Sermon – Ash Wednesday – A Fresh Start (Psalm 51 and Genesis 3:19)(14 February 2018) Karen Fong, at St George's Campden Hill

Sermon – 5th Sunday Lent (Jer 31:31-34, Psalm 119, Heb 5:5-10, John 12:20-33 (18 March 2018) St George’s Church - Karen Fong 

On a trip with my son back home to Singapore when he was about 8, I experienced one of those awful heart stopping moments when shuffling out of the plane after a 14 hour flight, I turned round in the busy airport and could not find him anywhere.  I ran back into the plane, and he was not there. I shouted his name like a mad person to no avail and ended up having to have him paged at one of the information counters.  That wait at the counter, which may have been 10 min, was the longest in my life as I imagined the worst possible scenarios – him being kidnapped and bundled into another plane……When he calmly walked up to the counter with an airline staff, the hug he got was probably the biggest he ever got in his life.  He decided to walk out from another exit in the plane to see who could get out faster and shortened my life by a few years.  This was a false alarm.  So I can only imagine the anguish and panic of those who wait outside a school after a school shooting for their child never walks out; or get the phone call that a loved one has died through the hands of another or see a beloved parent being blown up in a war zone. 

When you love, you are vulnerable.  

We tend to view God as the God almighty, the God of strength and power and might.  We tend not to see God as vulnerable.  But he is vulnerable because he loves.  He is vulnerable because he loves us. And in today’s gospel reading, we come face to face with God’s vulnerability.  

We pick up the reading against the backdrop of Jesus’ enemies being out to destroy him.  The Judean authorities like Caiphas were Roman appointees.  Their power came from compromise, manipulation and politicking.  This was the price for the social, economic and political privilege of being the ruling elite.  Jesus was a serious threat to them.  He refused to play the game, he broke the rules – he healed, he forgave sins, he spoke of love, he spoke of the rights of the marginalised, he cleansed the temple, he criticised the religious authorities, he called God his own father and the people thought he was the messiah.  His raising of Lazarus from the dead was the final straw.  He had to go.  He had to be crushed so that they could maintain control.

Jesus had so far escaped their attempts to arrest him, as his time had not yet come.  But when Philip told him that the Greek foreigners who were interested in Israel’s God had asked to see him in Jerusalem, that was a sign to him that his time had come.   The Greeks represented the non-Jewish world, as much of the known world at the time spoke Greek.  So what was the time that had come?  Jesus had one main calling – to do God’s work of saving the world through his death.  The Greeks wanting to see him was a sign of where he was in God’s timetable.  The preparation was done, he now had to complete the work the father had given him.  It was time to die.

And why did he choose to do this.  He did this because of love.  A love so deep, a love so wide and a love so powerful that it dares look death itself in the face and defeat it by meeting it voluntarily.  The love was not just for Israel but for the whole world, the world represented by the Greeks - the whole of humanity.  Love gives God joy and pleasure as he delights in us, these creatures who he created from the dust of the earth to whom he entrusted the whole world.  Love also makes God vulnerable as he weeps when we weep and his heart breaks when he watches us destroy each other and his world as we reject him in favour of other gods.   Love makes God vulnerable because he didn’t give up on us but was prepared to take a chance on us and send his only son here on earth to do the unthinkable.   Jesus was prepared to stand alone against the power of sin and death so that the rest of us won’t have to.  

And Jesus shows his vulnerability in this passage when he says, “Now my soul is troubled”.   He is deeply troubled, troubled right down to the depths of his being.  The word became flesh, was real human flesh, weak flesh, flesh that shrank from the suffering he was about to face.  His natural instincts as a flesh and blood human being were to say: “I know the moment has come but is there any way which I can avoid it?”  His soul was troubled because he was dreading the physical pain of crucifixion, the violent whipping he would have to endure and the humiliation of arrest and an unfair trial.  His soul was troubled because he knew that amongst his closest friends who professed to love him, one would betray him and the rest would reject him.  His soul was troubled because he knew that at the point of death he would be separated from his Father.  But I think that more than his being troubled about himself, he was more concerned about those he loved.  Perhaps his soul was troubled because of the pain he knew he would cause his mother.  Perhaps his soul was troubled because those friends who betrayed and rejected him he knew would be devastated by his this death and suffer the guilt and shame of the betrayal and rejection.  Perhaps his soul was troubled because he knew that many would continue to reject him through the centuries.   Perhaps his soul was troubled because those who accept him and follow him will have to suffer persecution and rejection.

In that moment of hesitation when Jesus had that internal discussion within himself, he showed us his vulnerability.  But there was a love that he had that was even greater, a love that turned the vulnerability into strength and that was his love for his father.  The love of God the father made him obedient and totally committed to doing whatever was necessary to bring him glory.  He had prepared the ground, had spoken of the father’s will about how the world is to be saved.  He was not now going to ask for a change of plan. His troubled heart knew that there was danger ahead, but also knew that it is through that danger rather than sliding safely past it, that the Father’s glory will shine out to the whole world, “Father glorify your name”.  And the Father answered his prayer by thunder.  

Yes, God’s name will be glorified and was glorified because through Jesus’ act of love – those who have usurped God’s rule in the world, those who have trampled on the poor and exalted themselves as Kings and even gods, those who wanted to crush Jesus all of them will be themselves crushed, “Now is the judgment of this world, now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”  But the crushing would not be by a show of force, The kingdom of the world was to be replaced by the kingdom of God.  But this victory was about his being “lifted up from the earth” exalted on a pole so that he can draw all people to himself.  It is through crucifixion that all may gain truest and deepest access to him.  So the Greeks who wanted to see him, they wouldn’t just see him as they’ve asked but will be drawn into the powerful love of God, drawn into fellowship and relationship with God and drawn into new life.

When we love others we are vulnerable.  When we love God, we are vulnerable. Whatever situation we are facing, however our souls are troubled, Jesus is with us through the vulnerability because he has been there too.  And just like him, that vulnerability is also our strength. Because his lifting up from the earth in death was a precursor of being lifted up from the earth in resurrection.  Death and sin has no power over us. His love for us brought us a new kingdom, a new relationship with God and a new life.

Holland Park Benefice