Saturday, 2 March 2013

Sunday 3 March 2013, Lent 3, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9, Repent! Bruce
A question:  what is the first word that we have recorded being uttered by Jesus?  (I will give a clue in a joke …)
Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus proclaims that the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled in him, and that their lives must change – repentance.
A common theme is that the God revealed in the Old Testament is rather austere, grim, vindictive even.  By contrast the God revealed in the New Testament by Jesus is altogether “nicer”, perhaps friendlier.
And then we encounter Jesus for ourselves, and discover that to follow him is not to find a cuddly “pushover”, who will allow us to live however we like.  There are consequences to our actions.
He has been asked about the latest atrocity committed by the occupying Roman forces – a massacre at the temple.  He responds that we are all in danger, all facing an uncertain fate, unless we repent.
Does this sound unwelcome?  Would we rather it was not so?  We might of course also wish that gravity were more forgiving, or that we could negotiate a loss of weight, so that we would not automatically fall if we stepped out into a void.  We might wish that we could be like Adam and Eve, only more successful, and help God to redefine what is good and evil.
Some may object that no one should have the right to tell us how to live our lives.  We are free agents.  We have had enough of being told by the authorities, by the church, by our families, by society, how should live.  We are free!
My contention is that God wants to free us from the things that will damage us, and hurt those around us.  When Jesus commands us to repent, he is like a fire alarm calling us out of a burning building.  Loud, insistent, not to be ignored.  This is not the time for a carefully worded, polite suggestion that we might wish to consider, if we are so minded …..  We must act, and act now!
And what is repentance?  It is to have a complete change of mind and attitude, so that what we once thought good and desirable is now seen for what it is, as to be left behind, turned away from.
This may at first seem negative, painful.  I would ask you, however, how many times that we have been brought up short, forced to examine our situation, to make the right choices even if they at the time seem unwelcome.  Out politicians are forced to rue their past actions, sometimes in very public ways, but this is a process that we are all called to go through.
Our Lenten theme this week is that we are being called to a constant process of being remade, remodelled from within, so that we want the things that God wants and approve of the things that God does.  We want to find ourselves responding like God in a godly manner – a good way.  We focus this week on that work of the Holy Spirit which lasts for the whole of our lifetime – to become more like Jesus.
What is needed is a complete change of heart and mind and will.  Only God can do this. 
But how?
The key is an attitude of internal search for God and surrender to his will.  We are called to live lives dedicated to hallowing his name, living under his kingship, seeking his will in every aspect of our lives.
It might be helpful remember that gravity can be our friend.  Two designers have produced a light that is powered by gravity, and will bring cheap artificial light to developing countries.
In the same way we can actively use all the experiences of life to help us be open to God.  This is to move beyond mere external religious acts to a heart’s search for God.  Paul comments that the children of Israel leaving Egypt were part of the external church.  They had the sacraments – external signs of baptism (the red sea) and communion (manna and water from the rock), but their inner lives were not being touched.  He equates the grievous sins of idolatry, sexual sin, testing God, and grumbling, and makes the point that something more than external “going through the motions” is required.
What is needed is a complete change of heart and mind and will.  Only God can do this. 
And the good news is – that he loves us and wants to bless and to help us.  Jesus tells a story about a man who despairs of an unfruitful fig tree; he wants to dig it up and burn it.  He is prevailed upon to give more chances, to do more to promote growth, to keep trying.  Jesus reminding us that he wants the best for us.  There are consequences to sin and selfishness, and these brought him to the cross, where he died in our place. 
What is needed is a complete change of heart and mind and will.  Only God can do this. 
C S Lewis created a great character when he wrote about Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawntreader.  The boy is hateful, spiteful, and greedy, and ends up being turned into a dragon.  This is terrible, and he tries to undo the damage.  He sloughs off his skin but underneath he is still – a dragon.  He does this several times, until he gives up in despair.  And then he is visited by the lion Aslan, who stands for Jesus in the book.  Aslan strips away the dragon skin, which is a much deeper, more painful process, but which brings Eustace a new start, redemption.  His outer appearance is changed, of course, back to being a boy again.  His inner character, his thoughts, motivations and actions, have also been completely transformed.  Is he now perfect?  No, but he is now a loyal follower of Aslan.
What is needed is a complete change of heart and mind and will.  Only God can do this. 
He does it when we invite him into our lives.  We ask to come by his Spirit, to bring us forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, to help us trust in him, to give us new life, a new start.  We then come every day, or perhaps many times during the day, seeking him, consciously walking with him, so that he can retrain us and lead us in godly ways.

We take seriously the word of God, spending time reading it, listening to it, studying it.  Listen to what Jesus says:
Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 
Luke 8:15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Luke 8: 21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
When Martha is complaining that Mary is sitting, listening to Jesus instead of helping in the kitchen: Luke 10: 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 11: 27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”  28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
We can repent, we can know a complete change of heart and mind, as we spend time in God’s word, and learn to put it into practice, changing our habits and opinions to be more like Jesus.
What is needed is a complete change of heart and mind and will.  Only God can do this.    Let us pray…