Third Sunday of Lent
Introduction and Call to Worship In the midst of busy lives, yet in the midst of Lent, coming together to worship God is taking time to hear and respond to God’s word. Hear God’s call to repentance and invitation to receive new life as we come together in worship today. Today’s Readings First Reading Isaiah 55:1-9 Isaiah calls us to hear and come to God’s life-giving promise and purpose. Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 The Bible is full of examples of sinners like us who have failed to keep faith with our faithful God. Gospel Luke 13:1-9 Just as the keeper had the fig tree’s life spared just a little longer to see true fruitful change, so too has a breathing-space been left for our own radical change of direction to embrace Christ whole-heartedly. HOMILY “Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:5) Considering the ongoing national crisis that is Brexit, the Church of England has launched a campaign entitled ‘Together’. As Christian disciples, we are all called to work together to re-build trust and community, despite our differences. Here at St Mary’s we are offering a Day of Prayer this coming Friday 29th March, because legally (at the time of writing this sermon) we will still exit the European Union then. But even if we don’t, Friday is an opportunity for people to come together in prayer, to share the Eucharist, Lunch, Compline or just pop in for prayer and a cuppa, chat and fellowship as we seek a deeper reconciliation which can only be found together – with God. This coming week at all our services we will pray: God of hope, in these times of change, unite our nation and guide our leaders with your wisdom. Give us courage to overcome our fears and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. At the heart of our Christian call to discipleship is that call to share, which our Brexit prayer identifies. To share means to be reconciled, and that requires change. Indeed, the whole of our life’s journey as disciples is about that call to fellowship and sharing, and it is not an easy path to follow. You may even ask, what is a disciple? Well, the word literally means ‘a learner’ which is very appropriate in light of the challenges and changes we face as a nation and community, because to live life is to be constantly learning new things and facing new challenges. Another description of discipleship is "one who follows another's teaching". Those who followed Jesus quickly learnt that to be a disciple meant imitating Him in his godly simplicity, love, compassion and forgiveness – yes, learning to be Christ-like, living lives that always seek reconciliation and forgiveness and build up God’s kingdom. These are themes we are exploring in our Lent groups as we reflect upon the words of Jesus from the cross. I have preached before about faith being a journey and how it is looking backwards that we can join up the dots and see a picture of how far we have come, grown and changed. In today’s Gospel Jesus’ journey towards the cross is identified in a parable which forms part of the writer Luke’s ten chapter focus. The destination for this journey is Jerusalem, the city where prophets are killed. The dots that mark out the motif of salvation, the Cross of Jesus, are there in the background. As Jesus embarks upon this journey with a deep sense of urgency, he faces the prospect of his own rejection, judgement and suffering, and he teaches his followers about the specifics of being a disciple. In today’s Gospel we hear about the suffering of some Galileans at Pilate’s hands. Even without the New Testament we know Pilate was a cruel leader: the historian Josephus lists several things Pilate did that enraged the local Jewish population as if he was deliberately targeting them. Indeed, the loss of those in the Temple, slaughtered pilgrims at the Passover, was a real atrocity and an outrage. Combine this with the dreadful catastrophe of the tower of Siloam collapsing and it is no wonder the people are asking questions. How can this have happened? Who is to blame? Where is God in the face of such suffering? In the world today we see so much suffering: the evil mass shooting at two places of worship in New Zealand and the deadly impact of storm Idai, a natural disaster that has this past week swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving behind a trail of destruction, killing many people and animals and affecting more than 2.5 million people. We may well ask, in solidarity with them, where God is in this? As we have been studying this Lent, the Psalms of Lament pick up these themes of desolation, sudden challenge and change. But the Gospel is clear in its answer to our questions: Jesus is suffering with those who suffer, loving from the cross those who turn to him in their need. The Cross is the destination of his life – our salvation. You see, our Lord understands the human condition, our temptations and sins, frailty and failures, and the day-to-day challenges of being alive. He recognises that we need another chance, and therefore he separates out the tragedy of events and the reality of individual human failure which are quite different, hence the parable of the barren fig tree which illustrates a call to repentance and a need to give each other a chance. Disasters happen to good and bad people alike, but God, who created all, loves everyone and the Christian disciple has a responsibility to be Christ-like and work to bring people together in mutual love and respect – forgiving and loving, helping those in need, in prayer and action. This week we will be collecting to support the DEC in their campaign to bring aid to those affected parts of Africa. We do this while deep in prayer for our own country as we seek to reconcile divided people into God’s love and be one people, one family once again – whatever delays may come. We do this with a commitment to loving service which doesn’t judge and always gives more opportunities for growth, renewal and change. Like the fig tree, Jesus offers us another chance. We too must follow his example and do the same; after all, salvation comes through Him alone. So, this third week of Lent, make time for prayer and accept God’s invitation to be in this place - a breathing-space – a place of unity amidst our diversity. Come to St Mary’s this Friday willing to repent of your failure to love, seeking the reconciliation that comes through the Cross and encourage others to do the same. And as you take that time to pray – perhaps for just 10 minutes, perhaps for the whole day, ask yourself what your own response should be to Jesus absolute love for you. Friends in faith, at this important time in our nation’s life, we are granted a breathing-space, a time to repent and change direction – to seek to be together. This new life isn’t just for us, but for all of God’s world, which waits for us to understand and see, know and do what is right, good and life-enhancing for everyone and everywhere. Amen. SUMMARY 1. For more information on ‘Together’ – visit: https://www.churchofengland.org/together 2. The parable of the barren fig tree teaches us the need to give everyone another chance; that Jesus works into our lives for us to repent and be transformed. 3. Our Day of Prayer on Friday should be a breathing-space for us to repent, be opened to new areas for change and deepen our lives in God. 4. Just as the breathing-space of care for the fig tree was intended to open new life for the tree, so too a Lenten breathing-space for us could be life-returning and renewing for us and our world.