Menu Close
5th April 2020

Living the Word in Dark Places

Passage: John 12:12-16


Have you ever noticed that, when you are telling a story of something that has happened to you, it feels almost as though you are living the experience all over again? If you are talking about someone who has really got up your nose, you get cross again; if you are talking about a wonderful surprise, you get excited again.

In the days before people had books and newsreels to record their stories, they would tell them to each other, to make sure they were not forgotten, and each time the experience would be re-lived.
This was what was happening on the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. A huge festival, called Passover, was about to take place in the city. It was a celebration of the most amazing story in his people’s history- the story of how God had miraculously rescued their ancestors from a life of slavery in Egypt. This story had been told over and over again to each new generation. Even the same kind of food, eaten just before the slaves escaped was eaten by their descendants in a spirit of hope.
For, even though they were now living under Roman occupation, Jesus’ people, as they celebrated Passover by repeating the story, found their hope rising. If God could rescue his people once, then He could do it again.

They had heard a lot about the amazing things Jesus had done. Could he be the next Saviour? They went out to meet him, waving palm branches: symbols of victory, shouting Hosanna-which means “Save us!”
We give out little crosses made of palm on Palm Sunday. They don’t look much like symbols of victory, do they? They are not. It all went wrong. Jesus did not play the part that was expected. He did not lead a military rebellion. And there is no-one we hate more than someone who has not lived up to our expectations, whether they be politicians, celebrities, partners, mentors. We hate them for not being what we thought they were. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&
The last piece in the armour of God is the sword, which is-St Paul said-the Spirit which is the Word of God. We generally take this to mean the Bible.
In the novel Cold Comfort Farm (by Stella Gibbons), Amos Starkadder, a self-appointed and self-righteous preacher tells of a woman called Deborah who once tried to preach in his pulpit.
“I reckoned that the Spirit which was on Deborah was meant for me,” he said, ‘so I struck her down with the great old Bible to bring the devil out of her and we heard no more of Deborah trying to preach.”

I suppose that is one -extreme-way of using the Bible as a weapon but, I guess that many of us have been guilty of using the Bible to “hit” people with. Not literally, I hope, but we have seized on texts which support our views and our position and hurled them at people who have different ideas or whose experience of life has led them to ask some very painful questions. It is sad that men and women have had their faith seriously undermined and their confidence in the church destroyed by Christians using the Bible to hurt and threaten; crush and destroy.
It is so frighteningly easy just to take the parts of the Bible that suit us and which appear to be maintaining our position. The people cheering for Jesus on Palm Sunday may well have had verses in their minds which describe God as a mighty warrior, with a “sword of wrath” in his hand. They seem to have forgotten the verses from the prophet Zechariah about the King who will come in gentleness, riding on a donkey and who will be concerned with goodness, justice and peace rather than with violence and bloodshed.

The Bible has, rightly been called “the Word of life,” but it can also become a weapon of destruction.

Did you notice how St Paul linked the Word with the Spirit? This was how it was in Paul’s Bible-which was what we now call the Old Testament. The Word and the Spirit were used to describe the power of God in the world and in the human race. You read of people to whom the “Word of the Lord” came and this was not some kind of heavenly dictation exercise. It was an inspiration to see things differently, to understand what was going on in the world; to receive your own personal vocation- what God most needed you to do and what you most needed to do for your own sake. Then, by the power of God, in the Spirit of God you lived out this Word. It became the story of your life.

The Word of God, then, was not something static. It was given by God in the context in which you were living. And as, with God, you lived out your own story, so you became aware that the story you were living, had been lived by others before you. And as they had handed on their stories by word of mouth and eventually in written form, so you could add yours.
Although there was, inevitably, a diversity in the stories; although there were contradictions in what people said about God; although there were huge learning curves to be traced in which a believer’s understanding of God underwent some dramatic changes in the course of their story (try Job or Jonah in your Bible), there still remained a great unity to be traced.
This God is our God. Lord, you have been our resting place throughout all generations.
The sword of the Spirit and the Word is our everlasting defence against losing faith and it is our everlasting attack against all that threatens to undermine our belief in God. It is not a printed page in a closed book but a living experience of God in our lives.

Jesus was a big disappointment to a lot of people. They wanted a story of military victory and who can blame them? Their lives were harsh under the Roman occupation. Where was God? they asked; why was not He doing more to help them? I guess we are all asking this at the moment.

St John-who wrote down the Palm Sunday story we heard- said that even Jesus’ closest followers did not understand what he was really all about. It was only after he had been “glorified” that they understood.
For us, the term “glorified” brings a vision of Jesus seated on the Roman Emperor’s throne and ruling the world. But for John the word “glory” means the presence of God. Jesus’ “glorification” is the moment when he most fully displays that He is God and that, for St John, was when he was nailed to the cross. When he took on all that human fear and hatred, pride and greed, suffering and despair could do- this was when God was most truly seen in him.

It sounds crazy. It has always sounded crazy. But right here, right now we are facing a most deadly enemy. And it is an enemy that political power, military strength, monetary wealth, human knowledge have all found they cannot conquer alone.
We are learning, aren’t we, that the weapons we need to beat this deadly virus are such things as compassion, community, responsibility, service to one another. All things which Jesus stood for.
Maybe he did get it right. Maybe this was what God is all about. And maybe if we walk the way of Jesus through this terrifying time, we shall find that the fullness of God is in us; that the Word of God still comes to us with insight and direction; that the Spirit of God still empowers us. And maybe, just maybe, when this is over, we shall find it possible at last, with the skills we have learned, to create a world of peace with justice, of safety and security, of old enemies joining hands and finding something more important to live for than settling old scores.

Live your story; pray to find the place where your story meets the story of Jesus and the truth about God. And may God’s living Word be your defence and weapon against the darkness. Amen.