Sermon – 14 March 2003 – Lent 3

Sometimes o­ne opens the pages of scripture o­nly to find written therein, questions and comments which seem to relate very precisely to the current conversation in the global village.

This morning, as the world reflects o­n the sudden outbreak of terror and destruction in Madrid, the gospel falls open at a page when Jesus is speaking about the sudden shocking death people in a tragedy in Jerusalem.

Why do terrible things happen to people?

Is there a connection between what we do and what happens to us?

Fundamental questions which the world grapples with and tries to find answers.

The answer that Jesus has is fairly simple and I won?t keep you hanging o­n to the end of the sermon for it…
The answer is that there is not a connection between what we do and what happens to us, but we are still called to turn, to turn everything towards God.

Faces turned to the face of heart God

Hearts tuned to the heart of God

Hands working for the living God

Minds engaged in meeting God

Souls turned around. Souls who know the living God.

And that is what repentance is. That is the repentance that Jesus is calling us to. Turning everything around. Re-orientating everything towards the one who gives us life and hope and strength to carry on. Carrying on in a world which seems sad and unfair sometimes. Carrying in the task of bringing in the kingdom. Speaking the words of peace that the world needs in order to be healed and saved.

The writer of this Isaiah passage puts it in slightly different terms, of course.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

I don?t think that there is fundamentally anything here that is different to what Jesus is telling us.

When terrible things happen out of the blue, it is only natural to ask what we have done to deserve it. I have no doubt that in Madrid this morning, there is in the minds of some people desperate fatalism at work. ?What could we have done to stop this terrible thing coming to my community, my household, my family??

Yet mingled with that fatalism is an anger which itself gives the lie to fatalism. There must be something that can be done to build a better world.

Whether we take our answers from Isaiah or Jesus this morning, it does not matter.

In the midst of terrible tragedy, the news is the same ? that you are loved by God. In the midst of terror and fear, the news is the same ? you are loved by God. In the midst of all that frightens us, the news is the same ? that you are loved by God.

And Jesus says turn ? repent. Turn towards that wave of love which comes from God and be covered by it. Submerged in it. Baptised in it.

Jesus calls us to repent, and we read that call and proclaim it particularly during Lent ? this time of preparation and intent before the events of Holy Week unfold.

The biblical word is metanoia which literally means to turn. I remember a few years ago when I was travelling in the middle east, I was visiting churches in the company of Egyptian Christians. As we looked into one church, my guide said to me. ?Don?t you want to make a metanoia?. And what he was referring to was their custom on entering a church. Just as many people here make it their practise to bow toward Christ at the altar or bend the knee in the presence of God in the sacrament, in that culture, the custom is to perform a metanoia. By this they mean going to the front of the church and kissing the altar curtain and then actually physically turning to the right or left. Turning through 90 degrees in order to greet the saint of the church ? whose remains will be in a reliquary, which is a place of special prayer.

So, you go in. You go forward. You kiss the curtain and then, make your metanoia ? turning to the place of prayer. Turning your face and body quite physically and make your prayer there.

Turn, says Jesus. You may not know why terrible things happen, but turn. Make your metanoia.

Remember what I said to most of you on Ash Wednesday as I put the ash on your foreheads

Remember you are mortal, from dust you came and to dust you will return. Turn away from sin and believe in the gospel.

Turn away from sin. Make a metanoia. Make a ninety degree turn. Turn your life around and come face to face with your God.

Who loves you. And loves you. And loves you.

That is the gospel we preach in Lent every year. That is the gospel the Christian church lives by, week in, week out. Whether tragedy is near or far. Turn. Turn. Turn and believe in the gospel.

Whether terrible things are happening to you at the moment or whether they are not, the Love of God is your inheritance and your hope.

And whether we are in Madrid or Bridge of Allan, the gospel remains the same.

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