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Second Sunday in Lent

Sermon for Second Sunday in Lent

Readings: Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18; Philippians 3:17–4:1 & Luke 13:31–35

The news of Shane Warne’s passing last Friday came as a shock to many, even to those who weren’t avid followers of cricket. I know that when I read about it online, very early on Saturday morning, I was in a state of disbelief. It just felt so surreal. He was such a ‘larger than life character’, and I guess we tend to think of people like that as almost being immortal.

Of course his death followed the passing earlier the same day of another cricket legend in Rod Marsh. As a young boy, and then a teenager, I was fortunate to have watched Rod Marsh play a lot of cricket in the 1970’s during a period when Australia dominated world cricket. When I heard the news of his passing it really made me think of my own mortality, and this was only exacerbated by the news of Shane Warne’s death who, after all, was younger than I am.

And I must confess, since my mum died in October 2020, I had already begun to think a lot about my own death, wondering how much more time I might have left here on earth. I wouldn’t describe it as a morbid fascination, but rather it has really brought into focus for me those key life questions: what is the purpose of my life? And, what is the meaning of life in general?

Those questions have been at the heart of my own spiritual journey, and while I may have found some partially satisfying answers for now, I have no doubt those questions will continue to be at the heart of my spiritual journey in the future, for whatever time I might have left.

And as I thought about the uncertainty of my own life and existence, I was struck by this week’s gospel passage and the certainty that Jesus faced regarding his life. In the passage Jesus is warned by several Pharisees that Herod, who ruled Galilee in the time of Jesus, wants to kill him. This gives Jesus cause to reflect on his mission, after which he responds that he must continue on his way to Jerusalem, because it is Jerusalem where his fate awaits. Jesus knows that he is to die in Jerusalem, just like the many prophets that God had sent to the people of Israel who were killed by the Israelites in Jerusalem.

But rather than condemning the people, Jesus is filled with sadness at the prospect. Not sadness for himself, but sadness for Jerusalem and its people. He uses the analogy of a hen, gathering her brood under her wings to protect them, to explain how God had often wanted to protect the people of Jerusalem, but they had always rejected Him. Jesus knows that the day will come in the not too distant future (in the year 70 in fact), when the city will be totally destroyed by the Romans, and he feels a great sense of sadness for the people. And he says that Jerusalem will not see him again until the end of this present age, when he comes to usher in the new age, which of course is a reference to what we as Christians know as eternal life.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the members of the church in Philippi, reminds them that they are “citizens of heaven”, members of the kingdom of God. There were those in the church who had distorted the principle of Christian freedom, and used it to do whatever they liked, believing that God’s grace would rescue them from any sin they might commit. Paul describes those people by saying, “their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” 

Paul encourages the Philippians to set their minds on Jesus who, at the time of his coming again, will transform their earthly bodies into the glory of his resurrected body. This is the Christian hope, that following our mortal death we will be raised to eternal life with Jesus. And what is it that allows us to have this hope, even when we are faced with uncertainty and questions in relation to our death? It’s faith. And who better to use as an example of faith than Abraham.

In this morning’s reading from the Book of Genesis, we find the first story of the promises that God makes to Abraham. Abraham has no heirs, and he is worried that when he dies his inheritance will pass to his servant Eliezer, as was the custom the day. But God tells Abraham to count the stars in the sky, which are so numerous that he is unable to count them, because that’s how many descendants Abraham will have. We are then told that Abraham believed God, and that he was then righteous in the eyes of God.

Through our faith, we are righteous in the eyes of God. We are reconciled to God in this our mortal life, and we have the hope of being raised to eternal life with God, through Jesus.

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