A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on Wednesday 5 April 2017
In this series of Lent Eucharists we’ve been looking at what the living of the Christian faith looks like.
We began with ‘loving’. Central to Jesus’ teaching about how we should live is the command that he gives us to love the Lord our God and our neighbour as ourselves. We thought a little about how challenging this is – with those who are very different from ourselves, with those who are our enemies, with those who are closest to us where difficulties and hurts can run deepest, and perhaps most difficult of all loving ourselves!
And as if ‘loving’ wasn’t difficult enough, we then thought about ‘forgiving’! This too is a key part of Jesus’ teaching about how we should live; and to make matters worse Jesus does two things – he closely links our forgiving of others with whether or not we receive forgiveness from God, and he also cuts any link with an act of repentance being necessary before forgiveness is offered! We heard a little of that dilemma when Martin McGuiness died – some had wanted him to repent of his involvement in the troubles before he could be forgiven and wondered whether as a Catholic he had ever made his confession to a priest. But for Jesus there are no pre-conditions to forgiveness – forgiveness is unconditional or it’s not Christian!
It’s hard stuff!
And while not wanting to minimise how deeply challenging therefore living the Christian faith really is, and it is, there are two important things to remember.
Firstly it’s about being committed to a process, having an attitude of mind and heart that desires to be loving, and that wants to be forgiving, even when we find we’re not that at all. We fail, we fall and we pick ourselves up – and the journey is resumed, back in the same direction because that’s where we’re wanting to go: to be more loving, to be more forgiving than we find we can be at the moment!
And perhaps even more important is to keep including God in all this. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not some remote, uninvolved judge who is watching from a distance and assessing how we’re getting on, keeping some score sheet of how loving and forgiving we are. That’s not how the Christian faith is worked out in our lives. As we heard from the letter to the Hebrews: in Christ
‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise
with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every
respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.’
And because of that, undergirding our attempts to live the Christian life, there’s a spirituality, which that same letter to the Hebrews went on to describe as this:
‘Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with
boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to
help in time of need.’
That’s where we go back to, over and over and over again.
Another phrase that we use to describe living the Christian life, is that we are seeking to follow Jesus, to be his disciples, to watch what he does and learn from him.
Holy Week begins on Sunday, and during Holy Week the focus is solely on the last week of Jesus’ life. The stories of that last week of his life were the first ones to be collected up and told as a continuous story. They are the most precious because they don’t just say-it-all but they do-it-all; do the loving, the forgiving, the dying and the living.
We shall watch Jesus get up from a table, take off his outer robe, tie a towel around himself, pour water into a basin and wash his disciples’ feet. We shall hear him tell one of his headstrong disciples to put away his sword and not continue with the mutilation of the face of the high priest’s slave. We shall watch Jesus touch the wounded slave and heal him. We shall hear him care for his mother by entrusting her to the disciple whom he loved. That’s a little of what ‘loving’ means.
When nailed to the cross, with the soldiers casting lots to divide his clothing and the leaders scoffing at him, we shall hear Jesus pray to his heavenly Father that they should be forgiven. To Peter, who denies Jesus three times leaving Peter distraught at his own cowardice, we shall watch Jesus make him breakfast by the seashore and restore the relationship with no recriminations at all, only a rekindling of love. That’s a little of what ‘forgiving’ means.
And we shall watch Jesus betrayed by someone he thought was a friend, abandoned by all his disciples, denied by one of his closest, humiliated, tortured, spat on and crucified – and incredible as it seems, Jesus accepts this way of the cross, letting go of his own will and embracing his Father’s will. That’s very much what ‘dying’ means.
And we shall join a group of frightened and desolate disciples – as names are used again, Mary; doubts are overcome, Thomas; bread is taken, blessed, broken and given, Cleopas; the mission given once again and the Spirit entrusted. Faith and hope and love are restored – and that is everything of what ‘living’ means.