The Second Sunday of Lent
Readings: Genesis 15. 1-12, 17, 18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3.17 – 4.1; Luke 13. 31-35 (view all)
As a parent I’m in the regular business of giving warnings to Evie, my daughter. They’re not often heeded, I’ll be honest, and it’s a challenge trying to get the message across in a way she will hear and respond to.
I’m sure many of us, in all kinds of areas of life, can relate to that need to warn others — whether that warning is heeded or not.
In today’s gospel passage, we find Jesus given a warning by the pharisees, to turn away from the treacherous path he is walking. What can we learn from Jesus’ response to help us live faithfully today as God’s Church?
In this passage from Luke’s gospel, we discover that the pharisees are not all bad. There are at least some of them sympathetic to Jesus who want to warn him of the impending threat from the King, Herod Antipas.
The message Jesus has been sharing, the crowds he has gathered, the healings and miracles he has demonstrated, have all been so scandalous that for his own safety he needs to change course.
You can imagine them saying, ‘Think of yourself for once Jesus, your friends, your family — get away from the city and take refuge somewhere quiet. And maybe while you’re at it, just tone down your message slightly, just so that the authorities aren’t quite so threatened.’
And there is a similar parallel in our Old Testament reading. Abram has come a long way, and yet still hasn’t received what he so desperately wants, a son, an heir, to preserve his line, and so he turns to God wrestling with doubt.
When the going gets tough, when the stakes are high, the tendency is to put our own security first, to circle the wagons and preserve what we have at all costs.
That same impulse for self-preservation is strong in our culture today: ‘Think of yourself first, sort yourself out, secure what you have, and then use whatever time, money, influence is left to think of others.’
But Jesus doesn’t think like that — he knows that his vocation, his calling, is not to preserve what he has, but to give it all away. In order to fulfil his calling, he must continue into the city of Jerusalem.
In order to rise victorious on the third day, first he must walk the way of suffering and self-sacrifice. You can’t have resurrection, without first going through death.
And Abram too continues on the path he is walking, with the security that by making a covenant agreement with him, God is pledging God’s whole self to see the promise to Abram fulfilled.
Today, I honestly believe that as the Church in the West, including in this nation and this Ministry Area, we face a similar, difficult choice. Faced with an increasingly hostile culture, it is tempting to circle the wagons, to put our own security first, to withdraw to our safe places.
But instead, our true calling, I believe, is to continue into the city, to engage with the challenges of our time, to speak words of challenge — and scandalous words of mercy and grace. To make the choice to engage with God’s world, even if it means sacrificing our own security, our own reputations, our own comfort, not for ourselves but for the sake of the gospel.
As Paul writes, the follow the way of Jesus is to humble ourselves, trusting that ‘he will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.’
I wonder, as we reflect on this morning’s readings: Will we retreat into the shelter of our churches, or reach out in love to our neighbours in Jesus’ name? Will we hoard our diminishing financial resources, or invest them in the risky work of the kingdom?
Will we step out in faith, and into our calling, to be the people of God, a prophetic voice for faith, hope and love in these uncertain times?
Samuel Wells, well-known theologian and vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, writes this in his book reflecting on the Crucifixion:
You can’t cling on to life. It’ll sooner or later slip through your hands. Let go of life. You can’t keep it. Instead, hold onto Jesus. Let him take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of suffering, pain, hardship and death. He’ll show you something better than life.Samuel Wells, Hanging by a Thread, p.35
As we continue our Lenten journey, may we be willing to let go of self-preservation, in order to journey further into what God has for us. And may we, like Jesus, walk the way of self-sacrifice, giving of ourselves for the cause of God’s Kingdom.