Bishop of Clogher's Sermon The First Sunday in Lent 2009
Bishop of Clogher's Sermon The First Sunday in Lent 2009
The Rt Revd Dr Michael Jackson preached at a service
of Holy Communion in Haifa, Diocese of Jerusalem on March 1 2009
Genesis 9:8-17; psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; St Mark 1:9-15
Genesis 9:17: So God said to Noah, This is the sign of the covenant which
I have established with all that lives on earth.
We get a very strong sense of Lent being a cosmic event from the Readings
from Holy Scripture prescribed for today, the First Sunday of this Season.
We hear of God’s covenant which establishes on a fresh footing the relationship
of love and protection between God and the whole of creation. We hear of the
resurrection of Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God with angels,
authorities and powers made subject to him. We hear also of the testing and
the trying of God’s love in the way in which the Son is driven by the
Spirit out into the wilderness and, in his temptation, has for company the
wild beasts and the angels is attendance on him. All of this is strange in
the extreme for a modern audience. But we do see and feel God at work as God.
Difficult Seasons like Lent are like this and somehow have to be, if we are
to be brought beyond the best and the worst of ourselves.
I want to do little more than explore that idea of Lent showing us God at
work as God. We are very accustomed to our public prayers beginning with the
following words: Almighty God … or Almighty and Everlasting
God … We
hear them time and again and perhaps we do not give them a second thought – that
is just the sort of churchy language which the church uses. Hope frames our
prayer. Phrases like these give body to our hope in the following way: the
God who is almighty, the God who is everlasting is not going to abandon us
to destruction while that same God tests and tries us and is all along aware
that we are being tempted AND who was in Jesus Christ tempted as we are. The
Collect for Ash Wednesday which we use daily throughout the Season of Lent
points us in this direction by stating that the God who is almighty and everlasting
hates nothing that he has made. In other words in the midst of temptation,
sin and evil he continues to love his creation.
To my mind this is important to remember. We know nothing of what lies within
those few words which we hear in St Mark: (Jesus) was in the wilderness
for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the
waited on him. What we do know, however, is that something of a new creation
is working itself out here. God in heaven has become human on earth in Jesus
Christ. This is what took us to Manger Square in Bethlehem at Christmas and
this is what brings us as accustomed worshippers and as visitors to this church
today, as we step into the wilderness with the Son of God and child of Mary.
Things have indeed moved rapidly this year from the little town of Bethlehem
to the Forty Days and Forty Nights, as our hymns which we sing at home express
it. But for us it is good to remember that it is the same human-and-divine
Jesus who is at the heart of this journey which we take.
It may be too much to expect you to remember a few telling words from the
Epistle for Christmas Day 2008, so I shall remind you of them. They come from
the Letter to Titus, chapter 3, verse 4: When the goodness and loving-kindness
of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness
that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Not only here do we have a very strong linking
of baptism and the saving work of Jesus; we also have the same Holy Spirit
working for rebirth and renewal. From the River Jordan into the wilderness – is
the Holy Spirit still a dove voicing the pleasure of the Father in the Son
or is she now The Great Tormentor?
Let me return to the Collect for Ash Wednesday: Almighty and everlasting
God, you hate nothing that you have made and forgive the sins of all those
penitent … God loves his creation; God does not hate his creation. Today’s
Epistle, from the First Letter of Peter, points us to the inner aspect of baptism
and salvation. We are washed in the waters of salvation, not as Peter in the
Gospels thought by being willing to be doused from head to toe, but by talking
with God from a good conscience. And, in this way, many of the things which
we are encouraged to do in the Season of Lent fall into place. We are not asked
to subject ourselves to a cosmetic spiritual makeover – we are asked
to do our almsgiving in secret. We are not asked to become a celebrity, someone
quite different from who we are - an undying modern obsession – we are
asked to participate willingly in the transformation under God which is referred
to as the new creation. It is beautifully and hopefully voiced in 1 John 3:2
and 3: Dear friends, we are now God’s children; what we shall be has
not yet been disclosed, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like
him, because we shall see him as he is. This is the fruit of our response to
baptism, to the saving work of God and to the forgiveness of God.
At a time when the whole world has Israel-Palestine in its heart and in particular
the peoples of Gaza, trial, torment and the wilderness are very much in our
mind and on our heart. We in Ireland who seek to stand in solidarity with all
who suffer in this situation of human degradation, devastation and disaster,
continue to be inspired by the witness and the courage shown by Christian people
at the heart of this tragedy. We are further inspired by the words of your
bishop, a dear friend who worshipped with us in our diocese on the Day of Pentecost
2008. I refer to the words he used when right at the end of the old year 2008
he said: ‘The world waits in eager expectation for people of good will,
courage and vision to set aside personal agendas, to encourage the change of
heart, to empower all people of faith to tear down the walls of cruelty, fear
and hatred. We cannot diminish or escape from the challenges before us which
are very real and confront our people. Peace, a just durable peace, is rooted
in the reconciling love of God for all the people of this land.’
In the midst of tribulation, we need constantly to be reminded and to hold
fast that God loves all his creation, everything that God has made.
St Mark 1.12, 13: At once the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness,
and there he remained for forty days tempted by Satan.
Date: 2 March 09