The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s154g16  Second Sunday in Lent  21/2/2016

(I note that the Australian version of the RCL has this gospel for Lent 3 and the gospel for Lent 3 today.   Hence I have done two shorter sermons this week.   Bosco Peters describes us as ‘The Anglican Church Of Or’  (1) :-)

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Luke 13:35

I return, again, to those words of Jesus: ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’  (2)   For all we might love a ‘god’ who rewards our love, the God we worship actually gives the Holy Spirit to others.

So when we use the ‘Benedictus qui venit' after the ‘Sanctus’ we need to recognise the true character of the God we are worshipping lest we find ourselves ‘welcoming’ a personal construct, which scripture describes as an idol.  

Those who had Jesus killed could not be faulted for their knowledge of scripture, their manner of religious lives and devotion, even their charity.   Jesus confronted all this in them, and perhaps in us, by saying that God was elsewhere - that their monopoly of things divine was illusory, and that God was concerned for all and not just for them.

So for me, much of the identification of Jesus with God - ‘the Word made flesh’ (3), that ‘he is the image of the invisible God’ (4) and ‘since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession’ (5) - these are not to magnify Jesus, but to say that the Jesus who associated ‘with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners’ embodies precisely were God is at. (6)   Jesus is not just being the rebellious child, l’enfant terrible, but faithfully reflects what God wants, who God is, where God has always been.   This is the real blasphemy which had him killed.

The doctrines of the virgin birth, the angels at his birth, the star and the magi (7) are all to reinforce this divinely inspired identification of Jesus with all people, in complete contrast to a presumed preference for the superficially religious, even those who claim the name: ‘christian’.

We often think that the Church is the repository of the Holy Spirit, but if the church only gives her good things: forgiveness, holy communion, grace and salvation, to her children alone; Jesus’ words assure us that actually God gives the Holy Spirit to others.

Woven throughout the fabric of the Old Testament is the fact that the Lord uses secular authorities to execute divine judgement and restoration on the ancient people of God. (8)   Now if we accept this to be true, it stands to reason that we are most likely to avoid God’s judgement meted out through secular society if we befriend those we consider our enemies.   In ecclesiastical circles this means that we treat unbelievers gently, especially if they outnumber the members of our church :-)   In this context it is significant that each of the gospel writers says that Pilate found no case against Jesus. (9)   By contrast it is ‘Jerusalem’; shorthand for orthodoxy and devotion; that: ‘kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!’

It therefore seems bizarre to me that the church blithely recites the creeds as if these reassert God’s blessing on the members who are reciting them (of course, only those without their fingers-crossed behind their backs :-) to the exclusion of others - when everything about the incarnation that the creeds proclaim is the blessing of others.  The creeds judge the very people who recite them.   The atheist judges we who recite the creeds when we use the creeds to exclude them.

Recently I have been seeing posts of clergy leaving their churches and anointing people in the street with ashes to mark the beginning of Lent.  And I suppose that this is a laudable thing to do, except for those in the Anglican Communion (other than the TEC) who have just marginalised the TEC for her including and affirming of LGBTI people.   I suspect that in God’s estimation most of the Anglican Communion needs to repent far more urgently than most people in the street!

I am grateful to Giles Frazer who quotes Gerard Winstanley in a piece about the TTIP; paralleling our TPPA: “Was the Earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from OTHERS, that these may beg and starve in a fruitful land; or was it make to preserve all her children?” (10)   I wonder if this is not the vision some have for the Church Triumphant that Psalm 23 reflects in that picture of the ultimate retribution: ‘You spread a table for me in the sight of my enemies’. (11)   How is this different when we label those OTHERS, ENEMIES, the LGBTI?   Do we believe God doesn’t perceive our pretence that we know and accept what the Nicene Creed means when we exclude others?

2.  Luke 11:13
3.  John 1:14
4.  Philippians 5:15
5.  Hebrews 4:14
6.  Matthew 9:11, 21:31
7.  Matthew 1:23, Luke 2:9, Matthew 2:1
8.  Isaiah 67:13-16, Jeremiah 4:6, Ezekiel 23:24; Isaiah 44:28
9.  Matthew 27:22-23, Mark 15:12-14, Luke 22:4,23:13-14, John 18;38
11.  Psalm 23:5