Sermon delivered on the 3rd Sunday in Lent the 28th March 2016 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Isaiah 55: 1-9         1 Corinthians 10:1-13         S. Luke 13: 1 - 9

Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord.”

We can all probably think of various things that have happened to us in life, and even perhaps things that have happened to us during the last week, that seem to show us that the way God thinks about them is different from the way our minds are led to think about them. This is one reason why it is very important for us as Christians and as the Church to refresh our minds and our spirits with the reading of Scripture. With the older PC computers there was an ability to “refresh” the screen, which one might do after some error developed in downloading a newly published page in a website. Well, in life we can think about some problem of our life, in our family relationships or our work perhaps, and fall to worrying over it, especially perhaps thinking of some adverse opinion expressed by another; and the more we think about it the more insoluble the situation appears to be. It is my experience that making any decision in that frame of mind can often do harm rather than good. Yet often through the disciplines of morning and evening worship at home that God has given me, the Scriptures that are prescribed for those occasions give me the clues that I need to have at that very time, to something of the mind of God relative to the matter, and how one’s own thoughts should be led. This is not a claim to know the fullness of God’s mind but a claim that God does graciously impart, to those who ask persistently, the clues to His mind, in other words His perspective that we particularly need to know at any time. As with the refreshment of a computer screen we benefit from such a refreshment of our minds. Now, we are in a world that is getting more and more able to project distorted and cynical views and opinions into our minds, a world indeed in which whole societies are more and more being organised and even legitimised by the dictates of such views. Our minds and our hearts will undoubtedly slip the Christian moorings they may ever have had, unless they are regularly refreshed by the mind of the Holy Spirit of God through Scripture. The fact that our own Eucharistic fellowship has Scripture at the heart of the occasion is very good. The fact that it is out of that Scripture that our thoughts are being directed is very good. If this is not the case, the church is in grave danger of misdirection. But we still ought to consider whether that essential periodic re-direction is sufficient to carry us through the maze of thoughts, opinions and influences that we encounter the rest of the time. If we are refreshed and guided one week, or month, does that effectively carry us through to the next? I doubt it very much. In addition to the weekly corporate discipline we do need to maintain a daily discipline to put our minds under God’s refreshment, and that will be to our health, both of soul and body.

Two basic invitations that the Church is instructed by Christ to extend to those of its own generation and posterity are Baptism and Eucharist, and the way in which St Paul alludes to these practices in our second lesson today is significant. He refers to Israel of the old Covenant being "baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea". He is referring to the Old Testament record of the children of Israel guided by the fire and the cloud and passing through the sea, but he is applying to that the terminology or format of Christian baptism. Then he moves on to do the same with the Eucharist. Alluding to this, he says the Israelites also ate spiritual food, the manna, and drank spiritual drink, the water that came from the rock. But then he goes on to say that although the Israelites did these things, which he is expressing as Old Testament versions or “types” of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, God was still not pleased with them, because what they went on to do was thoroughly inconsistent with God’s mind. In fact he describes them as longing after evil things; they practised idolatry and committed acts of immorality – in the Greek, porneia. Now St Paul was referring to these things of the Israelite past to make his point clear about the situation in the Corinthian church of his own day: they baptised, they broke bread together, yes, but what was happening along with that? There were some evil things they engaged in as well. They should be warned by the displeasure of God for what their fathers did, not to go down the same kind of roads their fathers had gone down, even while baptising and taking Holy Communion. We in the Church, then and now, fail so often to recognise how this age's maze of assumptions impinges upon us, our minds and our hearts. We become idolaters when we organise our lives around sometimes even high-sounding principles that lay no claim to be godly or to be derived from the godliness revealed in Christ. The mix of worship and idolatry and immorality is still a powerful mix today, and St Paul was dealing with a form of this at Corinth. That is why it is essential for us to refresh our minds with the thoughts of God, so that we can effectively combat these things. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord. We all should have disciplines of refreshing our minds with the words and mind of God, so that we can more consistently organise our lives around them. If any do not have such a discipline, now is the time to start one, and there could not be a more appropriate time of the year for this than in the season of Lent.

Those in our Gospel today who spoke with Jesus about the disasters, man-caused and perhaps natural, that had befallen certain Galileans at worship, and other dwellers in Jerusalem, apparently found the mind of Jesus to be different about that matter than their own. An onlooker at disaster, such as is now possible so much through television, should never think of it as more justly due those it reaches than the onlooker himself. It should remind us all, declares the mind of God in the words of Jesus, that we are all on the edge of major and irrevocable disaster should we not repent, the disaster of the worm that shall not die, the fire that shall not be quenched. The parable of the fig tree in the vineyard, for which the vine-dresser asks extra time to dress and fertilise, teaches that a time period may yet be provided for those who have failed previously, for repentance and good fruit. The possibility of this is held open to us as an urgent invitation in the other lessons too. “Seek the Lord while He may be found”, says Isaiah. St Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man; God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” Nevertheless we are called actively to endure the test. The demand to conform our minds to God’s mind can be hard. Yet God’s grace, won for us by the Passion of Christ, helps us and rescues us from the apparent impossibility. The need for that change, in us personally and in us as the Body of Christ, is held out to us, and is a necessary part of the relationship with the mind of God to which we are invited, an invitation that we will only be right to rejoice in and accept.