Second Sunday of Lent
Preacher: The Dean
If, like me, you watch a lot of those property programmes, ‘Grand Designs’, ‘Homes under the Hammer’, that kind of thing, you’ll know that at the beginning and the end and sometimes in the middle there’s talk about the budget. ‘What’s the budget going to be for this work?’ ‘Did you manage to do all this within the budget?’
Sometimes things have been well planned and tightly controlled and people have done well. Other times, either through being unrealistic at the beginning or simply by letting the project spiral out of control, the budget has been blown apart and they’ve ended up putting the whole thing on a series of credit cards.
‘For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?’
says Jesus to his listeners. They all nod wisely, only an idiot would do something like that they agree.
In the wilderness the Israelites are moaning. They hate their diet, they hate the wandering, they hate the wilderness. God can’t stand it any longer and sends a load of snakes that bite the people so that many die. The people relent, maybe the food wasn’t so bad after all, and anyway freedom is better than captivity. So, following God’s instructions Moses makes a bronze serpent, sets it on a pole and it becomes a symbol of healing and salvation.
Into a sinful world, a world in which humankind has fallen away from God, Jesus comes. God sends his son, ‘born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law’ says St Paul to the Galatians. God sends his son to be the sign of salvation, to be the sign of our healing, ‘lifted up from the earth’ just like the serpent in the wilderness.
But had God sat down and worked out if the price was right? Did the costs actually spiral out of control in the Garden of Gethsemane, or did God know what was necessary, what was needed? Those are the deep questions that lie at the heart of all the debates that the church has had over the centuries about the doctrine of the atonement.
In a few weeks time we’ll be singing that ever popular Passiontide hymn ‘There is a green hill’. The third verse talks about the cost
There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin,
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.
Who was Jesus paying the price to, who was demanding the payment? Was it God, sending his son, demanding it all, blowing the budget of life?
All I know is that following Jesus involves carrying my share of that cross and budgeting everything – this is the cost of discipleship.
That second reading ended
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
This is tough stuff. But what I do know, as I look at the cross, is that God did whatever was needed for love of you, for love of me, for love of all that was made. God held nothing back and having embarked on it journeyed from cradle to cross with only one purpose, to save those made out of love for love.
The poet R S Thomas describes for me the atonement in his poem ‘The Coming’
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
God was spent on the cross; are we willing to spend all we are?