Isaiah 43:16-21;Psalm 126 Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Fifth Sunday in Lent 21st March Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Fifth Sunday in Lent 21st March Textweek

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

Isaiah is speaking to a people in exile, and he speaks to them with a prophetic hope; he speaks to them of a tomorrow that is hope-filled, and he refers to the Exodus. He just alludes to the Exodus, the setting free of God’s people. And he refers back to the exodus to illustrate the power of God, but he makes it very clear that he is now speaking of the manifestation of that power anew: ‘Let go of the past for something new is to be realised, and there’s a difference between history repeating itself and the unfolding of creation’. The fifth Sunday of Lent is a bit like being on the last lap before Easter and I think that raises a good question: are we going to keep going round and round in circles or are we actually striving to get somewhere?

Paul illustrates that difference for us in the second reading. Paul was a man going round in circles and doing it very well. They were wonderful circles. they were circles that others looked to and said, ‘There’s a fine man.’ He was doing all that was expected, even doing more than what was expected and certainly doing it better than most. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, the most Hebrew of the Hebrews, the holiest of all the tribes: ‘a Hebrew born of Hebrew’s’. As to the law, he was a Pharisee, he knew it inside out, back to front, every nuance, and he held to it. As to zeal, he was so on track he persecuted the church; as to righteousness under the law, he was blameless.

Then Paul realised that the circumcision, that which marks us as being of the Divine, is not an outward sign but rather it’s an orientation towards something. It is not something that we wear, rather it is an orientation and a movement toward, and so he aligned himself. He shifted gear and moved beyond the law, moved beyond the religious order. He sought, ‘to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’ (v10). Almost as if he was doing laps, doing laps, a Hebrew, a Pharisee, a righteous one, and then there’s a realisation and no longer is that enough rather there’s a shift and a movement. He moves from the routine to a striving to attain a finish and it’s a movement that changes history - it changes him, it changes his history and so changes all history. No longer does he participate in the repetition of history, rather he engages in the unfolding of creation. And as we look toward Easter we might ask of ourselves that same distinction.

Martha does all that is expected, all that is required. She can even argue that what she does is not even of her choosing, she had no option – it is required, it must be done. She drives - she does her laps according to the rules of the road; she does well, she completes those laps according to the directions of the race. She repeats history.

Mary – Mary lets her hair down. She creates a new direction and so she initiates a new unfolding of history. As a community we, at Lent 5, are on the last lap before Easter. We can visibly see and rejoice in Isaiah’s prophetic hope: ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth’. Everyone who visits St Paul’s sees a new thing about to spring forth. The completion of the East End moves us beyond the church. The former things remain, but our eyes are turned toward that which is unfolding and that which speaks of making all things new. Church communities can so easily fall into places where history repeats itself - unchanging, going round and round, turning over the prayer book year after year, round and round until they run out of petrol.

Yesterday I spoke with the treasurer of a Perth church. They have a three million dollar annual budget from their giving. They create and maintain a number of amazing ministries and what was delightful was that there was an awareness of still looking toward, of looking beyond where they are, of seeking to unfold something new and an orientation towards prayer, to constantly seeking and striving to know Christ.

I think in this community at this time, we feel, we can actually feel that shift of gear in ourselves. We can see that St Paul’s is moving from a repetition of history, from a ‘we’ve been standing for over a hundred years’ to a breaking into something new. A going beyond. We anticipate a movement into a new direction, a becoming, a new being. All of us are now on that last lap; all of us are involved in the shift of gears. And as Easter approaches we might realise it is not Easter approaching us, it is we who approach Easter.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris