Third Sunday before Lent


Almighty God, who alone can bring order to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity: give your people grace so to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, among the many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Eternal God, whose Son went among the crowds and brought healing with his touch: help us to show his love, in your Church as we gather together, and by our lives as they are transformed into the image of Christ our Lord.

Post Communion

Merciful Father, who gave Jesus Christ to be for us the bread of life, that those who come to him should never hunger: draw us to the Lord in faith and love, that we may eat and drink with him at his table in the kingdom, where he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.


Old Testament

Thus says the Lord:

Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals

   and make mere flesh their strength,

   whose hearts turn away from the Lord.

They shall be like a shrub in the desert,

   and shall not see when relief comes.

They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,

   in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

   whose trust is the Lord.

They shall be like a tree planted by water,

   sending out its roots by the stream.

It shall not fear when heat comes,

   and its leaves shall stay green;

in the year of drought it is not anxious,

   and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;

   it is perverse—

   who can understand it?

I the Lord test the mind

   and search the heart,

to give to all according to their ways,

   according to the fruit of their doings.

Jeremiah 17:5–10


1  Blessed are they who have not walked

      in the counsel of the wicked, •

   nor lingered in the way of sinners,

      nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.

2  Their delight is in the law of the Lord •

   and they meditate on his law day and night.

3  Like a tree planted by streams of water

      bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, •

   whatever they do, it shall prosper.

4  As for the wicked, it is not so with them; •

   they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5  Therefore the wicked shall not be able to stand in the judgement, •

   nor the sinner in the congregation of the righteous.

6  For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, •

   but the way of the wicked shall perish.

Psalm 1


Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

1 Corinthians 15:12–20


He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor,

   for yours is the kingdom of God.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,

   for you will be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,

   for you will laugh.

 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

‘But woe to you who are rich,

   for you have received your consolation.

‘Woe to you who are full now,

   for you will be hungry.

‘Woe to you who are laughing now,

   for you will mourn and weep.

 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Luke 6:17–26

Sermon on Third Sunday before Lent

The Gospel and the OT lesson can teach us about a technique for studying the Bible. It is called “Form Criticism”, a discipline that emerged from the literary study of the Bible. Scholars noticed that there were structural similarities between different passages. A specific form of words was used over and over again. We have two such passages here. In Jeremiah we read about the Lord cursing “those who trust in mere mortals” and blessing “those who trust in the Lord”. What a contrast between the two. The cursed are likened to “a shrub in the desert” which will never see relief of any sort, rising from land which has salt sown in it – earth incapable of sustaining life. The blessed will be like “a tree planted by a river” whose roots move to drink its sweet water.

In the gospel Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry, those who weep and the hated with the promise of the kingdom of God, fullness and joy. In contrast to this he can only bemoan the fate of the rich, the fed, the laughing and the flattered, because he sees them being already consoled with riches in this present world, but hungry in the future, mournful and led astray by false words.

These blessings and curses are the reversal of fortune that all hope for in their despondency, when aid is with-held from those who deserve the duty of care, when the law of God should be fulfilled. We can see this in our own times, can’t we? When the poor, the faithful and those who hunger after righteousness are forsaken for what can be seen as trivial pursuits when we look at them in the light of heavenly things, and I don’t mean the kingdom to come, but the divine of love entering a person’s life.

This reversal is not an expression of what they called “the politics of envy” when the political parties were so very different in vision, when the poor were so very poor and the rich had distanced themselves from everyone else. The reversal must come about when the rich are no longer charitable, when pockets are deliberately made too deep for any of the short arms to reach down to the bottom of them.

The reversal will come, when God’s will for all humanity is accomplished, when there is that perfect peace for which we pray in the words of the BCP in particular – when there is the abiding care of charity shared abroad – when Martin Luther King’s dream has been realised, that all will understand themselves as brothers and sisters whatever their appearance. The reversal of all things we accept today will come – there is no doubt about that. I think we should actively work toward it to speed its coming. That law of love Jesus enjoined on all of humanity is the the alpha and omega of the eschatological reversal. Loving one another is a stark overturning of the world’s order, isn’t it? How many of our contemporaries try to love the people they know, let alone some samaritan.

I the Lord test the mind

   and search the heart,

to give to all according to their ways,

   according to the fruit of their doings.

How many of us are confident about the intentions of our mind and heart in the light of God’s judgement? But let’s not worry about that ultimate judgement of humanity. Let me think closer to my ownmost possibility. I am fearful when the “fruit of my doings” is declared in public. When the secret things of my life are revealed in the light of God’s day, on that day when there is no place to hide.

Sorry, I have strayed from my didactic purpose. I wanted to see how the analysis of our language can help us understand religious discourse, as at this time, blessings and curses are to the forefront.

These blessings and curses show us how the world’s order is upset. The rich, whom we ordinarily extol, are to become poor, as poor as the person now derided as poor by the so-called “rich”. The poor are without the cash to lavish on holidays and parties – you know, the sort of aspirations the winners of quiz shows reveal, as they covet the prize money before answering their final questions to grasp that money.

Their replies to “What will you do with all that money?” reveal an awful lot, don’t you think? – I think we could do an analysis of this form of questioning to illuminate the hopes of our own generation. How many of us would answer, “I would like to give this money to my neighbour who has lost his job,” or “I would like to pay off a school loan for that fellow down the road?” Doesn’t the world expect us to be misers and only put our money in our mattresses “for another time”? Or, if not misers, the world expects us to be profligate and spend, spend, spend.  I know I am guilty of being a miser, for every penny I earn now must be put aside for my “retirement”, never mind some frivolity, some frippery of extravagance. I am expected to be the miser by all around me in order to keep my family well.

Examining the forms into which I express my hopes and fears reveals a great deal of my inmost thoughts, for ultimately everything spills out no matter how tight we think we keep the lid on things. This is true of thoughts as it is of emotions. The psychiatrists of whatever school they belong to, have always acknowledged the hidden to be revealed in some way – tragically it comes through in psychotic behaviour, sadly through neuroses, comically through slips of the tongue.

But revealed the hidden always will be, whether through self-revelation or through the efforts of an investigative police officer or a journalist. Even the academics get in on the act in their research about the great and good.

Blessings and curses are just one such form of expression with which reveals so much about ourselves. The scholars have opened our eyes to what we really want deep in our hearts, hidden sometimes even from ourselves.

The questions arise in light of our readings today, “Whom do we curse?” and “Whom do we bless?” These interrogatives must be at the forefront of our minds. To whom did you last blurt out a blessing? Whom did you last curse under your breath? We do it all the time, don’t we? We get so upset and rail against everything, just like Job in his despair. However, Job did not curse God, he could only bless God for all the good he had received, even though he could curse the very day of his birth. Even though such dark times clouded his world, at the core of his being was a blessing of Almighty God, even if he felt God had abandoned him. My exhortation is that we should examine the forms of our language to see just what they reveal our ownmost possibility really is.