2nd Sunday of Lent: Mission and Commitment
Sermon by Anne East
Based on readings: Psalm 27, Philippians 3: 17 – 4: 1, Luke 13: 31 – 35
“Today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.” Jesus leaves Galilee and starts on his journey towards Jerusalem – a place where great prophets of the past had been ignored, reviled or killed. Jesus was journeying towards the same end – and he knew it.
A group of Pharisees have come to him and warned him to leave Galilee because Herod wants to kill him. What is peculiar about this is that up to now the Pharisees have not been Jesus’ friends! We can only speculate, guess at their motives for example, perhaps they want to drive Jesus out of the area where Herod has jurisdiction into Jerusalem where Pilate is in charge – some political agenda there, but Jesus makes it clear that he is not going to take their advice, he’s going to make the journey in his own time. He will continue what he is doing, whichever authority he is upsetting, he will not stop his ministry – he will go all the way to the top, to the capital city even though he knows what awaits him there.
“I must be on my way” - casting out demons and performing cures, teaching and demonstrating God’s love, the mission and commitment at the centre of Jesus’ work.
This season of Lent gives us the opportunity to think about our Mission and Commitment – as we pass through the weeks leading to Easter, the rhythms of our church calendar: our Lenten study groups, the young people who will be preparing for admission to Communion, our Annual Church meeting, the election of new members of the PCC. Lent is an opportunity for deeper reflection on what it means to live as children of God in this place and the wider community.
Paul, writing to the early church at Philippi urges them to follow him in pressing on towards their goal, and directs them to look at each other for examples of how to live the gospel. “Look to those in your midst, who live according to the gospel’” .
Be imitators of Christ, yes, but also learn from each other. I think that’s particularly wonderful, and I want to say how much I learn from the faithfulness and loving kindness of individuals and community here. ‘Ultraiea’ ‘Onward and upward’, is the old pilgrim cry as they meet each other on the Path. Onward and upward for us too, we must be on our way.
The Christian life is often referred to as a ‘journey’ – the early followers of Jesus were called ‘people of the Way’. The Way, the Path, The Road . . I wonder what mental picture you have of that Path? Is it an open road? A narrow lane? A path across a field, where you can see your destination in the distance, or through a wood, where it is difficult to see because the light is restricted though the trees? Perhaps it is all of these at different times. I’ve heard people talk about keeping on the straight and narrow, but that’s not an image I find particularly helpful – in fact I’d go so far as the say it is singularly unhelpful! That sounds like a very limiting, constricting image of God. (Remember Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly!” – the straight and narrow does not strike me as being ‘abundant’)
I want to offer you this morning a different image of this path – and that’s a path that is on the edge, the edge of a cliff, the edge of a mountain. Boundaries bring safety, so if you like closure, clear beginnings, neat endings this ‘edge space’ will be particularly demanding. But that’s where Jesus was going – to the very edge, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Cross.
When we are on the edge path, we see the land shifting. As I walk on a familiar stretch of the Cornish Coast Path I see changes on that edge, between the landscape and the seascape, constantly evolving as storm and wind, sand, stone and tide engage with each other. Sometimes the change is dramatic – as when there is a landslip, a section of land falls into the sea, as recently near West Bay in Dorset.
In the political landscape too - in this country and others – the land is shifting, we are walking on the edge. But edge-space can also be a place of transformation and change. Walking the edge is not an ever-shrinking and narrowing path but a journey into an ever-widening space with a possibility for good.
I pray that we can feel that - In a world teeming with broken relationships, personal disappointments, public scandals, political games, cultural disrespect, increased terrorism . .the edge and its shifting landscape can be a scary place. Trust is difficult. We find that expressed many times in the Psalms, the song book of the Hebrew Bible, Jesus’ hymn book if you like. He quoted Psalm 22 on the cross, “ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I commend to you Psalm 27, which we heard read this morning. It expresses this fear of abandonment: “Do not hide your face from me. Do not forsake me.” The Psalmist gives voice to the fears and uncertainties within us over which we have no control, and it balances those against the assurances of divine help: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
There is a gritty honesty in this Psalm as it moves back and forth between fear and trust. Like many Psalms it is in two sections and within the sections you have parallel thoughts expressed (it follows a poetic form). What I find I find really interesting is that is starts with trust and affirmation – God is light, salvation, stronghold, God protects, teaches, leads – and then moves into doubt and uncertainty. “Do not cast me off. Do not give me up!” That’s not neat! You really want it to be the other way round – to begin with wavering doubt and move into certainty.
But life isn’t neat, we are walking on the edge and the land is shifting. In Lent we hold fear and faith, doubt and trust together. Let us be a community where we can talk honestly about these things – a safe space to ask the questions and learn from each other. And to pray together. Learning to hold doubt and faith together takes patience – and this last verse of this psalm holds all the other verses together: “Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Jesus faced the ultimate challenge, he experienced fear and grief, suffering and death. He held them and transformed them. This Lent, as we walk on the edge, may we see it as a place of transformation, for individuals and for community. Navigating pain, learning from each other, developing our Christian life – making a difference in the world. ‘Today, tomorrow and the next day, we must be on our way.’