Sermon - 5th March - 1st Sunday of Lent (Matthew 4, 1-11)
Last week I suggested that the story of Transfiguration and the Resurrection in some ways interpret each other. This week I want to suggest that the Temptation of Christ needs to be reflected on in conjunction with the Last Supper, and maybe in particular John’s account of the Last Supper.
Let’s start with the Temptation of Christ, which if you remember follows on from his baptism. At his baptism he is anointed by the Holy Spirit and a loud voice is heard proclaiming that he, Jesus, is God’s beloved Son.
One of Christianises central beliefs is that Jesus was fully human. To be human is to be tempted. And boy does Jesus get tempted during his time in the wilderness. I suspect that it is when we are bewildered that our own temptations are most keenly experienced. Jesus temptations come in three forms:
He is tempted to achieve economic greatness, wealth in other words. Just imagine how much money he could have made if he gained a reputation for turning stone into bread. He is offered the chance to secure real worldly fame, to fall for the cult of celebratory – can you imagine the following he would have achieved and the popularity he would have gained if he had thrown himself off the mountain and been caught by the angels; everyone would have wanted to know, and befriend, him. But his relationships and friendships would have been incredibly shallow being based on what he could do rather than on who he was. What is the basis for our relationships is a Lent question worth answering. Finally he is tempted religiously. Satan says to him that if he worships him he can inherit the whole world; the problem is that he would lose his soul. So this Lent we need too to check out the direction of our true and deepest worship. Jesus, of course doesn’t give into temptation and instead accepts his vocation as a wandering preacher and healer. He chose the path, not of fame, celebrity and power but of humility and service. In the Lent season we too are asked to make some fairly fundamental choices about the orientation of our lives.
The culmination of Jesus earthly ministry, the last event he is involved in before his arrest is of course the last supper. What we see at the Last Supper is Jesus washing the apostles feet and feeding them with bread and wine. The Last Supper shows Jesus to be the servant leader. Jesus, who was tempted by everything the world can give, shows that true leadership is to be discovered, not in fame, wealth, and power but in humility and service.
Of course we are asked to follow in Jesus footsteps, to model our lives on His. In the story of the Temptations Jesus has to turn down the possibility of becoming the ultimate high-flyer. At the last supper we find Jesus on his knees before his apostles. The question we need to ask ourselves as Christians is simply this:
How low can we go? For it is the very depths that mercy, compassion, grace, love, humility and service do their work. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
Sermon 26th February - Feast of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17, 1-9)
I don’t know if you have ever been to the cinema, theatre or a gallery and seen or heard, or maybe seen and heard, something utterly extraordinary? Something that has fascinated you and ultimately left a real mark and caused you to think about things in a new way?
Well imagine what it must have been like to witness first hand the Transfiguration. This week I would really like you to imagine what it must have been like, for in imagining what it must have been like, we can start the process of re-discovering the Transfiguration as a reality.
It is interesting that Jesus took with him only three of the Apostles: Peter, James and John. They were invited to a very special and personal viewing of the events that were to unfold. They were privileged with ‘time out,’ to witness an act of supreme and Divine theatre.
We too, during Lent, need to take time out to attend to God so we can see and listen to the message he wants to give us. And having taken time out we, like these three apostles, need to spend some time reflecting on our experiences, for of this we can be sure: our first impressions may not necessarily be accurate. The apostles didn’t after all fully understand at first, that’s why Jesus instructed them to ‘tell no one.’ The time for talking must come later, perhaps at Easter. The Transfiguration I would want to suggest only really makes sense in the light of the Resurrection. The Transfiguration prefigures the Resurrection. Both glorify God and, in both cases private viewings were offered to the few not the many.
The Transfiguration is a preview of the Resurrection with both events revealing the divinity of Jesus. Yes, Moses and Elijah are important, but Jesus transcends their importance. Jesus is the fulfilment of the law, hence the presence of the law givers, but he alone is Messiah.
Having said it is good to imagine our way into the scene I think it is important that we do so with integrity. We must be prepared to see things, even to see, Jesus anew. As ++Justin Welby has recently written:
‘Christians should see more clearly, because we have seen Jesus. We are people whose vision has been challenged and corrected, so that we can see the world as it properly is. But seeing badly is a problem for most of us most of the time: when we see God and the world wrongly the problem becomes an issue of great menace.’
In order to see the world as God would have us see it, we need first to see Jesus as God would have us see Him. Justin Welby has described Jesus as ‘the fascinator,’ and our job is to become so utterly fascinated with him, as presented through the story of the Transfiguration, that our lives are changed, for good. One more thought from ++Justin, ‘what we see is what we value.’ So the basic question is this: when you imagine Jesus, either here in Church, or in quiet at home, what do you see? Role model, law giver? Or Messiah?
The other question we must ask is what do we hear? Do we hear the voice of God saying that Jesus is his beloved? We need to reclaim as a society that sense of knowing ourselves to be beloved. For real love, the love shown by Jesus, is the love that is truly capable of transforming all things. As Christians we have already been given not only the theory, but the fact of everything, and it is called Jesus. Jesus, God’s beloved and our Messiah. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
12th February - Third Sunday before Lent: 1 Corinthians 3, 1-9 & Matthew 5, 21-37
Does anyone here belong to the perfect family? You know the one that never quarrels or bickers, the one that doesn’t include one, two or even three difficult characters? Has anyone here, sat back and breathed a huge sigh of relief when various members of the family have left after say a Christmas get together? I thought not!
Last week, I suggested that as Christians we should be distinctive in two ways: first, through what we say, remembering that as heirs to the prophetic tradition we are mandated to speak loudly in the face of anything that smacks of injustice. I secondly suggested that in order to be ‘salt and light’ we need to relate to each other in radically distinctive manner. Our evangelical witness is a combination of both how we relate and what we say. Our words are reinforced through our behaviour and our behaviour legitimises our words.
Today’s readings speak specifically to the emerging Christian community about what it means to live well together, as ‘God’s servants,’ working together in ‘God’s field,’ and ‘God’s building.’ St Paul is adamant that our witness is to be collective, corporate and communal. And, above all it is to be entirely Christ centred, for only by acknowledging that we are a community focused on Christ, nourished by Christ and devoted to Christ can we begin to make any difference at all in the world.
To be a Christ-centred community involves putting a stop to gossiping and quarrelling, doing all we can to avoid petty divisions, recriminations and cliques and, to commit to leaving alongside one another in peace – even though we know that other people sometimes get to us, tire us and irritate us. It is a big ask, yet an ask worth answering if we are serious about mission and evangelism.
Jesus suggests that we should not dare to approach the altar unless we are prepared to put aside all division. That is why the sharing of the peace is so central to the liturgy of the Eucharist. The effect of the Eucharist is contingent on our commitment to live peacefully, in full communion, with each other. It is also contingent on us owning up to our own shortcomings and attitudes, and the good news is that we all have them! None of us it transpires is perfect, however we choose to present ourselves. Today’s gospel reading makes that perfectly clear!
So how are we to learn to live in harmony with each other, for surely we can’t do so through sheer effort and grim determination? Grim determination cannot lead to the joy of a fully developed communal life; can it?
I would want to suggest there is possibly only one way and that way is called Jesus. We need to look to Jesus and His example, but above all we need to go to the cross and look at it and fully absorb its message.
I would like to finish by reading a poem, one that I think captures all that I have tried to put into my own words. It reads as follows:
When I look at the Cross
I can see the love of God.
But I can’t see competition.
I can’t see hierarchy.
I can’t see pride or prejudice
or the abuse of authority.
I can’t see lust for power.
I can’t see manipulation.
I can’t see rage or anger
or selfish ambition.
I can’t see unforgiveness.
I can’t see hate or envy.
I can’t see stupid fighting
or bitterness, or jealousy.
I can’t see empire building.
I can’t see self-importance.
I can’t see back-stabbing
or vanity or arrogance.
I see surrender, sacrifice, salvation,
humility, righteousness, faithfulness, grace, forgiveness,
love! Love, love…
When I stop at the cross all
I can see is the love of God
So can I simply encourage you to do one thing this week: pause and look at the cross and let it teach us a thing or two about love and what it means to live well together as ‘God’s people.’
Rev. Andrew Lightbown
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