Third Sunday of Lent


Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings, and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Post Communion

Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.



Old Testament

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:  “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it?” So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.“

Genesis 15.1-12,17-18 


1    The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

2    When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes,
came upon me to eat up my flesh,
they stumbled and fell.

3    Though a host encamp against me,
my heart shall not be afraid,
and though there rise up war against me,
yet will I put my trust in him.

4    One thing have I asked of the Lord
and that alone I seek;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,

6    For in the day of trouble
he shall hide me in his shelter;
in the secret place of his dwelling shall he hide me
and set me high upon a rock.

8    Therefore will I offer in his dwelling an oblation
with great gladness;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

9    Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call;
have mercy upon me and answer me.

10    My heart tells of your word, ‘Seek my face.’
Your face, Lord, will I seek.

16    I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.

17    Wait for the Lord;
be strong and he shall comfort your heart;
wait patiently for the Lord.

Psalm 27


Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

Philippians 3.17-4.1


Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Luke 13.31-35

Sermon on Third Sunday of Lent

“The Promised Land” – don’t we, just like Abram, look forward to it? Don’t we expend all our energy to get there?

But just where is “The Promised Land”? What is it? Is it our own home? What about the office I run? How about winning the lottery? Or do you want to transform the dark satanic mills into a green and pleasant land? Just how do you go about reaching “The Promised Land” for yourself?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Søren Kierkegaard who wanted people to find “The Promised Land” for themselves, but his paradise had nothing to do with possessions or power, his “Promised Land” comprised ‘becoming oneself in an ethical and religious sense’. Don’t we all want to become our authentic selves? But how do we conceive our ownmost self? If we follow the philosopher, we would tread a path on our own like the hermit, or in company, perhaps, like the monks of the golden age of christianity, but never as one amongst the herd, dictated to by the mass of humanity who may not have any idea of a moral life. After all, as faithful christians, don’t we have such a very different idea of what is good?

I do not wish to talk of this thorny philosophical problem of the good, but I want to take a theological turn. I want to think how “The Promised Land” awaits us.

Paul could start us on our way, echoing the questions I began with, for he writes, “Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” This is such a trite saying! We all know its veracity – we all know that following the appetites alone will make us self-destruct. The Church universal has been preaching about this for millennia.

The glutton, the harpie, the lustful – they all come to sticky ends, don’t they. They do not enter “The Promised Land” as far as I know. And don’t we all agree with Paul that “Their destiny is destruction”? We hope for a better end than one constricted by fleshly desires, one without the expansive nature of the love of others, but, more significantly, without the infinite vision of the love of God in our lives. We here and now look towards our trinitarian aspiration, the goal of faith, hope and love.

Paul has written that our citizenship is “of heaven” and so the faithful is utterly different to those whose citizenship is “of the earth”. Those whose lives are bounded only by the horizon of self, its earthly expression in the appetites of the flesh, miss so much. Those marks of life in all its fullness are indelibly imprinted on our nature – faith hope and love do not delineate an earthly way of life, as we are reminded every day by many around us. No one lives a life of faith, hope and love amongst our contemporaries outside the universal Church, do they?

Who would you say really forms all his or her actions on faith? We certainly don’t hope all the time, do we? And what about the love we show? I think, normally in the life we ordinarily lead, we often fall short of those three goals. I am sure I have not trusted enough; I certainly do give up hope on occasion; and I do not love without some selfish desire. My christian love, my agape, certainly fails when I think of so many things in this life – for instance, Brexit, knife crime, the rising cost of  living. Amongst those concerns, loving our neighbour is so very hard. Most believe that ethical and religious stance of the philosopher is impossible to take, but more tellingly it is found to be and called “ridiculous”. No one takes the philosopher’s exhortation to a moral, religious life seriously, because all they want is to eat, drink and be merry.

I think it is precisely that ethical goal which Kierkegaard extolled, it is the final end of which the prophets preached, where righteousness flows like the waters and justice like an ever-flowing stream. Heaven is that garden where the rushing waters are the background of all conversation. The promised land is this paradise to which we aspire.

The garden of paradise is not Monty Don’s. Beautiful as it is, it is nothing but flowers and rills. Paradise is where we contemplate amongst the rushing waters, that constant background on which all our deliberations find themselves, justice and righteousness. A background amongst which we find the tree of life, a place which is ever-changing, never static, demanding our concentration. So, even when we find ourselves in paradise, our promised land, I would say, we are still being challenged, but the distraction is not the venal and earthly of Paul’s condemnation, but it is the demanding insistence of goodness.

I would not call that a hard life, not like the future Adam and Eve were given, when the enmity of nature in the form of the serpent would always strike at our heels. No, that life in paradise does not have the distractions we have today, the distractions of Brexit, knife-crime and the rising cost of living. The background noise of Paradise is one of remembering what is good, its rushing sound ever tumbling over us with the love of God humming in our ears, a sound which turns our attention away from ourselves and towards that infinite Other.

We understand Paradise as where we are whole, where we find life in all its fullness. Adam and Eve, like you and I, want to return there, where the water flowed in four directions and fruit was to hand, so near that all our needs were fulfilled and we should spend our time with the prophets gaining insight into justice and righteousness which are to be enacted in the very core of our existence.

Instead, sadly, we conceive our lives like everyone around us, full of toil and dismay, where the letter of the law has fettered us to something, rather than freeing us for God. Our lives here are exactly delineated by political considerations. We are constrained by the herd around us, listening to the bleating of sheep, not hearing the cascade of righteousness or the tumbling of justice over the whole of our lives.

Do those sheep ever have a moment to themselves when they are standing with Kierkegaard on that edge where we must leap for our very selves? Or do they turn away from such decisions?

We read “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else.’” The worldly see their end as a place, not a fulfilment of life in all its fullness. Jesus retorts that he is going to heal the sick and make the lame dance, that the hungry will be fed and the world’s order be turned on its head. He promises he will reach his goal – and in this context we say that Jesus will find himself in paradise with the thief.

How bitter the path which leads to Paradise! Jesus’ travels to Jerusalem, as he laments because of what her people have done.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Paradise is not Jerusalem itself, as Jesus shows. Paradise is the outpouring love of neighbour. That faithful hope is so absurd to so many. Maybe that is why the golden age of any culture is so far distant either in the past or in the future that no one pays it any attention. Everyday concerns oppress us because we lack the focus for the long game, the life of loving one another. There are no concrete rewards to love, are there?

Jesus invites us on to that lonely road which leads through another garden, Gethsemane, before we see the promised land.

I think, there dwell those virtues of faith, hope and love. They find their expression in the promised land, and we only know them when we live life in all its fullness – in Paradise.


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