Return to Index or Sermons
Lent 3, Yr B, 11.03.2012
Exod 20.1-17: Decalogue
Ps 19: You, Lord, have the words of eternal life.
1 Cor 1.18-25: wisdom & power: Xt crucified
Jn 2.13-22: cleansing temple, new temple in 3 days (870)
Eternal God, give us insight to discern your will
for us, to give up what harms us, and to seek the perfection we are promised in
Jesus Christ our Lord.
(We have been given the loving life, which is much more than mere forgiveness)
I was raised as a Western Christian and as such I heard the
gospel as being basically about the forgiveness of sins, and when I was in
seminary we spent a lot of time on the various ways that historically Christians
have looked at the atonement, that is, at the at-one-making between man and God.
Various models of what Jesus was viewed as having accomplished on the
cross were put in terms of propitiation, expiation, satisfaction, or in terms of
Christ the cosmic conqueror.
But all these were expressed largely in terms of it being a transaction
if one sort or another.
But I am not going to go into all these since I believe they all
ultimately miss the point. Why?
Because the more I have worked with the witness of the NT the more I have come to
be utterly convinced that to focus so much on the forgiveness of sin is to miss
the bull’s eye of the target that the gospel is aiming at.
For I have found that the central witness of Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John is that in Jesus we see the humanity to which we are all called.
This witness is expressed in terms of well-being, wisdom and power,
specifically for Paul in terms of faith, love and hope, for Matthew in terms of
faith, mercy and justice; for Luke in terms of Jesus growing in wisdom, age of
strength, and in favour with God and man; and for John it is summed up in the
saying, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
You will recognize that I have touched on this more than once in the
Probably most of you have heard of St Thomas Aquinas, who was a Dominican
theologian of the 13th century in
We can see this in today’s collect with its concern for the past - give
up what harms us; the present: discern your will; and the future: seek the
Now let’s go back to forgiveness. Think
about it: real forgiveness is deeply
interpersonal, never merely transactional. Real
forgiveness only comes from love, for it is only as we love someone that we can
truly and deeply forgive them, because we will the very best for them.
Anything less than that is a grudging forgiveness, not the real article,
and as 1 John reminds us, God is love. The
prologue to John’s gospel, the opening verses, speak about the Word, with the
Word standing for God’s will and way, namely, love.
It is this that comes and, in the words of the 4th Gospel, is
enfleshed in Jesus, and subsequently is now in our midst and in our lives as
The Gospel gives us a new life quality, and it begins with forgiveness, a
fresh start. If forgiveness gives us
a fresh start, what is started? The
answer simply is real living. As
God’s love has forgiven us, so now that love empowers us to be loving now, and
the same abiding love will sustain us as we move into the future.
Our OT reading has been the Decalogue, which means The Ten Words, and after the first commandment all the rest are about
our relations with other people. In
Jesus we have the Word incarnate. In
words that the fourth evangelist has placed on Jesus’ lips, ‘I am come that
they may have life and have it abundantly’ (10.10).
Forgiveness of sins is a very important first step.
It gives us a fresh start, but then we have to go on to real living,
living the life of love. Just as it
is love that forgives, so we don’t really forgive in a life-affirming way
unless we love the one we forgive.
The gospel is about our humanity. It
is about a love that forgives, giving a new start; a love that empowers and
opens us up to reach out to our neighbour now, a love that supports us toward
the future no matter what it may bring.
In short, we have been given real life, the loving life, which is much
more than merely forgiveness. It is
a pearl of great price. Let us live
it to the full.