. We have quite a few different ones – included a knitted nativity – I’ve even been thinking of knitting a “Meerkat” Nativity just for the sake of it this Christmas. Why should the humans have all of the fun?

So you see – for me, as for millions of people throughout history there is “Something about Mary.”

But what do we really know about Mary from scripture?

  • With the exception of the infancy narrative in Matthew and Luke’s gospels she barely rates a mention.
  • Mark only mentions her once by name.
  • John, who doesn’t have the story of Jesus’ birth does include a story of Mary asking Jesus to turn water into wine when the grog ran out at the Wedding at Cana early on in his gospel – and names her as one of the women who was standing at the foot of the cross when Jesus is crucified.

So what do we know about her?

When the angel approaches Mary to tell her that she’s pregnant he says: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” He tells her “not to be afraid.” And, it appears she truly is not.

Mary is a woman who is equal to the task of bearing the Son of God. In the Old Testament when God sends an angel or presence to speak to those he chooses to represent him: Gideon, Jacob, Jonah, to name a few, they are always reluctant. And yet Mary, being cast into what ought to be a terrifying, perhaps even life threatening situation: a young betrothed but unmarried girl bearing a child isn’t afraid: she merely asks the angel “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” She isn’t shocked or horrified. She merely accepts what the angel tells her: that “nothing will be impossible with God.”

In the part of the story we missed between the Angel appearing and Mary’s song of praise, Mary heads off to visit her elderly relative Elizabeth, who, although apparently barren, is also having a child. Once again this is evidence of the feisty bravery of Mary: There’s no word of a male relative travelling with her to protect her. She’s a young newly pregnant girl out on the dusty roads travelling alone.

When Elizabeth greets Mary, the baby in her womb leaps inside her and Elizabeth greets her as “the mother of my Lord.”

Instead of responding to this rather strange greeting from Elizabeth – Mary speaks out one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in all literature. We sang the words earlier in the song: Tell out My Soul. Mary says:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 

 Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise of God to his people.

This is a story full of risk: a young unmarried woman, a dangerous journey, the risk and mess of human child birth in a dirty place amongst the animals.

And as John’s gospel tells us, Mary, who is with Jesus in all the mess and risk of the beginning of his life is also standing at the foot of the cross when he dies – witness from beginning to end of a life that turned the world upside down. The Christian story is one of God’s own life coming amongst us, of engaging in the suffering and mess of all it means to be human – and turning it all around: providing a way for us to come back into relationship with the God who made us. That’s the hope and wonder of Christmas: that God sent his son to repair our relationship with God – and to heal the broken, feed the hungry and care for the poor, the widow and the orphan. We are called to be God’s hands and feet in the world, to make that change possible for all of God’s creation.

So when you look at an image of the nativity or a painting of gentle Mary, meek and mild – try to remember this other Mary – the tough and feisty young woman who prayed that the child she bore would change the world. And he did.

Mary – the theotokos – the God bearer. A formidable woman indeed.

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Prepare the Way of the Lord


Reading
: Luke 3: 7-18

Every Wednesday, the ministry team meets with a few other regulars for a morning communion service as the start of our meeting time together. We always read the readings a fortnight ahead so that we can hear them with fresh ears: so they’re not the readings we’re immediately preparing to preach on the following Sunday. Instead of a prepared reflection, all of those present reflect on what they hear in each of the readings, a bit like we do at Worship on Thursday.

Last week as we listened we were painfully aware that we were hearing these readings prior to congregational voting regarding the ASP last week – but we’d be preaching about them on the Sunday following the ASP decision. So our ears were hearing them deeply embedded in the context of the life of the network and with a sense that we were resting on a knife edge. What would the network be like 2 weeks hence as we came to preach on these texts? How would we, as a network be Preparing the Way of the Lord?

It does seem very strange to have this reading with John the Baptist speaking so forcefully in the lead up to Christmas, doesn’t it? Just as we’re engaging with all of the excitement of the season: the parties, the over eating, the cards and tinsel – getting ready to sing carols under the Ironbarks next week, to walk the Christmas Labyrinth and sharing the story of Christmas with the SPACE and Messy Church communities, we are hearing this very strange message from John the Baptist speaking about broods of vipers and throwing old wood into the fire.

What one earth does this reading have to do with getting ready for Christmas?

If you think back to the beginning of Luke’s narrative you ought to remember that the stories of Mar
y’s conception and Jesus’ birth intertwine with the story of Elizabeth’s conception and John’s birth.

Each gospel has a different way of establishing who Jesus is and what Jesus’ mission will be – and Luke does it by developing the characters of John the Baptiser and Jesus in parallel.

When you go home, read the first 3 chapters of Luke’ gospel and you’ll see what I mean:

  • John’s birth is announced to Zechariah
  • Jesus birth is announced to Mary.
  • Mary visits Elizabeth
  • John’s birth / Jesus’ birth
  • John’s circumcision/ Jesus’ circumcision
  • John’s time in the wilderness/ Jesus in the Temple.

The two stories are intertwined for a reason. The writer of the gospel wants us to see that these two characters go together. John’s character is necessary because he points the way to Jesus: he fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah: “a voice cries out in the wilderness – prepare the way of the Lord.

The similarities don’t end there:

Both John and Jesus have unusual births. John’s mother Elizabeth is old, beyond childbearing age – yet she miraculously conceives and gives birth.

Elizabeth fits into a long line of women in the Old Testament who get pregnant at an advanced age: Sarah, wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac, Hannah mother of Samuel etc.

This tells the audience a couple of important things:

  • In novel or film terms –Luke’s story is a sequel –we’re about to hear the next instalment of the story of God’s salvation history.
  • The one born in this way (John) is an important character – a prophetic character – what he says is to be listened to and not ignored.

Jesus’ birth, to a young, as yet unmarried mother, is equally miraculous, albeit for different reasons. We’ll come back to that over the next two weeks of course.

But today the focus is on John the Baptist and the way he prepares us to understand who Jesus is and what his mission will be.

 John prepares the way – what way? Whose way? 

 I loveLeonardo_da_Vinci_-_Saint_John_the_Baptist_C2RMF_retouched this very famous Leonardo da Vinci painting of John the Baptist. Apart from being a very beautiful portrait, it also makes John’s purpose very clear. John is pointing beyond himself. But to what? It’s impossible to see what he’s pointing to – but in the background – probably darkened by 500 years of varnish over the paint – is the cross. It’s not just the intertwined birth narratives of these two characters that matter, or the story of their family. It’s what they direct us to – the cross.

Who is called? Who is invited to be baptised?

John is certainly a powerful speaker – he grabs the audience’s attention right from the start: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The situation and the people both need to change. Things cannot stay as they are.

John’s message about salvation is relevant to everyone –Jew and Gentile alike. John says: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham”

What John is saying to the Jewish Christians in Luke’s community is that they need baptism just as much as anyone else.

I think this is the most startling thing about this reading. John isn’t calling for repentance for a particular group – for those who are particularly bad – for the religious elite or the ruling powers. It’s astonishingly unilateral. We all need to pruned and have our old, woody bits thrown in the fire. Those of you who are gardeners will understand this. In order for roses, fruit trees, hydrangeas or indeed for grape vines to flower and fruit abundantly, they need to be pruned – and pruned hard. This is not something to be feared – it’s a necessary precursor to good growth and good health.

John’s call to “bear the fruits of repentance” is for all of us. We all need to turn back to God if we are to bear the ‘good fruit of a Christian life.’

So what is this fruit we are called to bear?

John gives three different examples:

  • To the crowds: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
  • To the Tax collectors: “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”
  • To the soldiers: “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

This advice is down to earth and practical. John is introducing one of the central concerns that Jesus will return to again and again in this gospel:

  • nothing so hinders relationship with God or dehumanises human beings and ruins lives in community as attachment to wealth and possessions.

As we shall see again and again in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is calling us to a radical change in the way we treat one another – especially in the way we treat the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised.

When Jesus tells us to “Love one another” this is exactly the kind of Love he means. It’s costly extravagant love – love that makes the world a better place. 

John also makes it clear that he’s not Messiah, the one sent by God to save the world.

In fact, John says, he’s not even fit to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals. John’s role is to prepare the way, to point to Jesus and to help us to get ready. Instead, John exhorts his followers to change their ways, and he baptises them with water. Jesus’ baptism is different to John’s baptism – John Baptises with water as a sign of a promise that is to come.

But Jesus, the one who John is pointing to, will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus’ coming is going to mean not just a change of actions, but a change of heart.

We are told that Jesus will baptise with “the holy spirit and fire” – This is a baptism that is set to change us at the very deepest and most profound level.

  • Fire sweeps away all that was there before, ready for change and new growth.
  • Once we become followers of Jesus, once we enter into relationship with him, we will never be the same again.
  • We are changed from the inside – at the very core of our being. The changes John asks us to make in order to prepare the way change us at a “doing” surface level – a relationship with Jesus changes who we are.
  • The Jesus we are preparing for is not just the baby Jesus meek and mild – but the adult Jesus who died on the cross for us and all of our sins.
  • A relationship with Jesus means a change of heart.

So what does this mean for us?

I think the question we were pondering at the start of the service about whether others would know we are a Christian is an important one. Not because we ought to “do stuff” to show people we are. If the discussion earlier today was challenging to you, perhaps a conversation with a wise Christian that you trust about how you can press more deeply into a relationship with God would be helpful for you. We all need to do that from time to time – ministers included. As I said earlier – the challenge of John the Baptists words are for all of us – me included.

What do John’s words mean for Cross Gen and the Banyule Network?

I don’t have enough hubris to suggest that the ASP is evidence that we’re clearing the way for Jesus. And I know that those of us who were there at the JCC on Tuesday night were well aware that this journey is only just beginning. It’s not about buildings – it’s not about money – in fact if we focus on the maintenance of buildings and finances alone we may as well pack up our bat and ball and go home now. Being a Christian has only ever been about following Jesus: about sharing God’s love and grace with everyone we come into contact with. It is that simple, and that challenging.

I believe that we as a Network, and here at Cross Gen are certainly taking seriously the challenge of what it means to follow Jesus in a society where the gospel is often not received in a positive fashion. Where people have been deeply wounded by religious people. I think particularly of my friend David who flew back to Australia and gave evidence yet again at the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. I am challenged every time we speak how it is possible that he was abused as a child by his uncle, a Catholic Priest. You will have seen his story splashed across the news again this week. The only way to respond to David, and to the millions of hurt and wounded people in the world is to do as Christ would have us do.

  • To act with scrupulous honour and integrity.
  • To give abundantly and generously of what we have to those in need.
  • To take from those who are vulnerable and in need.

I pray that we can make these things the focus of our life together this Christmas – that we will be a community who share the abundant hope, peace, joy and love of Jesus with everyone we meet. AMEN.

Posted in Advent, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How do we ‘welcome the stranger’?

 Sunday 1st November 2015: Pentecost 23B

Readings: Ruth1: 1-22; Mark 12:28-34

I know I’ve said it before, but it often strikes me how the lectionary reading on a given week speaks directly into our own context. It strikes me yet again this week – and on several different levels. Because as I read the book of Ruth this week, one of my favorite books in the Old Testament – I am struck that it speaks deeply both into our story as a Network of Uniting Churches seeking to be faithful to God, in welcoming and encouraging people to come to faith, and as a world facing one of the greatest refugee crisis we have ever known.

Today I’m going to try to explore how this reading speaks into both of these contexts. I will do so by thinking about how the Book of Ruth encourages us to understand the outsider – both the global refugee fleeing a foreign land variety – and the person who does not know God and seeks a community where they can belong and come to believe in Christ. We will end by asking ourselves the question: “How do I experience belonging to God?” and “How can we welcome and encourage those who wish seek to find a home in God?”

Perhaps now, more than at any other time in history, with the possible exception of WWII, people are needing to seek refuge in foreign countries. Our own country has been trenchant in the way it has sought to “stop the boats” and control the movement of people across the water. Many of us from this congregation have marched against the cruel and inhumane treatment of refugee women and children on Manus Island and Nauru. So I suspect that many of you were, like me, shocked by the new low our former Prime Minister reached this week, in suggesting that European leaders ought to ignore Jesus’ “wholesome platitude” to love our neighbours.[1] Right now, according to Abbot, the desire to follow Jesus’ teaching that we ought to “Love our Neighbour as our self” is “leading Europe into catastrophic error.”

This pronouncement was greeted by a loud cacophony of outrage on Facebook and Twitter as well as in more traditional media. Human Rights lawyer and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan roundly criticised Abbott for his statement that European leaders ought to ignore the teachings of Jesus.[2] In fact, I was aware that whatever it was Abbott had said was truly horrendous, long before I’d even managed to hear it for myself!
The story of Ruth is one of many places in both Old and New Testaments that seeks to address the issue of care for those who need to flee their homeland, for whatever reason, including war and famine. I am sure if we paused now, you could reel off a long list of places in the Bible where stories are told that exhort us to care for the outsider. It’s hardly a hidden motif in our scriptures.

Being a refugee was as problematic in the ancient world as it is today.  And in today’s reading from Ruth, we have a tale set in a period that pre-dates the reign of King David, towards the end of the period of the Judges.  Despite its ancient setting, however, most scholars agree that the text wasn’t written down until much later, after the Jewish return from exile in Babylon.  Ruth is therefore a story that reflects the Jews’ own experience of being refugees, and of the choices people faced as a consequence. And so Ruth is a text that speaks powerfully to our own context today.

The story begins with suffering and poverty.  We are told that a famine has struck the land, and as a result, a man from Bethlehem decides to move his family to the land of Moab.  The gravity of the situation is revealed by a play on words: “Bethlehem” means “house of bread” in Hebrew;[3] so, beyond the irony of the “house of bread” being struck with famine, we realise that those affected have plunged from a situation of plenty into a situation of desperate shortage: where once they had enjoyed a comfortable life, now they struggle to feed themselves.

Another point to note is that when the text refers to “famine”, it does not mean a failed harvest in one particular year; we are confronted with a situation of desperate food shortage over many years.  This is the kind of event that does not merely require people to tighten their belts for a few months or even a year; it is a set of circumstances that requires the drastic step of moving to another country in order to survive.

For a while the decision to move to Moab seems a positive one.  For even though Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies, leaving Naomi a widow, their sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, and they are able to settle down and become part of Moabite society.  But their acceptance into Moabite society is tenuous: for although by Biblical tradition the Moabites were related to the Israelites through Abraham’s nephew Lot,[4] nonetheless, the peoples of Moab and Israel were often at war with one another.

In addition, like any other refugees Naomi found that, the Moabites had different customs and traditions, and worshiped gods other than YHWH. So Naomi and her extended family were only ever marginal members of Moabite society, despite the fact that they were able to find refuge there.

The situation for the family changes and becomes dangerous again when Naomi’s sons die, leaving her and her daughters-in-law without male benefactors.  In a society where women must rely on men for their safety and welfare, being without male benefactors is a life and death issue – and so rather than face poverty and death, Naomi decides that she must return to Bethlehem where she will be able to find a distant male relative who will care for her. (The word ‘return’ (sub) is a key word here: it is the same word used throughout the Hebrew scriptures to mean “repent” or “return to God.”[5] This adds a particular significance to Naomi’s ‘return’ to Bethlehem – she is turning back to the land of her faith – returning to relationship with God.) Naomi insists that her daughters in law, Orpah and Naomi, ought to stay in Moab and find Moabite husbands who can give them security and a future. As so often happens in refugee families, one sister, Orpah, decides to stay and the other, Ruth, chooses to leave and seek a new future.

The poetic words which Ruth utters as she promises to go with Naomi into exile in Israel are some of my very favourite words of scripture. So much so, that my dear friend Larissa wrote music to put them into a song for my first husband and I for our wedding. They speak of fidelity– of remaining faithful with no knowledge or expectation of what the future will hold.

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17)

The oath formula declared by Ruth is very significant to her relationship with Naomi and with God. She is making a formal declaration based on covenant type phrases used in other parts of the Old Testament. In one sense, there was no alternative for Naomi but to accept her declaration. The “Loving Kindness” (hesed in Hebrew) Ruth shows in her action of accompanying Naomi, goes way beyond what the law or good manners required of a daughter in law. She risks starvation and total rejection in her decision to return with Naomi.[6] In other words, Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi is totally without reason or logic. There is absolutely nothing for Ruth to gain in following Naomi – and potentially everything to lose.

Ruth’s faithfulness mirrors the “irrational” faithfulness of God, who remains faithful to humanity even in the depths of its darkness and brokenness. For Ruth will subsequently become the wife of Naomi’s kinsman Boaz, and through this union, an ancestor to David; and, ultimately, she will become an ancestor to Jesus himself.  Jesus, of his own free will, gives of his whole self, including his life, for no other reason than love, and for the sake of suffering humanity.  And the fact that his ancestry will include a foreigner, an “outsider”, will itself symbolise and point to God’s all-inclusive, all-embracing love.  Ruth, who comes from an alien culture, who is not one of the Chosen People, will prefigure the faithfulness of God to all creation[7].

So I think this story provides a helpful reflection of just how difficult and perilous a refugee families life and choices are. Not only must they decide to stay or flee – a decision like that of Orpah and Ruth which might not be straightforward – they leave with no promise that the situation into which they flee will be better. Indeed for those who come across the sea to Australia – they find not ‘boundless plains to share’ but indefinite incarceration in an off shore detention centre where women and children face regular sexual abuse and where the incidence of mental illness and distress is many times higher than the Australian national average. Surely it is beholden on us to welcome refugees, just as Ruth was welcomed when she entered Naomi’s homeland of Israel.

And what of the second point I wished to make? Of those looking for a spiritual home – seeking the refuge of a safe place to belong – a ‘spiritual home’ if you like – where they can grow in faith and love?

Almost every current missional writer you care to name, speaks of this kind of model of evangelization: one where the community accompanies the person first, join the journey with them, and through that relationship they come to faith. The more traditional model has often been to teach people the beliefs of the church first, to ask them to accept a set of doctrines and creeds and then invite them to “join”. Ruth shows us another way: belonging before believing. Or in other words, coming to faith through experiencing God’s changing and transforming love. This is the kind of ‘experiential’ discipleship model of SUFM and Theos, of Messy Church, SPACE and ‘Blokes and Kids.’ This is the kind of evangelism we seek to engage in as part of all of our “Fresh Expressions of Church” wherever they occur.

I close with a reminder of what I said earlier: there is a final epilogue to this story that appears in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus: Ruth is named as one of the ancestors of Christ. Boaz and Ruth bore a son, Obed, whose son was Jesse, whose 
son was King David, ancestor of Jesus. The welcoming inclusive love of Ruth ultimately leads to the one who exhorts us to love God and to “Love our Neighbour as our selves.” The One whose own example of love was to lay down his life for those who follow him. I pray that the example of this community is one that will lead others to come to know and to follow Jesus, whose ancestor was Ruth, the Refugee and outsider. AMEN.

[1] http://www.theage.com.au/comment/europe-should-learn-from-australia-how-to-halt-refugees-tony-abbott-20151027-gkkaop.html

[2] http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/catholic-priests-slam-tony-abbotts-antiimmigration-margaret-thatcher-lecture-20151027-gkk9cj.html

[3] Coogan, Michael D. (ed), The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Revised Fourth Edition/NRSV with Apocrypha.   Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, p.394, note regarding Ruth 1:1

[4] ibid

[5] Old Testament Lectionary, Anna Grant-Henderson, http://otl.unitingchurch.org.au/index.php?page=book-of-ruth

[6] Old Testament Lectionary, Anna Grant-Henderson, http://otl.unitingchurch.org.au/index.php?page=book-of-ruth

[7] Wallace, Howard, “Year B: Pentecost 22”, http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/OrdinaryB/Pentecost22.html

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Choices, Choices……

Image

Lent 1A 2014

Readings:

Gen 2:15-17; 3:-7

Romans 5:12-19

Matt 4: 1-11

Last Wednesday, we began the journey of Lent. Lent is the period of 40 days leading up to Easter (40 days not including the Sundays) a period where Christians for the last 2 millenia have sought to focus themselves on Jesus, and on the journey towards the cross. For some this has been about fasting, denying the self and avoiding eating pleasurable foods, drinking alcohol or refraining from other pleasurable pass times so as to sharpen the focus on God. I’m sure some of you would see this as helpful, and no doubt others would think it was a pietistic waste of time. Basically such parts of the Christian tradition are useful for those who find that they help them focus on God, and are an un-useful hindrance for those for whom they have no meaning and purpose. So to focus on whether or not such practices are useful, would be to miss the point entirely.

Instead I’d like to encourage us all to think about ways in which we can let go of the things that bind us personally, that take our focus from God and perhaps take up a bible reading, Lenten Study or prayer practice over the next 5 weeks so as to help us draw closer to God. Let’s make this Lenten period an opportunity for us to deepen and strengthen both our personal and corporate relationship with the one who created us and called us to follow.

Our readings today: the passage about Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent from Genesis and the reading about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness also suffer from a similar fate as our understanding of Lent. This ought come as no surprise – but I would like to begin with a note of caution – Although we began our thinking about the readings with the amusing ad: “Daddy or Chips?” and pseudo-moralistic choices about football teams or tv shows, we need to very quickly move beyond these if we are to take these passages seriously.

These stories are not pietistic tales aimed at getting us to live good and moral lives: indeed they are encouraging us to think deeply about the most significant and important choices in the bible, and indeed in our own lives.

Again, as with our practice of Lenten Disciplines – they are about letting go of things that distract us from God, and holding onto the things that deepen our relationship with God.

ImageTEMPTATION BY THE SERPENT

Most modern biblical scholars start their exposition on this passage by telling us what it is NOT about.[1] That’s because the story has been so overlaid by centuries of varnished on meanings that have darkened and cracked with age – to the point where the original story has been obscured. The beautiful Medieval image here contains most if not all of things which we’d want to remove.

Medieval doctrines such as ‘original sin’ have developed from this passage, likewise abusive treatment of women over the ages – women blamed because as the ‘followers of Eve’s who ate the fruit and caused Adam’s fall they brought about the downfall of all humankind. Such ideas need to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Likewise:

  • The fruit is not an ‘apple’.  (it’s the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.)
  • The serpent does not necessarily equate with the principle of evil[2] or even the character of Satan from the later Hebrew tradition.[3]
  • The garden is not a place set aside particularly for human habitation – it is a place of abundant fertility, with supernatural trees of great beauty offering divine gifts (wisdom and life; 2:9). There is a subterranean source of life-giving water which feeds the whole earth (2:6, 10-14). It is the place where the Lord resides and takes rest (3:8). It is from this garden (and thus from the presence of God), that Adam and Eve are ejected.

Rather than being a story about the ‘origin’ of human sin (the “when” question), it is about the “why” and the “how”.  The story is about the human propensity to transgress the relationship established between God and humans, to want to be more than the human creatures they are created to be. It is not so much about a ‘fall’, as about hubris, the attempt to be more than what one is, to gain qualities not intended for human possession; in short, to seek to be like God.

The end of the story confirms this. Even the Lord God acknowledges that humans having eaten from the tree of knowledge ‘have become like one of us knowing good and evil’ (3:22). The result of this transgression is alienation in every direction: the woman and the man from each other, the humans from the ground, and the humans from the Lord God. The intimacy that was the hallmark of the garden, has been broken.[4]

ImageJESUS’ TEMPTATION IN THE DESERT

Our gospel reading, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness comes at a high point in the story: Following his baptism and the declaration by the Father that Jesus is: “ my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” Jesus heads out into the wilderness to pray. The passage is followed by the chapters detailing the sermon on the mount: the great block of Jesus teaching that we’ve spent the last month or so considering.

Jesus’ temptation in the desert is an echo of the forty-year long wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. This was a time when God probed the hearts of God’s covenant people to see whether they could be faithful in the long term to the covenant he had just made with them.[5] There’s not time to go into it now, but if you’re interested, read through chapters 6-8 of Deuteronomy and have a look at the ways in which the two stories correlate – the wilderness narrative in Deuteronomy is in many ways a key to understanding Jesus’ testing in the desert.

Back to  Israelites in the desert for a moment. Something important struck me about as I was preparing for today. Forty years is a very long time. 40 years ago, I was Sophia’s age. My parents were healthy, energetic 20 somethings. My grandparents were still working. Fast forward to now, and a generational change has occurred. With the exception of my nonagenarian grandmother who alive, healthy and quite extraordinary, the rest of my  birth family are gone.

In other words – those who began the long journey into the wilderness at Sinai were probably not those who finished it.

This is not a test of personal piety or faith – but rather a test of the faith of the whole community – the people of God corporately, and whether or not they are able to be faithful to God.

The reading we heard from Romans underscores this point. The reason that we hear the temptation stories from Genesis and Matthew on the same Sunday at the start of Lent is to draw together the stories of God’s ancient peoples and their difficulties with living faithfully in accordance with God’s covenant, and the role that Jesus was to play in salvation history.

As Tom Wright puts it: “The point of the Adam/Christ comparison is to emphasize that the human project, begun in Genesis, the key part of the creator’s project for the whole creation, has been put back on track.” Jesus’ obedience to God in the wilderness is obedience to the whole saving plan of God, what Wright calls the “Israel-shaped plan to which Israel herself had been disobedient.”[6] The task is to draw God’s people back into faithful relationship with God – through God’s loving and saving grace – not through any act of piety or moral fortitude which we ourselves might perform for God – but wholly and solely through the work that Jesus was to complete for the whole of Israel – indeed the whole of humanity on the cross.

In refusing the glittering prize of world power and domination offered so beguilingly, Jesus set his feet firmly on the path to the cross.

ImageThe fictional character Bilbo Baggins, from JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, cautions that it is a dangerous thing to step out beyond your front door: you never know where the Road is going to lead you.

And perhaps Jesus understood with greater clarity than we will ever understand where his path that day would lead, where his choices would take him: not to power and glory as an earthly Messiah, but to betrayal, and denial, and the descent into death.

The journey of Lent begins here – let’s follow the path with faith and trust, and see where it is that God might take us: individually, and as the people of God in this place. AMEN.


[1] For Example, Walter Bruggemann in his commentary on Genesis. (Interpretation Series)

[2] Bruggemann, Walter, Genesis p,41,

[4] ibid.

[5] Byrne, Brendan (2004) Lifting the Burden: Reading Matthew’s Gospel in the Church Today, St Pauls: Strathfield p.41.

[6] Wright, Tom, (2012) Twelve Months of Sundays Years A, B & C: Biblical Meditations on the Christian Year, London, SPCK p40-41

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment