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The 5th Sunday in Lent | The Rev. Natalie Blake

The Invitation: To Come follow Christ, even to the Cross

On my first trip to the US, I lived in Philadelphia, in the heart of the museum district. My supervisor told me that the city would be easy to navigate. Near where I lived was an insurance company – which could be seen from almost anywhere. His instruction was that I should always look out for this building to find my way home. It was my landmark.

I went out one Saturday, and decided it was time to head home. I decided to walk until I found my landmark. I walked and walked and walked. Finally, I stopped to ask directions – the gentleman said – turn around, where you want to go is behind you, you have been walking away from it all along. Sure enough, when I turned there was my landmark, it was behind me all along.

As I reflect on that experience, I recognized that as I journeyed, I got caught up in trying to find my way. I never stopped to look – I was sure that I was on the right road.

Imagine the people of Israel, lounging in exile – just looking to survive – to make it from one day to the next on their own. They had trusted their leaders to save them but all had failed. In today’s lesson God spoke through Isaiah. God took the initiative to reach out and turn the people around with the promise of restoration.

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

We see the issues in the nation and the world, and we desire God to do something. To turn things around. To reorder the disorder that surrounds us.

For us God’s promise of restoration is like water in a parched land, a river in the wilderness. We need it, now.

It does not take much for us to identify the disorder that pervades our community, nations and world. Turn on the television, listen or read a newscast, talk to a neighbour. The stories are all the same: I cannot believe that that is what we have become or How did things get so bad. When will good reign again? The stories of good news are not the ones that make the news, we therefore get very little relief from the constant barrage of negativity. Although our hearts know that God is active in our world, sometimes we are in doubt, or we fear that God is not working fast enough to save all the victims of trafficking, abuse, oppression, hurt and abandonment.

And God’s method of restoration is not our way.

One of the issues my atonement class struggled with last semester – was why didn’t God just make everything right – without Christ having to face the pain of crucifixion. God could have gotten a big sponge, wet it and wipe all the slates clean.

But God’s restoration does not work that way. Bonhoeffer would say – it is not cheap grace. There is no promise without the cross and the empty tomb.

Like Paul would assert, our salvation is not won by following ritual, saying the right words, following all the rules.

These rites and rituals had been developed in exile to sustain the people of Israel, to order their lives and to help them to survive. But by the time of Jesus, they had become end in themselves, rather than signposts – directing the people to God.

Paul was willing to turn his back on all that his culture and community held dear.

He had to reorder himself- put away all that he held dear and turn around to see God waiting to embrace him through Jesus Christ.

“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish.”

Paul gave up his whole life and national and religious identity to follow Christ.

Today, Mary gave up a bottle of nard to anoint Jesus’ feet. It was costly.

We find Jesus at table today knowing that he would be required to give up all so that we can be saved.

Jesus goes to the cross to give up his life to save the world, to offer to us the gift of salvation. He’s not too sure that we will accept it, but nevertheless ensures that it is made available to us. He was willing to give all.

As he is going, he invites us to journey with him. He is clear in today’s Daily Office about the cost to us. We too must give up all, take up our cross and follow him.

What are the things that we need to give up? The worry, fear, guilt and shame, our secret sins that we bear, we need to give these up, unburden ourselves and join Christ on the journey.

As we prepare ourselves to sit at table with Jesus, and then join him out in the world and on the journey to the cross, to lay with him in the tomb and await God’s resurrection to glory, let us consider what baggage, or burden that we are carrying that have no place in God’s kingdom and finally lay them down and follow Christ. Amen.

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