Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent 2019
17th Mar 2019
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent Year C 2019
“Observe those who live according to the example you have in us” Philippians 3.17
In the Gospels, the very word ‘Herod’ stands for the evil enemy. It may seem crude at first that we speak in this way. But Lent sets up a progress which is the unfolding of the saving Passion of Jesus Christ, and in it, much animated opposition and death dealing violence is to be revealed. Our Gospel this morning continues from last Sunday, in which Christ countermands the wiles of the devil in the wilderness. In today’s Gospel narrative Jesus must confront the world’s evil forces, in which the devil resides. One of the devil’s names is ‘the ancient enemy’. And there is a real sense in the Passion narrative in which Christ’s Cross – the ultimate emanation of God’s sacrificial love is to have its respondent both in its willing acceptance and equally in its violent rejection. In his Passion, Jesus must contend with these forces and win through.
The city of Jerusalem for Jesus is the place of impressive religion but also the place of the doing to death of the truth tellers, the prophets. Jesus gazes over the Kidron Valley at the great city and weeps over it and longs for the emergence of its true and undivided humanity. He likens this hope to the hen as she gathers her brood of chicks under her wing. In using this gentle pastoral image amid the forces set against him, we come to know that the journey which Jesus is to make is truly epic. Jesus coming as ‘God’s great goodness’ unleashes an opposite kind of reaction – an evil opposition. Herod is an obviously key for evil in the Gospel account, but the enemy also lies in the human character and its negative capacities, particularly those which collude with the devil to divide, to maim and to destroy. The power of Jesus lies in his capacity to remain the compassionate and human healer that he is in the face of real opposition and to remain God’s faithful Son. His coming is also an exorcism. Simeon’s prophecy reminds us that in Jesus ‘the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare’.
The two pieces of news from the other side of the world this week, of the sentencing of a Roman Catholic Cardinal for child abuse and the killing of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand make up this category of evil. Hannah Arendt famously spoke of a ‘the banality of evil’ and in the context of these events of there lies the simple fact of great destruction wrought by individuals who last week may have been sitting watching the TV and drinking a cup of coffee; their ordinariness or even their precise status a perfect kind of camouflage. One of the perpetrators Brenton Tarant, described himself in his’ manifesto of hate’ as ‘a regular white man from a regular family’. In both these instances, however, There is the attempt to place a dagger in the ordinary hearts of persons at worship in holy places. The violence is the more apparent as it took place in religious and peaceable environments.
It is no easy matter to live with the unsettling issues that emerge out of these atrocities and to respond in a way that is truly responsive and effective. The issues are hugely challenging. As we return to the Passion of Jesus Christ in the Gospel message of Lent, we find One who is at all times working and speaking for the reconciliation of opposites, One who is not swayed by the forces of evil that surround him. Jesus’ whole sacrificial offering is the one which has the power to reconcile us with ourselves and to God. It is done as one single strong act of constant love. This reconciliation is achieved by his Church in the passionate living out of the Christian Faith and the remaining faithful to Christ’s message of love.
It may often seem as though the outward means by which the world sees Christian or religious faith is overlaid solely by formal acts of worship. In the West, it has been common for observes to state that the Christian religion, manifested by church going is in sharp decline and therefore become increasingly irrelevant. But this is overly objective view is not as important as the fact of the practice and the faithful commitment to the Christian Faith on the part of the many. Of the desire to come to worship and to make that large space available in the longing for God and for that reconciled world for which his Son Jesus Christ came to live and die. The practice of the Christian religion for the many is a commitment to honour and love that which makes sense of our lives and our world and our true nature. It enkindles a spirit of gratitude. The view of the Church or for that matter practising Islam may be seen by many in the west as too particular or decidedly peripheral, but the real point is that religious practices which espouse a view of humanity from a place which is compassionate, respectful and spiritually grounded come in fact to represent the world’s great beating heart. It is our God given vocation to stand up for the Christian Gospel of radical, sacrificial and expensive love and to live, however falteringly and imperfectly, according to the God-given example that we are being given, in Jesus’ Name and in mindfulness of his Glorious Passion.