Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-9 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Luke 13:31-35

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In any one week there are so many opportunities or starting points for sermons, not so much opportunities to say what will I preach about, but rather opportunities that stand out and ask to be shared, opportunities whereby we can share that God’s word is revealed in our lives. So there is always a dilemma for priests and preachers to resolve out of all of that week, what will I bring to the Sunday service. I thought I’d just take two examples of sermon starters - quite different - and then we’ll have a look at how does one resolve the dilemma of Sunday morning; what is the word of God that we will seek to find today?

The first sermon starter is a quote I came across by Barbara Brown Taylor from The Christian Century:

“Terrible things happen and you’re not always to blame. But don’t let that stop you from doing what you’re doing. That torn place your fear has opened up inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you’re there, pay attention to what you feel. It may hurt you to stay there, and it may hurt you to see. But it’s not the kind of hurt that leads to death; it’s the kind that leads to life.”

I’m not using it as a sermon starter so I’m not quite sure why that quote resonates. Part of me thinks it resonates because of the unfolding discussions from the Lent group, which as well as in our meeting, continued to unfold through the discussion group. But another part of me thinks it resonates because it speaks to something of my own journeying, my own being still in the wilderness, and maybe what that quote’s about will become clear if I sit with it a bit longer and just look at it.

But a second starting point was yesterday’s wedding in the church and this is really weird – the bride’s name was Taylor. Yesterday we as the community of St Paul’s -and it wasn’t me, it was we - hosted a wedding in the church, and it’s a church that we’re not ready to worship in. We gave to the wider community before we’ve taken for ourselves.

The wedding was at four in the afternoon followed by the reception with chandeliers in the Hall. At six o’clock in the morning the builders were still in the church hanging doors, putting up the reredos and just tidying up and finishing off. The bride, groom and their families and friends were delighted by what we have and what we so freely give – cleaning, preparing, gardening, cooking, presenting, creating, hosting, welcoming, responding, giving, holding – so many were involved. On the day it was a few, but equally on the day it was us, there was a ‘we’ and as a community there was a sense that we do shine as a light in the world. Others are amazed at what they find.

So with those sorts of things going on how do you then make the decision about what will we seek, what will we look at and listen to on a Sunday morning, and that’s where the gift of the lectionary comes in. Rather than picking something from the many opportunities during the week, what the lectionary invites us to do is to share the readings from the sacred texts, to share them in common with the whole church and to bring everything, everything we have to the pool of the those readings and see what’s reflected in them – does this Word resonate with my life? Not a word that I’ve chosen, not a word that is part of the me experience, but rather the common word that the church will contemplate in their worship on Sunday. It’s a centring and a grounding process, because it means we can bring anything and everything from the everyday and gaze into the pool of sacred texts and see what the reflection tells us. So there’s the sermon starter - we begin with the readings!

So with a week filled with so many opportunities what is it that we’ll find in the readings today? The first reading is Isaiah doing Lent: ‘Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.’ Verse 2 - Isaiah doing Lent. Verse 1: ‘… come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price’. Verse 6: ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.’ Just forget the meaning of the words and think of the process – what is the energy, the place where Isaiah is speaking from? This is a place of abundance, it’s a place of excitement and it also is the place where we find a positive orientation of desire. Thirst – thirst is seen as a negative, dehydrating, shrivelling experience; thirst can also take us to places. It has a great positive energy as well. And so as we look at Isaiah doing Lent, we might also look into this pool and see ourselves doing Lent. What is our energy of Lent?

I wonder if our energy is still hard to fit and hard to find? Specially those that have been doing Lent year in year out – we’ve got echoes of Sunday School, teachings about self-denial, sacrifice, scarcity. Isaiah speaks to us today on our journey. Listen, see if those same energies are reflected in the pool of your life – abundance, excitement, a positive orientation of desire. Isaiah is asking us to become aware of where we thirst, what is our thirst?

The second reading, I think then gives us a wonderful opportunity to find momentum for Lent. Verse 13 says, ‘No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.’ There’s an ask here that we bring our lives into perspective with the common, with the community. There are some people that will not believe this at all - ‘No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.’- you can almost hear them crying out now, ‘No one has had that experience that I’ve had; no one can begin to know the pain that I’ve known’. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. I think it’s a stunningly interesting observation of life – we hold in common the testing that each and every individual encounters.

There’s another knowing that’s given in the same verse and that knowing is that you’re not tested beyond your strength. So those who fold up into a clod of agony – you know that moment where the whole world turns to jelly and you just can’t move, hear that again: you will not be tested beyond your strength. You might think you’re being tested beyond your strength. Maybe it’s because we do not look into the pool of the sacred texts to become aware, to see our strength reflected. At the end of the day, when you look into that pool, the face that looks back is the image of God. That’s what we seek.

Then we come to the gospel, which is on first reading quite weird, and again it’s a little unsettling because the Pharisees don’t seem to be playing their normal bad guy part. This time they’re giving Jesus the heads up: ‘Herod – get out before he gets you.’ The Pharisees are actually on his side, again it doesn’t fit with what we’ve been taught about Jesus and the Pharisees. Follow that reading through; there’s a delightful dialogue and Jesus refers to Herod as ‘that fox’.

The Kingdom of God, which Jesus reveals, bears no resemblance at all to the entire system in which Herod operates and funnily enough that's not a historical system, it’s called our culture; it’s alive and well. What do we deny if we maintain a congruency with the systems of our political culture? What are we denying as we try to fit in and behave properly in the world? What are we denying? Christ never seems to go down that path, never seems to worry about am I doing the right thing, is this what’s expected of me? Oh but it says that’s what we must do. Again it’s finding that strength, finding that reflection that identifies you as in the image of God. There’s a wonderful focus and it’s picked up in the image that goes with the Gospel reading, the focus on Jerusalem; Jesus has an amazing focus in the gospels on Jerusalem. In verse 33, ‘it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem’. Here is a man taking steps towards his death. Interesting thing is, that’s what life’s direction is! It’s the direction of life.

Now we know because we’ve already read the Easter narrative, we know that Jesus deliberately goes to Jerusalem, sets his face to Jerusalem. We know also that he’s killed in Jerusalem. Those of us who didn’t give up at Easter and carried through to Pentecost then read the next chapter – the Acts of the Apostles, and we’ll read it again this year – and we know that Jerusalem is also the place of birth of the church as we know it. So look again at the movement, the process that’s being revealed in those stories.

The death is brought about by human thirst, the thirst for power, the thirst for authority. The fear of a new direction brings about that death in Jerusalem, and if we look at the movement we’ll see that there was no intervening God, because the story is about Emmanuel, God with us. No one stepped in from out of the sky and put things to right. It’s a really interesting dynamic – the Divine is present and active in response to our presence and activity. So in the movement that we seek towards Easter, it’s the movement that then generates the life-giving activity of the Divine. It’s not all set up, there’s no blueprint, no one stage-whispered to Jesus at this point in the Lent journey, ‘Look mate, go to Jerusalem, because I’m going to fix it all, don’t worry.’ That’s not the orientation; the orientation toward Jerusalem, this point in the story, is a movement fully into truth, a truth that will require a dying, without any promise or expectation other than faith in the truth that following this path is more life-giving than staying in a world that is run by foxes.

So as we prepare for Easter, as we prepare for death and resurrection, we are actually preparing for a different perspective on life. Who we are and what we do are part of calling the Divine into reality. If we stop, the world disappears: God doesn’t come in and wind us up again like clockwork, so that it’s all fixed. Our activity appears generative of the divine activity; our movement brings into reality the movement of the Divine.

What we get I think in today’s gospel is that we are the Body of Christ. It’s a delightful reality. It’s worth stopping during Lent to look into that pool and see yourself, ourselves as that Body.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris