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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)

           If you remember one bit of this sermon, let it be that ‘God is Love’.

          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 past.

          Probably most of you have heard of St Thomas Aquinas, who was a Dominican theologian of the 13th century in Italy.  But I doubt that many of you have ever heard of Duns Scotus who was a younger contemporary of Thomas Aquinas and was a Franciscan friar in Scotland.  One question that they discussed was this: Would there have been an incarnation if there had been no sin?  Crudely put, Thomas Aquinas said, ‘No, because Jesus came to save us from sin, full stop.’  Duns Scotus, on the other hand, said ‘Yes, because Jesus came to do more than assure us of the forgiveness of sin.'   This is the outlook of the Fourth Gospel, in the words that the Fourth evangelist puts on Jesus’ lips, ‘I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly’ (10.19b). Now life always involves our past, our present, and our future.  If this is the case then the fullness of life we find in Jesus has to be much more than simply forgiveness of the past.

          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 promised perfection.

          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 Spirit.

          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.