LENT – A CALL TO LIVE IN THE RESURRECTION PROMISE

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday in Lent the 24th February 2013 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18     Philippians 3: 17 - 4:1     S. Luke 13: 31 - 35

Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

A LENTEN PERSPECTIVE
The season of Lent involves a looking forward to what happens at the end of Lent – Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter, with their themes of God’s redemptive action to save mankind in the passion and victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So Lent can remind us also that Jesus Himself showed evidence of a perspective that looked forward to what awaited Him: He looked forward to getting round the “devil’s elbow” of the cross to the spacious banqueting-hall of the Resurrection life. His words to those Pharisees in our Gospel today who warned Him of Herod’s malevolence towards Him, most probably friendly to Him, or possibly colluding with Herod to try to scare Him, illustrate our Lord’s forward-thrusting perspective while here on earth: “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jesus showed that He did not intend being deflected from God’s purposes for Him in the present or in the future, by the powers of the world, in this case by the power and influence of Herod Antipas. Part of our Lent perspective is through acts of self-denial such as fasting or almsgiving to give priority to God’s power over the powers that we often allow to deflect us or slow us down from a ready response to His will.

FULFILMENT IN RESURRECTION LIFE
Because God’s will is going to be more greatly shown to His people in the future age than in the present one, what we think of as the forty days of Lent looking forward to its climax in Good Friday and Easter can serve as a model of the Christian life in general. It is easy for us to fail to appreciate that the only enduring fulfilment of any of our hopes and wishes is in the Resurrection life. Over the past few weeks we have thought of that in terms of physical health: since in the present age we are always dying, we can only get fully well in the life to come. But the Resurrection is our dream come true, not only for physical health, but for all we desire and hope for. Because of Christ Himself and His relationship to us those Resurrection glories spill into our existence in the present and in the future on earth, as, for example, they do in the Holy Eucharist. Christ’s casting out of demons and performing cures “today and tomorrow”, as He said, were signs of the coming Kingdom already at hand in Earth. These powers originated in the life to come, and so does the Spirit-led life of the Christian today. The normative Christian life looks forward to the full harvest in the life to come of the first fruits granted in this life: we are engaged in a life-long Lent that looks forward to Resurrection glory, some signs of which are revealed even to us here whether through health or abundance, or through cross-bearing, as we continue in faithfulness to Christ.

THE MODEL OF ABRAHAM
Our Old Testament lesson today gives us another model of looking forward, that of Abraham, or Abram as he was called before one of the Lord’s appearances to him. Abram looks forward not to Resurrection explicitly, but to an Old Testament version or “type” of this, namely, his inheritance. As the story of Abram unfolds, we see him getting more and more anxious that he and his wife are childless. In ancient Mesopotamia the law prescribed that a slave could be adopted in the case of childlessness, but Abram has a deeply rooted insight that his servant should not receive his inheritance. He takes his anxiety about the matter to the Lord and receives an assurance that indeed his heir will be his own son and not his servant. It is further revealed to him that his descendants will be innumerable, like the stars of heaven. It is also revealed that the land of the promise, in which he now dwells somewhat nomadically, will be given to him, or in other words, to his descendants.

ABRAHAM LIVED IN GOD’S PROMISE
Nothing of any of these things could be foreseen from the circumstances of Abram’s life up to that point, but he rested his anxiety about it all in the One who made the promise to him. We can say that Abram lived in the Resurrection promise: he re-established his life and his hopes for the future on the currently invisible promise of God and said “Amen” to it. In the great word of Scripture that was taken up by St Paul and St Augustine and has been such a power to the Church, “He believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” God counted Abram as righteous because he believed Him when the circumstances of his own life would incline him to unbelief. Living in the promise (we can say with the author of the book of Hebrews) Abram lived in the assurance of things hoped for, and in the evidence of things not seen. That is a model not only of faith for us but also of how we too can be regarded by God as righteous, and how we too can begin to live in a righteousness that is not in anyway derived from us but is reckoned or counted to us by God. Like Abram we are invited today to live in God’s promises to us and to persevere in doing so. Now it is important also to admit that Scripture quite clearly shows that especially in his earlier years before he was re-named “Abraham”, like any of us his faith was less than perfect. Unlike that of Christ Himself, Abraham’s modelling of faith could not be said to be complete or perfect. As the pewsheet points out, our Old Testament Scripture this morning shows him questioning God’s assurance to him more than once. And yet in the same chapter, we read of that belief in the Lord that was counted by God as righteousness.

CALL TO RESURRECTION CITIZENSHIP
Like Abraham, then, any or all of us can be deflected from faith in God’s future and from perseverance in faith by living within the boundaries of the comforts or indeed the discouragements of our own day, whatever they may be. We may be bound up with food or other bodily satisfactions, or with the approval of the “great and the good” or with the pursuit of riches. When we live so much in the present, we begin to lose sight of the promises. As St Paul says in our second lesson today, “Many, of whom … I tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” We should be clear that St Paul is talking of people baptised into the flock of Christ, not those outside. In fact he could be talking of you and me, when we live in the present and ignore the promises. It is then that we are in danger of departing from the “blessedness” of the beatitude statements and entering into the “woes”. Indeed, as we might appropriately meditate upon today, S. Matthias’s Day, S. Paul could be thinking about Judas Iscariot, who sadly departed from the fellowship of the Apostles, and was ultimately replaced by Matthias. No, as St Paul goes on to say, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” Through the Lenten call and the call to discipleship we are called to live out the promises of our Resurrection citizenship through faith, through hope, and through love. We are called to re-establish our life and our hopes for the future on the promises of God, currently invisible, yet made manifest to us in Christ. Let us all then join together in the call of Lent to the Church: the call from the very heart of Jesus, the call to “go on our way today and tomorrow and the day following”, “our” way being His way for us: the call to live in the Resurrection promise.

BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. Identify some practical consequences of knowing that the fulfilment of our hopes only fully endures in the Resurrection.
  2. Why is it important for us “to be regarded by God as righteous”? What possibilities follow from this? Might there be any consequent temptation to avoid?
  3. What factors in your life are conducive and not conducive to your living out your Resurrection citizenship?