This was my first sermon after being licensed in my new parish and was based on the lectionary readings for Passion Sunday. I hoped to encourage and challenge people for a new start after a long vacancy.
Tom Wright’s commentaries in the For Everyone series were very helpful. I also talk about my new purple stole, kindly and generously bought by a friend, which was custom made by Michelle Gillam-Hull. If you’re looking to buy a new stole, then I’d highly recommend her!
One of my favourite films is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Indiana Jones, the adventurer and archaeologist, is searching for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail, the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper. And to find it, Indiana Jones has to pass three tests. The final test is the Leap of Faith. He has to step out over an abyss, and it’s only once he has taken that step of faith that he discovers that there is actually a bridge, a way across what seemed to be an uncrossable chasm.
I think that that’s a pretty good image of what our journey of faith, our walk with God sometimes feels like. I imagine that for some of you, the past fifteen months of the vacancy has felt a bit like that; you weren’t quite sure how you were going to get through it or what extra you would have to do. But, you have got through, and perhaps you’ve discovered something about yourself that you didn’t know before. Perhaps you’ve discovered something that you could do, that you didn’t think you could. Perhaps you’ve discovered something about God that you didn’t know before.
And even when there isn’t something as obvious as a vacancy, God will sometimes encourage us to take those leaps of faith into the unknown. And in doing so, we find out new things about ourselves and new things about God. In the gospel passage, we hear Jesus wrestling with his own leap of faith “My heart is troubled” he says. Here and in the Garden of Gethsemene just before his arrest, we see Jesus struggling with his leap of faith. We hear his anguish, hear the pain that he’s going through.
This passage is the hinge on which the whole of the gospel of John turns. The first half of the gospel has been talking about the signs that Jesus has been doing to demonstrate who is. The second half is about Jesus’ journey to and through the cross. And the point on which this turns is when some non-Jews come to Jesus’ disciples and say “We want to see Jesus”. They have obviously heard about what Jesus has being doing, perhaps they’ve even seen something of what Jesus’ disciples have been doing. And now they want to come and meet Jesus himself. And this triggers Jesus’ own struggle, his own realisation that the time for his death on the cross is coming near. Because, the whole world, represented by those Greeks, those non-Jews, is starting to come and say “We want to see Jesus”. This is Jesus’ leap of faith, to trust God over his own human feelings. And I’m sure at least most of us know how hard that is, to try and trust what God is calling us to do over what we feel, over what we ourselves want to do.
So, when we are going through our own leaps of faith, our own times of doubt and uncertainty and struggle, let us remember that Jesus knows how we’re feeling, because he’s felt the same way. Which was one of the things that we heard in the reading from the letter to the Hebrews. “he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” And, just before our reading from Hebrews we’re told that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”
God knows, Jesus knows, what we’re going through, and God promises to help us as we go through it. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we’re given the Holy Spirit to be with us and help us. God knows that it isn’t easy, but God also knows that it’s worth it.
A friend bought me this stole as a present to mark my move here to Emmanuel. Purple is the colour used in the Church calendar to mark those times of preparation before our celebrations. So, this stole for Lent and Advent has on it a candle and a cross, made out of three nails. It’s a reminder of what we’re preparing for, for Jesus as light of the world and our Saviour. It’s also a reminder of the pain that preparing for God can bring, and of the hope that we can have in the midst of pain and suffering.
And that’s Jesus’ experience in the passage we heard. He is honest with God about his feelings, about his pain and worries. But, Jesus knows that it’s worth it. And the promise of God is that it will be worth it for us as well, if we take the leap of faith that God calls us to. Indiana Jones took his leap of faith to save his dying father. Jesus took his leap of faith to save all of us. We are called to take our leaps of faith, which might be less heroic than that of Indiana Jones, but are probably just as important.
I think that we’ve also got some important leaps of faith coming up, not just as individuals but also as a church. I believe that God is calling us to do new things to help build his kingdom here in Swadlincote. And I’m looking forward to finding out, with you all, what those things will be. But, I’m pretty sure that that will include leaps of faith for us.
Later in the film, Indiana Jones has to make a choice about taking another leap of faith. If he takes the leap of faith and succeeds he will get the Holy Grail and, he hopes, fame and glory. But, he realises that’s the wrong decision to make. It’s more important to stay with his companions and lead them to safety. That’s also an important lesson for us; we need discernment to know when it is right to take a leap of faith, and when it’s not. It also reminds us that for God people are far more important than objects.
When we’re trying to work out, trying to discern, what God wants us to do we’re going to need to wait, and wrestle, and listen. That’s not always easy; we don’t usually get the voice of God calling down from heaven. Perhaps one of the reasons that we don’t get voices from heaven is that we’re not close enough to God to hear them anyway! Notice in the reading people’s reactions to God’s voice: “The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” As the reading from Hebrews reminds us, that partly because of our lack of obedience, unlike Jesus. So, then, we need to spend time in prayer and time getting to know God better, through prayer, through sharing our insights together, through reading and listening to and studying the Bible. And as we try to find out what God is calling us to do, as his body here in Swadlincote, we’re going to need to do these things together. How exactly is something that we’ll explore together.
What links both these passages is the stress on the obedience of Jesus to God’s will. “He learned obedience from what he suffered” we’re told. In other words, Jesus had to actively show that he was obedient. He demonstrated his perfection by going through the terrible events of Holy Week. Which, very briefly, is the point about Jesus being a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. It’s an Old Testament way of talking about the new order of things that God promised to bring, and now has brought through Jesus.
So, as Jesus had to show that he was obedient, we are also called to be obedient, to do God’s will for our lives. Of course, here in this country, our level of obedience is not going to be that of death. But, it can still be life changing. It can still require a leap of faith. That, of course, has been the case for us as a family, coming here to a new town, a new house, a new church. And as we wrestled with where God was calling us, one thing that really helped was a Christian band called the Rend Collective Experiment. We heard them at Greenbelt last year, twice, and bought their album. They’re great, and the song that really spoke to me through all this is called Broken Bread. Appropriately enough for a communion service it starts with the lines:
“May I be broken bread
May I be poured out wine
May I incarnate
Your Kindness Lord”
May I be broken bread. May I be poured out wine. May I be more like Jesus, whose death and resurrection we’ll remember as we eat bread and drink wine, and whose Spirit we’ll encounter again as we do so. But, the repeated line that really spoke to me was the line “your will done your way”.
Your will done your way. That’s what we’re called to make our priority. That’s really what’s at the heart of Jesus’ obedience. We’re to seek God’s will, and to seek that it is done his way. That’s what he struggles with in the passage from John, and what he’s praised for in the letter to the Hebrews. Jesus did God’s will God’s way. We’re called to God’s will and do it in God’s way. And that will require leaps of faith, and faithful obedience in our everyday lives. Which may well be harder sometimes.
Indiana Jones took a leap of faith and discovered that there was a bridge across the chasm. Jesus took a leap of faith and, as we’ll celebrate at Easter, didn’t just die for us, but was raised to new and eternal life as well. We too sometimes need to take a leap of faith, and we always need to say “your will done your way”. And let us pray that as we do so people will see our lives, hear our stories and say to us “We want to see Jesus”. Amen.