|Lectionary||1st Reading||Psalm||2nd Reading||Gospel|
Gen 12: 1-4a
Rom 4: 1-5, 13-17
2 Tim. 1:8b-10
FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD
This is the main reading this Sunday.
Readings like John 3.1-17 that are well known and popular are sometimes a dilemma for the preacher. The direction the message should take may be so obvious to most people in the pews.
However, for me, the message for this Sunday must be a sequel to that of last Sunday, which was on temptation, sin and the Fall of humanity, what theologians call the original sin. We concluded the first reading last Sunday with Adam and Eve hiding from God—they were ashamed to have broken God’s trust.
And the punishment pronounced in Genesis was so harsh—including hard labour and toil for the man (Adam), tilling the hard earth (Adamah)for survival; pain for the woman in giving birth; lost opportunity for eternal life in the garden; enmity between humankind and the serpent; the serpent to crawl on its belly—no legs to be given to it; and expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden. These myths and legends, if you want to call them, tell us of the consequences of sin, of which St. Paul centuries later would say, the wages of sin is death! (Romans 6.23)
But in this week’s Gospel reading (John 3.1-17), we are being reminded of God’s outrageous love for mankind. Last Sunday we heard about God punishing mankind for its sin. This Sunday we are immediately reminded of God’s endless love for us!
God cannot bear seeing us confined to the eternal deathbed of dust. So, he takes action to sacrifice his only begotten Son, who as we heard last week, was like us tempted in every way, yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4.15). God takes him who did not sin and sacrifices him for us who sinned. While the first were expelled from Eden, through the death of God’s Son, God draws us to live eternally with him in his eternal Paradise.
The Bangolan of Cameroon say that a parent should punish a rebellious child with a rebuking left hand and draw him or her closer with a loving right hand. This is exactly what God did to humans through sacrificing his Son on the Cross. God’s love overcomes his anger. His forgiveness overcomes his justice.
In thinking of this reading, you may find this story interesting:
A story is told about Stan Mooneyham who one day was walking along a trail in East Africa with some friends. He became aware of a delightful odour that filled the air. He looked up in the trees and around at the bushes to discover where it was coming from.
Then his friends told him to look down at the small blue flower growing along the path. Each time they crushed the tiny blossoms under their feet, more of its sweet perfume was released into the air. Then his friends said, “We call it the Forgiveness Flower!”
The forgiveness flower does not wait until we ask forgiveness for crushing it. It does not release its fragrance in measured doses or hold us to reciprocal arrangement. It does not ask for an apology; it merely lives up to its name and forgives — freely, fully, and richly.
The author of that story calls it a touching example of ‘Outrageous forgiveness’!
LENT reminds us about the ‘Outrageous forgiveness of God’! Nothing more, nothing less!
You may choose any one of these themes this Sunday: Forgiveness, Reconciliation; Restoration and so on. Lent is a reminder that God is seeking to forgive and be reconciled with us.
Is an assurance of God’s love for us, and that we should look to him alone for our salvation. He watches over us and will not allow any harm to happen to us. If God has sacrificed his Son for us, surely, we must be so priceless to him. He does not sleep or slumber just to watch over us. Our religion is not a pie in the sky religion, God is concerned about us not just in future life in heaven, but even right here right now! Jesus came so that we may have life in its abundance (John 10.10).
In the context of Australia where we have been heavily affected by the Bush fires, as a result of human irresponsible behaviour, we need to be reminded of God who is seeking to save us. In a world which is in the panic mode because of the Corona virus, which is affecting people across the globe, we need to be reminded of God who is seeking to save us. In a world ravaged by conflicts, wars, violence of different forms, violation of human rights corruption, and all sorts of evil—what an opportunity for the preacher to emphasize God’s love!
Genesis 12 is for me the introduction to God’s salvific act. In Genesis 6.6, God is presented as regretting that he had made mankind that had rebelled and become so wicked. The purpose of Abraham’s calling was so that God would bless all people on earth through him. But what could have been a fulfillment of this blessing than the death of God’s only begotten Son on the Cross, death that brought eternal life to all people who would respond to God.
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
Romans 4 is a praise of Abraham’s obedient response to God’s calling. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Perhaps this reading can very well serve as the conclusion to the sermon, inviting and encouraging people to obediently respond to God’s call to believe in God’s Son as the saviour of the world. That response is our righteousness. Our faith in what God has done through his Son on the Cross is our justification.
Following Jesus during Lent!
Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
I am deeply indebted to Ched Myers whose interpretation of Mark’s Gospel [Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus] seems to me to be ‘a cut above the rest.’ My insights and invitation to you to follow Jesus during this years’ Lent are greatly shaped by Ched Myer’s exegetical brilliance. This year I would like to invite you preacher to reflect on what it means to follow Jesus, or what it means to deny oneself for the sake of Jesus. Let us bear in mind that following Jesus in the first few centuries of the Christian era was a matter of life and death. Thousands of Christians were martyred for their faith during that period. It is against that backdrop that I make Lenten invitation.
During Lent we hear a lot about denying oneself. However, preachers tend to shallow it down to just denying certain foods and behaviours! While all of that is indeed noble, we must help our congregations to understand the deeper calland meaning of ‘carrying the cross and following Jesus to the Cross’ in Jerusalem where ‘the glory of God’ was revealed.
As Ched Myers rightly says, Mark 8 gives us the Second Call of the Disciples. In the first part of the Gospel, Jesus called 12 men to be his disciples [the First Call of the Disciples], whom he tutored privately about the Kingdom of God and on what his mission was about. Three-years-on the disciples still failed to understand what Jesus was exactly calling them to.
Now notice the Second Call is no longer just to the 12 men, but the crowd in general, together with the 12 disciples. Jesus publicly says that he is calling them to: deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him!
Denying oneself is an invitation to be prepared to put one’s life on the line! Jesus is now going up to Jerusalem. He is like a notorious ‘criminal’ [of course he was to the Jewish establishment, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, who worked in cahoots with the Roman colonialists to get rid of him] going to the court in Jerusalem. Jesus warns his disciples that he is going to be found guilty and be murdered. The disciples will be sought after by the powers-that-be to be witnesses of Jesus as he is criminalized, and their lives will be in danger too! And in frantic effort to save themselves, the disciples will deny knowing Jesus [we know the story of Peter’s denial]. But Jesus warns them that by trying to save their lives, they will lose it! By trying to be found innocent in the earthly court, they will be found guilty itin the heavenly court. By trying to save their life in the earthly court, they will lose it in the heavenly court! The converse is also very truth. Here is a case of where no man can serve two masters.
Jesus’ invitation to the disciples is expressed by the verb epaischunomai in the New Testament, which refers being prepared to lose one’s social status, for example by standing with someone or for something at any cost. Paul used it in reference to the shame of his imprisonment, commending those who were brave enough to stand with him and did not abandon him (see Tim 2.8-13). Jesus invites his disciples to be prepared to die for the sake of the Kingdom of God!
Carrying the Cross literary referred to the Roman custom of ordering the person to be crucified to carry their own cross to the place of their death. The crucifixion was done publicly on a prominent place such as at the crossroad, in a theatre, or on high ground, or at the place of the crime. This served as a deterrent. The torture and utter humiliation was meant to deter the would-be future criminals such as the Jewish notorious insurrectionist, Barabbas (Mark 15.7), and other notorious criminals. Thus, the disciples were obviously at this point so terrified now that Jesus openly talked about dying on the cross and challenging them to be prepared to suffer and die with him.
The teaching about self-denial was used by Hellenistic military officers on the eve of battle, to encourage those soldiers who seemed nervous and weakening in spirit. They were exhorted not to cowardly defect to the enemies and thereby humiliate their nation, but to courageously die for the noble cause of their country. This came with promises of immortality. The Islamic Jihad seems to carry the same spirit today.
The message we must preach considering this exegesis is that the shattering of evil on earth, will only happen if Christians today are courageous, and like Jesus be prepared to challenge “the demonic forces of the earth,” which includes corrupt political rulers, anyone and anything that stands against the God’s Kingdom. We must banish fear, for fear perpetuates unjust rule and evil governance. Lenten readings, be it Joel, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or any other prophet, call on the faithful of God to ‘renounce sin’ and ‘stand for justice’! In the Lenten Gospel lections, Jesus sets the pace for us. He invites us to be courageous and not to be afraid of those who destroy just the body, but only God, the author of life, who destroys both body and soul. The Cross is not the end of life. Rather, the Cross is what leads to new life in God, the Easter life. The events of Easter illustrate that after all, even death, has no control over those who have found their life in Jesus.
So, during this Lent, let us courageously preach and teach people to follow Jesus, all the way to the Cross.
The Rev. Dr. Gift Makwasha
Dr. Gift Makwasha is School Chaplain in Perth, Australia. He is a graduate of Bishop Gaul College (Harare), University of Zimbabwe (Harare), Episcopal Divinity School (Cambridge, USA), and Boston University (Boston). He is married to Kudzai, and they have four children.