It took a while to get the sermon together today. 2am, now I must go to bed, so i leave you with my thoughts for the week
Lent 1 (2007) Year C RCL Principal
Christianity is 'Pants'
Christianity is 'pants' – at least that’s how someone (who shall remain nameless) started their testimony yesterday as part of our Team Prayer Day! It’s quite an opener – nearly as good as the one on the morning of Jo and I’s wedding day, when we had a service of Communion before our Wedding service and the preacher began with the words ‘One in three marriages ends in divorce…’ and then topped that with the words ‘some statistics suggest that it is nearer two in three’.
Of course in both cases what followed was much more encouraging and engaging and these great opening line’s served only to grab our attention so that we actually listened to what came next. Hopefully this introduction has served a similar purpose. I bet you’ve never heard the words ‘Christianity is 'pants'’ from a Vicar before! And it’s not that I’ve been in youth work too long. Sometimes the boldest and simplest statements manage to say something that we might feel, but not feel we are able to admit.
But let’s be honest, it is not easy being a Christian. Those who think that we live in some kind of fantasy world with mindless hopes of somewhere nice to go when we die really haven’t heard or understood the message of Jesus.
Jesus himself in Luke Chapter 14 verses 25 to 31 likened the decision to follow him to a king considering the armies he might have to send into battle, or builders putting up a building – a decision not to be taken lightly. Or in Matthew 16 verse 24 we have the stark reminder that if anyone wants to follow Christ we have to take up our cross and follow him.
Discipleship is not an easy option.
I remember hearing as a young man that Christian Faith is not a crutch, it is a stretcher – because without Jesus we can’t even limp into the fullness of life he promises. But at the same time, following Jesus is not the easy route to anything.
One of the few things that makes me angry (because I am not an angry person by inclination) is those who take the gospel and distort it to say that anything we want – healing, money, a life of comfort – is available if we just have enough faith. This doesn’t reflect Jesus’ teaching, or his life, or his death. Things were not easy for him.
Our choice of songs this morning particularly reminds us that Jesus took on our lives, and went through all that we went through. He didn’t live a life cushioned from the pain and difficulties we face, he wasn’t wealthy or comfortable or in a position of privilege due to his faith and his relationship with God the Father – nor should we expect to be.
On the contrary, he suffered, both in life and in the manner of his death, because of his faithfulness to the Gospel, to the message of God. It is through his life and death that we can enter the gate of glory – as it says in the prayer we use after Holy Communion:
Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
Our Gospel reading for today talks of a time when Jesus felt the full weight of his humanity. At the start of our own Lenten observance we call to mind the struggle that he underwent in the story of his fasting and temptations in the wilderness.
There is one crucial statement that it is easy to miss if we concentrate just on the temptation story in this passage.
If we look at the start of the reading for today we read in verse 4 of chapter 4 of the Gospel of St Luke
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…”
It wasn’t a random co-incidence that Jesus went into the desert, nor was he lost and wandering around. He was responding to God’s call and, we are told, was full of the Spirit.
It was the Spirit that took Jesus to this time of trial, to the deprivation of fasting and loneliness, to the struggle with who he was and who he was called to be. We are told that he wrestled with the temptation to take shortcuts in the ministry he was called to, and to rely on his own power and to misuse the promises of scripture. In all of this there was the possibility of circumventing the suffering which his ministry would entail. But he did not make that choice.
In a few weeks we will hear that Jesus wrestled again with the temptation to go around God’s will as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that the cup of suffering would be taken from him yet offered himself to God saying ‘not my will, but yours be done’.
Taking the way of faith is not the easy route, and what Jesus did in opening himself completely to God’s will achieved our salvation.
Faith is not about escaping the realities of this world but about grappling with them, and struggling with the harshness of this world. It is about abandoning our own desires and opening ourselves to God’s desire to give us himself and to change this world.
Being open to God means that we may find ourselves being led to places which are not comfortable, it doesn’t make us immune to the struggles and difficulties of this world, on the contrary for those of us who see with eyes of faith the brokenness and pain of this world and the evidence of the ongoing effect of sin is all the more apparent.
And there are times in our lives when the Spirit will lead us into the wilderness, when God will break us in order that he may remake us again. It’s a hard message, but allowing God to work in our lives means that life will be hard, there will be times that our prayers feel meaningless, that the pain of life is all too real. It will mean that we too find ourselves tempted and struggling with what God’s will really means.
And this is the where we realize that faith needs to be held to even when we don’t feel very full of faith, even when God feel’s distant we are called to be faithful. We must keep praying even when it feels like we are hitting a brick wall, keep in fellowship with one another, continue to wrestle with scripture, be faithful – no matter what.
And the promise we have is simply this – God is with us. Whatever, whenever, whether we feel it or not. God is with us. Romans 10 reminds us
10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.