Sermon 28 February 2016

Lent 3 2016                                                  Isa 55:1-9 1Cor 10:1-13   Luke 13:1-9  

 Repent.  If you are old enough you will remember enjoying those Ealing films.  Gloriously coloured black and white, like pictures on the radio. They were and are often profound, funny and provoking.  Some details were quite off the wall.  Usually in a corner of a street there was a man in a raincoat with a sandwich board bearing the slogan, "Repent, for the end is nigh."  No hint of the end of what, the observer was left to work that out.  There might be a clue when there was in another part of the film a similar scene with a similar sandwich board saying something like, "Vengeance is mine," saith The Lord.

 A difficult word is 'repent'.  I usually spend some time on it when preparing parents for the baptism of their children.  You may remember that parents and godparents are required to say that they repent of the sins that separate them from God and neighbour.  The literal meaning of the word is to turn round and face the other way.  Now, you might think that that is licence to simply walk away from something which one has done wrong.  We do not have such licence. 

 The turning is twofold.  First to turn and face the wrong, that is the hardest part.  Knowing of a harmful act or damaging words is difficult both in the realising of it if no one loves you enough to tell you, and in having the neck just to do it.  But there is no dealing with it if it is not faced.  The second turning is in accepting forgiveness and turning to move on into the new life that forgiveness offers. The word ‘sin’ is probably more difficult until we look at it.  It is a Greek word (Greek being the language of the New Testament) and it comes from archery. It means ‘to miss the mark’.  The arrow fired off in great enthusiasm has miss the target entirely and hit somewhere else.  You have sinned.  To turn, repent, is to have another go looking at the target not at where the first arrow landed.  That would only enable more sin rather than avoid it.

 When St. Luke writes about perishing, he has in mind the destructive power of that which is not forgiven.  Unforgiven sin can eat away at a person destroying both the person and the community.  Sometimes we hear on the News that a person has expressed forgiveness for some atrocious act committed against them by another. It can be hard to understand.  How can they forgive?  Last week the wisow of a man killed by a driver later convicted of dangerous driving found hersefl comforting him, at the scene of the accidend at later when he was sentenced by the court.  She saw him as in as much need as herself. Without that sort of forgiveness she would become subject to the destroying power of bitterness.  She has managed not to be so destroyed.  But to look at something easier, when a human relationship is damaged by some word or act it remains damaged unless you turn and face it. It won't be very comfortable but unless it is faced it cannot be dealt with and healed.  That is the first turning.  That turning offers the hurt person the opportunity to accept an apology and perhaps restitution, and to offer forgiveness.  That is the root of justice, where the scales, thrown out of balance by one act, can be brought back into balance by another.

 Paul writes to the new Christian Church in Corinth. The city of Corinth was situated on the narrow neck of land connecting the southern peninsular of Greece to the mainland. It had been a great Greek city but was completely destroyed by the Romans and left ruinous for many years.  Later the Romans rebuilt it as an important strategic post for trading and military purposes.  It became a stopping and trading place on major east-west and north-south routes.  The population came from all over the Roman empire and varied among wealthy merchants, educated slaves and all those finding a living in a black economy and a black economy always includes goods and services which could be seen as harmful to the common good.

 Paul had written earlier in his letter about idolatry and its dangers.  Now he draws some parallels with what those who are Jews would know of their Scriptures and traditions, reminding them about the Exodus and their life with Moses.  He goes on to talk about their morality and the dangers of losing sight of good, sound rules of behaviour. We read it now, at this time of the year to throw light on our human lives and our lives of faith.

 The overarching theme of the season is Wilderness.  We know that wilderness often comes of not looking where we are going or not looking out to see how our actions affect others, the need for morality.  Paul writes that though we might be tested the 'way out' is provided.  For him, that is faith in a God who saves and offers us the very God-self in Jesus Christ.  Because of the humanity of Jesus all our humanity is drawn back to God, and made good when we own up and lay it down in front of God.  That is why we encourage the keeping of a good Lent!  It is not so much about owning up to all the little things we do wrongly but accepting that our humanity is weak and needs support.

 St. Luke tells us that we have time.  The fig tree is given more than one season to respond – the fruit takes two to ripen anyway.  We are assured that our relation with God will endure through all that the world throws at us, including death.  And if God has forgiven humankind for the death of God’s son what cannot be forgiven when we face it and own up. That is what our ministry of confession and absolution is about.  We do it all the time for each other, we do it as a whole group when we use the formal, catch-all words of the general confession and we might do it privately with a priest to help and encourage and assure of God’s forgiveness. Lent is a good time to think about it.


© 2016 Frank Wright

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