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Lent 2 - Life, Death and the Risk of Salvation

This did not come out quite like this on the day. Never mind, this is the general thrust of the sermon.

Time seems to be going faster these days. Perhaps it is because I am getting older, but I think the time itself is getting shorter. Only a few weeks ago we were celebrating Christmas and it was still 2011 and now it is the second Sunday in Lent, 2012, with only 35 days to go to Easter.

It is all too much. I would like to stop the world and have a rest.

Of course we know that is impossible. The world is still rotating at 24 hours in one day and revolving around the sun once a year. This year we have 366 days because it is a leap year, but one extra day doesn’t make a lot of difference in a year.

How must it have felt for Abram, as he grew older and older, and the chance of him fathering a child grew less and less. For all his wealth, Abram knew that he must soon die. He appealed to God, saying, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Although God promised to Abram that he would have descendants, as many as the stars of heaven, Abram did not believe God. Then Sarai his wife suggested that he could have children with her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar. Abram, at eighty six years old, was getting desperate. He decided that, as time was passing, he couldn’t wait; so he took Hagar as a wife, and his son Ishmael was born.

It was another thirteen years before Sarai gave birth to Isaac, Abram’s true heir, as we heard today. If Abram had waited, maybe Ishmael would not have been born, and the endless fighting between Ishmael’s descendants and Isaac’s descendants would never have begun.

Who knows? All we can say is that God’s purposes for the world will be worked out despite our human mistrust and bad decision making. As it says in the book of Lamentations, “It is good to wait in silence for the salvation of the Lord.” 

However, it is not always part of God’s plan for us to wait. How often are we warned that we should prepare ourselves for the coming of the kingdom of God. John the Baptist warned his hearers, “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And Jesus often warned his disciples that the kingdom would come suddenly, like a thief in the night or like the pangs of childbirth to a pregnant woman, or like the bridegroom who surprised the wise and foolish bridesmaids in the middle of the night.

The gospel reading is about a man who was quite happy to wait for God to act. Peter.

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. But Peter was horrified and began to rebuke Jesus. Matthew in his gospel records Peter saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!”

Peter obviously did not want Jesus to die. Peter and the other disciples loved Jesus and loved the work he was doing. Raising the dead, healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor – all this was great! Peter was overjoyed to see the crowds following Jesus. Every day Jesus performed some new miracle, spoke some new parable or gave some new teaching. Peter would have been quite happy to follow Jesus around the roads of the Holy Land for ever. He didn’t want to hear any talk of Jesus suffering and being rejected and dying. And Peter did not understand what Jesus meant when he spoke of rising again on the third day.

Peter wanted to keep on enjoying Jesus company, his miracles and his teaching. Any talk of what comes next could wait!

But Jesus knew that God’s plan had to take place in God’s own time. Abram thought he could speed God up by having children with Hagar. Peter thought he could change the future by denying Jesus’ passion death and resurrection.

Christians are those people who have learned to trust God and to wait or to be ready to work with God for the salvation of the world. The trouble is that we are not very good at deciding when it is right to wait or when to make changes.

Let me make some suggestions for us at this very time in the life of our parish. The first is practical and necessary. The term of our Parish Council is coming to an end; the axe is laid at the root of the tree. In a fortnight we must elect new leaders. We will need three new wardens, nine new parish councillors, a treasurer, and five parish nominators.

This is not just a demand of the diocese; it is planning for the future of our church. The builders of this church laid the foundation stone 130 years ago today and since then there have been many changes, good and bad. At times the church has grown smaller and at times the church has recovered and grown stronger as in the time of Fr John Green. The parish leadership have the task of discerning when action and change is necessary and of taking action and making changes. We need to be more patient than Abram waiting for an heir, and we need to be better than Peter in knowing when to take risks, even the risk of death when the promise of a glorious resurrection is there.

Lent is not a time to endure so that things can go back to normal after Easter, it is a time to take courage and take risks so that Easter may bring renewed life and health, faith and hope.

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