Challenge and Trust

Sermon King Charles the Martyr Church, Potters Bar
17th March 2019: Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15.1-12,17-18; Philippians 3.13-4.1; Luke 13.31-35

In all our three readings this morning, we see the themes of ‘trust’ and ‘challenge’. In the reading from Exodus, Abram, who has left house and home, is challenged by the fact that he is still childless – something that mattered those days not only on a personal level, but also on a societal level, and was often seen as a curse directly from God. Yet, Abram also trusts God enough to ask Him that very thing he really wants, having an heir, something he almost doesn’t dare to hope for anymore.

Then Paul, in his letter to the people in Philippi, talks about a different challenge. Not one of not giving up hope, but one of persevering in leading a godly life. He uses strong language, and contrasts the enemies of the Cross of Christ, who live according to earthly pleasures, with those whose citizenship is in heaven: those who trust in God

Pharisees

Thirdly, that extraordinary passage from Luke’s Gospel. Luke, the story teller par excellence, presents us here with a rather confusing passage. Are the Pharisees trying to get rid of Jesus by threatening him, or are they warning him, because they know that Herod is looking for him? In either case, Jesus challenges the Pharisees by sending them back relaying to Herod that whatever his plan is, God’s plan will prevail. Jesus will continue casting out demons and healing people, and ‘on the third day’ God’s work will be complete. Jesus already knows and wants us to know that these events occur, so to say, in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection. A trust that life will prevail over death.

So, challenge and trust. Finding a balance between these two is, I think, not a bad way to look at our Lenten journey, as well as our Christian life more generally. Trust without challenge may make us complacent, but challenge without trust we cannot sustain: we will either become cynical when we lose trust, or we seek refuge in the temptations of the world.

It is also important to discern in what, or in the Christian case, in whom we put our trust. Yes, of course, the answer for us is God, or Jesus, but who is the God in whom we trust? Or, in other words, how do we avoid making Him in our image, instead of embracing the truth that we have been made in His image? It is a complicated question, and I guess to a certain extent, our answers will be personal. For some of us, we feel our prayers have been answered, like Abram’s prayer was. For many others, we may have felt let down at times, when despite our prayers, God did not give us that which we really wanted. There is no easy answer to this question.

If we try, for example by saying that God knows what’s best for us, so we just got it wrong, I think we are trying to make God in our image, instead of letting God be God. The much harder alternative is to continue to trust in God, although for some that challenge is much harder than for others.

In a similar way we need to look at Paul’s admonition to the Philippians. Being a week-and-a half into the season of Lent, some of us may have already started feeling guilty about not keeping to our Lent resolutions. But also here, the challenge is harder for some than for others. Visiting the primary school on Friday, one child was trying very hard to keep her Lent promise: not to wobble her tooth. Of course we all know, that is impossible!

However, we need to remind ourselves once more, that this season of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection is not about proving how good we are – not to ourselves, nor to others, nor to God – but about making space for that wonderful truth, that God loves us unconditionally. It is not that God stops loving us if we set our minds on earthly things, but we stop being able to see that we don’t need them for God to love us. By clouding our minds and bodies, we stop seeing the truth for what it is, the promise that our citizenship is with God, in heaven.

But, all this does not mean that trusting God is about sitting back and relaxing. Particularly in a week like this, with the horrible events in New Zealand, and the endless political bickering about Brexit, we realise that being a Christian, being a person of faith comes with a challenge. Yes, Christianity is a religion of peace, and so is Islam for that matter, but that does not mean that we should not speak out and stand up for truth and justice. That is precisely what Jesus did when he went to Jerusalem. And that is the real challenge, which we can only face trusting that we are not on our own.

I’d like to finish with selected verses of a poem about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It was originally written for Palm Sunday, but I think it illustrates well what I have been trying to say: that the more we trust, the more we can challenge.

Carol Penner’s Coming to the City Nearest You:

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Jesus comes to the gate, to the synagogue,
to houses prepared for wedding parties,
to the pools where people wait to be healed,
to the temple where lambs are sold,
to gardens, beautiful in the moonlight.
He comes to the governor’s palace.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you,
to new subdivisions and trailer parks,
to penthouses and basement apartments,
to the factory, the hospital and the Cineplex,
to the big box outlet centre and to churches,
with the same old same old message,
unchanged from the beginning of time.

[…]

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Kingly, he takes a towel and washes feet.
With majesty, he serves bread and wine.
With honour, he prays all night.
With power, he puts on chains.
Jesus, King of all creation, appears in state
in the eyes of the prisoner, the AIDS orphan, the crack addict,
asking for one cup of cold water,
one coat shared with someone who has none,
one heart, yours,
and a second mile.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Can you see him?

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