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10th April 2022

Moving Forward

Passage: Luke 19;28-40

“This time next year we’ll be millionaires.” Who said that? Del boy, the hero of the sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Having grown up in optimistic post-war working-class Britain, Del was convinced that with enough determination and a bit of luck, he would move from market trader to millionaire any day now.
“This time next year we’ll be free of the Romans,” was what the crowds in Jerusalem were saying as they celebrated the Passover. We’ll have our country back again. We’ll be free to govern ourselves. God is on our side. Just you wait and see.
“This time next month, next year we’ll be back to normal,” is what most of us have been saying since March 2020. As our lives have been turned upside-down by Covid, we keep the dream that someday soon, life will be normal again.
This time next year our church will be full, is the hope of congregations up and down the country.
This time next year I shall be with a loving partner, have a child, live in a new home, enjoy a better job….The dreams go on and it is good to have dreams. Dreams are what got us out of caves in the first place.
It is just…. what if the dreams never come true? How many times have our hopes for a normal post-Covid existence been disappointed? What if year after year, life goes on and we are still poor, still lonely, still unsuccessful, still living in fear? What if our church never does fill up again? What if the war in Ukraine drags on for years? What then?
Many people stuck in a life they do not enjoy, hope for a Superhero: someone or something that will make our dreams come true. A partner, a child, a new job, a new Government, a mentor, a Minister? We may even hope that the superhero will be found in ourselves. I grew up in the 1960’s when working-class children could pass the 11 plus and attend grammar schools without paying; receive a grant to go to University; and enter just about any profession they chose. Plus, with the Women’s movement gaining strength all the time, we young women were told that the world was now our oyster. All it took was hard work and determination and you would have your dream. Because YOU are a super-hero.
Sometimes super-heroes do succeed in changing our lives. But sometimes they fail, maybe because we demand more of them than they can deliver. That often happens with Governments or partners or churches or simply ourselves. We are not quite “super heroic enough.” And sometimes our superheroes fail because they get that they take over our lives completely and we come to resent it. Again, this happens with totalitarian Governments; partners; professional mentors; churches.
So, instead of a superhero we search for a Scapegoat. I mean, somebody surely has to be to blame for what is wrong in our lives and this could be a parent, colleague, government, partner, church- we want to punish someone for our pain and frustration and yes, sometimes that person is ourselves.
Sadly, often it is the superhero who becomes the scapegoat. Because the person we relied on to fulfil our dream has let us down and now we want to hurt them. Don’t you think that is why the crowds, only five days after Palm Sunday, turned on Jesus and screamed for him to be crucified? They could not forgive him for not being the Superhero they thought he should be.
Jesus ended up nailed to a cross. Abandoned by his friends and mocked by his enemies. And, if we are now living with our own disappointed hopes and dreams; if we are turning our failed superheroes into scapegoats; if we are finding it hard to forgive ourselves for not rising above the fears and pain of life, where is the hope in Christ’s story? What can Jesus teach us about success when we look at him on the cross and see only a reflection of our own disappointed dreams?
Del boy did eventually become a millionaire, didn’t he? More by luck than judgement, but he made it. He got his big house and his Rolls Royce car. But remember that poignant scene back in his council flat when he wonders if being rich is all it is cracked up to be? He misses the challenge, the chase, the excitement. It was the pursuit of the dream that got him out of bed in the morning in a way that living the dream did not. Looking back, Del sees that the life he once had was “real” in a way that living as a millionaire was not.
The Bible makes it quite clear that Jesus chose the way of the cross. He opted for the pain and humiliation because this was being “real” meant to him This was what being God was truly all about. You could look, with his enemies, at the cross and jeer at him for having failed. He had not been able to save himself. He had not been able to convince the world with his message. He had not even been able to keep his friends when the crunch came. And is this failure? Jesus’ mission was to be the truth about God in the world; to reconcile humanity to the God who loved them. It was to be the scapegoat, the one on whom all pain and sin was laid because he could bear it and he could transform it into new and abundant life.
If we go back to the start of Lent, when we heard what Jesus was tempted to do- make yourself Emperor of the world. You could do it if you were prepared to share your soul with the devil- we see why he could not be the superhero his people wanted him to be. He could not turn Caesar off his throne and sit there himself as a mighty dictator, because that was not the real God. What the world counted as failure was his triumph.
I guess my own definition of “success” is becoming the person you are meant to be; finding peace with yourself. And although life is undoubtedly easier if you have good health, financial security and live in a fair, just society, millions of people have testified to finding this peace even when living under the most appalling conditions. I guess, because they have somehow “found themselves” and live a life which is “real” to them right here, right now. And we have also learned that once you are at peace with yourself, you can be at peace with other people. And this will in time cut out such things as greed, exploitation, power struggles, abuse, cruelty, neglect. In the long term, we might even dare to hope, it will eliminate sickness and environmental devastation.
For me, I cannot be at peace with myself until I find peace with God. And I find peace with God through Jesus Christ. Because if Jesus really was God in a human life, then his love is totally steadfast, indestructible and incredibly powerful. And if that love is being offered freely to me then my life must be worth something to God and so should be worth something to me, whatever is going on.
It was in the struggle, in the pain, in the patience and persistence that Jesus became the visible God. Not in the rising out of the tomb- that was quite low key if you think about it. So maybe it is in our struggles, in our striving, in our facing up to disappointed dreams, that we find peace with God and peace in ourselves. And then it will be through our voice, our efforts, our quest to worship the true God that others will see Him and know Him and find peace.
Glory to God who thus to us has given best of his gifts- the call to share his strife. Glory to God who bids us fight for heaven here in the dust and joy of human life. Keep the dream- for yourself, for our church, for our nation, for the world. But remember that it is in the striving that we encounter God. Amen.