Tag Archives: Lent

Turning away from sin and embracing life—a reflection for Lent

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne at St Paul’s Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent 2023

At the beginning of Lent, the church’s season of renewal and growth, stands the reminder that we humans are mortal, and sinful. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we offer the opportunity to be signed on the forehead with a cross—in ash. The symbolism of this ‘ashing’ has its roots in the solemn act repentance of the Jewish people: putting on sackcloth, simple, unadorned garments, and ashes on the head, as signs of returning to God, of conforming to God’s will. ‘Remember, o mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’, the priest says as he ashes each worshipper. ‘Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’.

During the six weeks of Lent, our Sunday readings explore the journey of turning away from sin and being faithful to Christ. We are going to hear from Scripture what it means to be far removed from God through human sinfulness and are encouraged to think about what it takes to know and do God’s will. For much of Lent we will be hearing from our patron, St Paul, through the first chapters of his epistle to the Romans. For Paul sin is not a light matter: he takes sin very seriously indeed. In the New Testament, the Greek word for ‘sin’, harmatia, is mentioned 173 times. Of those 64 times by Paul. If Paul is the New Testament author who is most concerned with sin, then his Letter to the Romans is the epistle that most considers what sin is and means: of the 64 instances that Paul writes about sin, sin is mentioned 48 times in Romans. 

Sin, for Paul, is not simply wrongdoing, or the daily struggle to live a values-based life. Sin for Paul is a deep-rooted principle of evil, and wilfulness: is the power that does harm to humanity and the root of all its conflicts. Sin is always present in human community, Paul knows: even­—especially, he would say—when we wish for good, evil is readily at hand.

If Paul is the New Testament author most concerned with sin, he is also the writer most concerned with the way in which we can rid ourselves of its destructive effects. The epistle to the Romans is Paul’s first and longest letter. It is, in fact, the first Christian text to be written following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to the Jewish-Christian community in Rome to encourage them to forgo their differences and quarrels, which for him are signs of sinfulness. Instead, he tells them to recognise the unity they can enjoy by knowing Jesus Christ; and to discover for themselves the harmony and mutual love that are the fruits of Christ’s forgiveness. Sin has an effect on the way we think, Paul tells them. It has an effect on the way we eat and drink, and it has an effect on the way we die, he reminds them. Forgiveness and grace, on the other hand, is what enables us to live together as the people God loves, and is the basis for our confidence that Christ has overcome death.


Today’s readings tell us the story of how sin came into the world, and how it affects everyone. They take us to the very beginning of the story of God and his people, and the first acts of human disobedience that opened the way for sin and evil to enter our world. They tell us that evil has become our basic problem, and ultimately the cause of our death. They show us how sin seeks to tempt us with things we long for­—food and comfort, reliance and security, power and influence—and how sin may use good things—including God’s word—to tempt us. At the same time, they assure us that, although sin is a universal problem, redemption—the forgiveness of sin—is available to all people and that God judges and punishes sin itself by overcoming it through Jesus Christ.

Our first reading, from the book Genesis, takes us to the abundant and peaceful garden of creation. God made it, and knew it to be very good. He placed humankind in the garden to tend and protect it, and permitted humans to name and therefore have influence over all creatures. He placed all things necessary for a rich life in the garden, walked the garden himself and lived closely among his people. God knew his creation personally, and loved it, and sought for it to flourish. God also placed the key to knowledge at the heart of the garden: the knowledge to see the world as God sees it—frail and complex, full of choices, requiring a nuanced course of constant decisions to navigate life. Humankind, our reading tells us, desired and acquired this knowledge. That which appeared to them as a delicious delight, revealed itself to be a deadly duty.

Where previously people had lived in harmony because they knew only harmony, now they knew both good and evil. The two humans instantly knew their vulnerability, our reading tells us—knew that they were figuratively and genuinely naked before God, and rushed to cover up their nakedness, in the hope that God would not notice their choice. The writer of Genesis speaks of the act that has become known as the ‘fall from grace’ in allegorical language. The garden might have seemed harmonious, and very good, but cunning and deception was already present in this idealised community. The persuasive serpent represents the double-tongued talk of evil persuasion, and the venom that brings death: the point of the story is that evil will talk smoothly, that evil will tell that our choices are simple when they are not, and that evil will, ultimately, leave us vulnerable and unprotected. We will not be protected by the loincloths we may conjure up for ourselves from the first thing that is at hand. Sin will have its prize, and that prize is human life: evil, our reading tells us, is the reason for sin, and sin is the reason why people die.


Our Gospel reading takes us to an encounter between the author of evil and Jesus Christ. Jesus had just been baptised. There was no need for Jesus to be washed from sin in baptism. His cousin John the Baptist knew that Jesus alone among humans was without any sin, and called him out: ‘why should I be baptised by you’, John asked his cousin, ‘when I in fact have need to be baptised by you’. Jesus of all people needed no washing from sin, and yet took on the ritual in order that ‘all righteousness might be fulfilled’. Jesus submitted himself to the Law of Moses, and its requirements of righteousness. And as he came up from the waters, once all righteousness had been fulfilled, God opened heaven and anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, and called him his beloved Son. The same Spirit that had anointed him now led him into the wilderness ‘to be tempted by the Devil’, our reading tells us.

We would expect the Spirit-filled Jesus to be full of power and strength, driving away Satan, in the same way in which he drove out demons. But Jesus does not evade temptation by driving evil away. He fasts, and prays, and at the moment of his greatest vulnerability—famished after forty days—he encounters the tempter. And Satan tempts Jesus to use his powers to serve himself: ‘command these stones to become bread’. And Jesus, who will share a few loaves and fishes with thousands and who will turn water into gallons of fine wine for others, resists. God’s gifts are used to serve God and neighbour, and not to serve self.

Satan tempts Jesus three times: tempts him to test his reliance on God by an act of wilfulness by causing a spectacle. And Jesus who would later rather endure the loneliness of the cross than call up a legion of angels, resists. The last temptation is power—not the power that serves others, or the power that sets humans free from the effects of sin and evil by bringing healing and wholeness, but the power that enthrals, subdues and tyrannises. ‘If you worship me, I will give you all these kingdoms’, will give you all human power. And Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world, finally casts Satan away, and commits himself to worship and serve only God. 

All righteousness is fulfilled in this act of dedication, in which Jesus commits himself to be the One who will take away all sinfulness by his death on the cross. As Jesus walks away from the wilderness, John observes in his gospel, his cousin who had baptised him, instantly knows him to be the sacrificial lamb that would be killed so that all have life. ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’, John declares (John 1.29). Sin must be terrifying indeed if it takes the Son of God to take it away. God made Jesus, the sinless one, to be sin, so that all sin might be taken away, our patron saint tells the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 5.21). The principle of sin is eradicated—taken out at the root—when the Lamb of God is killed, and Christ lifted up on a cross.


Sin is terrifying. It applies to all people, our epistle reading argues convincingly. For those living under the Law of Moses, the rules of life given to the people of God on Sinai, the Law holds them accountable for their deeds. They will be judged on the basis of their observance, or lack thereof, of the Law. Would it be better not to know the Law, Paul asks rhetorically? Well, those who live apart from the Law, those who have never known God, will also be held accountable for their living. All are subject to God’s judgement; both those who live under the Law, and those who do not. Just as all are subject to sin: ‘there is no one righteous, not one; there is no one who understands’, Paul tells the Romans (Romans 3.29): ‘All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God’.

‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’, we solemnly recalled last Wednesday. Remember that the effects of sin are death. As the ash crosses were marked on our foreheads, we were also reminded of the remedy for sin: ‘turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’. Turn away from sin. In the next few chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans we will see that Paul has faint hopes for us: alone, Paul believes, we will never have the capacity to turn away from sin. Sin, simply put, is all pervasive, and hard to escape under our own strength. But together with God it is possible to turn away from sin. When we turn to Christ, when we remind ourselves daily—in our prayer and actions—of the goodness and love of God, and the sacrifice and selfless acts of Christ, then, Paul rightly knows, we have a chance to turn from the sin to which all of us are subjected. ‘Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’.

Next Sunday, our readings will tell us more about at what this faithful turning to God, this act of committing ourselves to God, looks like. We will hear words of promise and reassurance, hear that God seeks to bless and not to condemn. Today, though, let us take seriously the gravity and effects of sin. That no one lives without the daily struggle against sin. That without the daily need to turn from turning from the enticements of sin to serve self—to provide for our own comforts first, or only ever strive for our own recognition and renown—that without the daily turning from sin, and focusing on Christ, we remain subjects to the tyranny of evil. ‘Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’.

Where sin is deadly and clouds our life, turning to Christ is joyful and life-giving. If you have not yet committed to turning to Christ, and seeking baptism or confirmation, I encourage you to talk to one of our clergy about what committing to Jesus Christ means. If you have already made the commitment, in your baptism, to reject evil and turn to Christ, you will have experienced the joy that discipleship, that following Jesus can bring. When your fundamental commitment, made in baptism, is lived out day by day in discipleship, by every action and work of yours, choosing at every step to turn to Christ, and choose life and joy, and thereby rejecting sin and death. 

This Lent, I invite you to pray with me, each day that we might choose Christ, choose life. You may wish to pray the simple prayer of the penitent, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner’. Or you may wish to pray the lines from the prayer that Jesus taught us, asking that your will be conformed to his: ‘Lord Jesus, thy kingdom come, thy will be done’. Especially when you feel that you are tempted to sin, or when you feel that God is far from you, I encourage you to pray for God to meet you in your need. And if you are already committed to prayerful living, I invite you to pray for those who still need to make that fundamental commitment to living with Christ. Pray for a friend, or a group of friends, whom you would like to see turn to Christ. Again, do so consistently, and joyfully, knowing that it is in turning away from sin, and our faithfulness in Christ, that we may share in the life that is forever.

‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But God is righteous and justifies all who have faith in Jesus’. Thanks be to God.

© Andreas Loewe, 2023

Walking in the light of life: bringing others to Jesus

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at St Paul’s Cathedral on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, 22 March 2015:


In last week’s gospel reading, we heard how Nicodemus, a ‘teacher of Israel’ sought out Jesus at night. Jesus had first come to his attention when he entered the Jerusalem Temple at Passover, and swept away the tables of the money-changers and sellers of sacrificial animals. Fascinated by this sacrilegious intervention, Nicodemus had come to talk with Jesus. Concerned about his status as a Temple leader, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the night. As they spoke, Jesus challenged him to shun the darkness that hid his actions, and instead ‘come into the light so that his deeds may be clearly seen’ (John 3.21). And explained to him that the Son of Man would be lifted up so that all would have life, just as Moses lifted up a serpent to ward off death in the wilderness.

We heard how, at the end of the story of Jesus, how Nicodemus stood at the foot of the cross on the eve of another Passover. How he saw Jesus lifted up on a cross in the darkness of the eclipsed sun and moon. How it was there that he came to understand Jesus’ challenge, and recognise Jesus to be the Light and Life of the World. We saw how Nicodemus, the Jewish leader, left behind the certitude of his former beliefs. How he decided to step into a future shaped, not by his status in the temple hierarchy which once had compelled him to seek the anonymity of darkness, but rather by his newly-found faith in Jesus as the Light of the World, whom the darkness would not overcome, and the One who by dying would bring life to the world. How he left behind his former identity and became part of a new community of faith and belonging.


Today’s gospel reading continues the contrast of darkness and light, death and life. Again, Jesus is in the Temple at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Again, Jesus had just caused much notoriety by his actions: this time he had been greeted by the people of Jerusalem in a royal progress with palm branches held high. Seated on a donkey, Jesus had made his way across the Kidron valley to the Temple Mount, the people hailing him as their king. This will be the last Passover Jesus celebrates. As he teaches in the Temple precinct, Jesus again challenges his hearers to shun the darkness that already encroaches: ‘walk in the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you’, Jesus tells them (John 12.36). And promises them, ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself’ (12.32).

This time, Jesus’ hearers are not only faithful Jews, like Nicodemus, but also outsiders. We read in today’s gospel reading that ‘some Greeks’ came to ‘the festival’ (John 12.21). The ‘Greeks’ who attended the Passover festival were very likely proselytes. Our English word is a literal rendition of the Greek. And that, in turn, is the word used to translate the technical term for ‘resident alien’, used by the ancient equivalent of the immigration office, in Hebrew ‘ger toshav’ (גר תושב). The Greeks, then, were gentiles who, in return for their right to live in or near the land of Israel, have accepted some of the key tenets of the Jewish faith. They do not yet fully belong to the people of Israel, but know of and share their beliefs. They have permanent residency, but are yet to pass their citizenship test.

The ‘Greeks’ encounter Jesus’ followers in the forecourt of the gentiles, and ask to see Jesus: ‘Sir’, they ask Philip, ‘we wish to see Jesus’. John is very specific about who it was that the ‘Greeks’ sought out, isn’t he? He explains the reason for their choice of go-between with the terse comment, ‘Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee’ (John 12.21). Philip not only bore a Greek name, but was brought up in the cultural melting pot that was ancient Galilee: home to Greek-speakers who had settled there during the Hellenistic colonial days, home to Roman occupying forces such as that commanded by the centurion who would seek Jesus out to heal his slave, home to ordinary Jewish people, who tilled the land, fished the lake and, like Jesus and his father Joseph, built the edifices that made up the Greco-Roman administrative centres, or the Jewish cities.

Philip was a citizen of two worlds: a Jewish world and a Greek world. He was an ideal go-between for the Greeks who wanted to see and speak with the man who, only a day earlier, had been hailed by the citizens of Jerusalem as ‘king of Israel’ in his solemn procession to the Temple mount. Philip in turn sought out Andrew, another disciple bearing a Greek name – Andreas – and both went and told Jesus that here were people who had come to hear him.


Jesus does not acknowledge the strangers who had gone to so much trouble to see him. John doesn’t even tell us whether Jesus had even seen them. Instead, Jesus answers his two disciples that ‘now’ – at the moment that the gentiles from Galilee had sought him out – ‘the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’ (John 12.23). Jesus had spoken of that hour before, and the arrival of his gentile hearers indicated to Jesus that his ‘hour’ had now come.

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus’ ‘hour’ is a decisive moment in which barriers are broken. The ‘hour’ is there when Jesus breaks cultural barriers by sharing a drink of water with a Samaritan woman, and telling her, ‘the hour is now here when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, but … worship the Father in spirit and truth’ (John 4.21-23). The ‘hour’ is there when Jesus shatters Jewish religious expectations, by assuring them that it was he who would break the final barrier of death: ‘the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live’ (John 5.29).

Hour by hour, then, the story of the cross unfolds until, at last, the hour comes for Jesus to be arrested, condemned to die, and be crucified. Hour by hour, decisive moment after decisive moment: the Samaritans are brought in to worship God in spirit and truth; the Jews challenged in their beliefs about death and life, darkness and light – both openly and secretly; and now the gentiles are brought near: ‘the hour has come for the Son of Man to be to be glorified’ (John 12.23). The hour of completion was near as, moment by moment, the ancient and the new people of God were brought together to meet, hear and be deeply perturbed by the One who would call them to a new life altogether.

Not only those brought to Jesus were perturbed by their participation in those crucial moments, their living through these ‘hours’. Jesus himself was ‘deeply troubled in his soul’ at the realisation that ‘now’ was the moment that would – ultimately – lead to that other ‘hour’ (John 12.27). The hour when ‘all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation’ (John 5.28). That ‘now’ was the moment that would begin to set in train the inescapable process to save all people from condemnation, ‘for the Son of Man to be lifted up … that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.14b-16).


‘Now’, then, was the hour, the moment in which Jesus would begin to be glorified by being lifted on a cross to die. A deeply troubling kind of glory, John’s glory. For Jesus tells his hearers that it is only by dying that he can bring life eternal, just as a harvest of wheat is brought forth only from buried grains; and that it is only by dying to this world, that they themselves will ‘keep their lives for eternal life’ (John 12.26). And as he challenges Jews and gentiles to strive for that new life, he pours out his own humanity in prayer: ‘what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. “Father, glorify your name”.’ (John 12.27-28). As he denies his own life so that others may share life, and as he bends his own will in obedience to God’s, God speaks to him of another glory – ‘the glory of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth’ – as God the Father affirms, ‘I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again’ (John 12.28).

The glory of being God’s only Son, ‘close to the Father’s heart’, had been first made known when ‘the Word became flesh to dwell among us’ (John 1.14). Soon it will be made known again, ‘when [he is] lifted up from the earth, to draw all people to [himself]’ (John 12.31). For now, there remain the Father’s words of glorification, spoken and heard by those who believe, or perceived as thunderous noise by those who do not yet have ears to hear. For now, another hour has passed on the way to the cross: some Greeks have been added to the growing group of believers that now include Samaritans, Jews and gentiles. And all of them are the recipients of Jesus’ challenge, to ‘walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you’, and to ‘believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light’ (John 12.36).


What, then, is our part in this story of transformation?

I think that our part is two-fold.

First of all, we are called to be witnesses to the story of Jesus. People who understand and believe that glory can mean suffering, and death does not always mean the end of life. People who believe that faith in Jesus means changing our lives, dying to the life of this world, and serving and following Jesus, so that ‘where I am there my followers may be also’ (John 12.26). People who believe that Jesus was glorified in his death, and that he died to draw all people to himself, died that we may not be condemned but instead be granted eternal life.

Secondly, we are called to become people who bring others to Jesus. People like Philip and Andrew, who have ‘dual citizenship’, who know what it means to be both on the inside and what it may be like for those still on the outside. People who, like Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman, like the Greeks and the women gathered at the foot of the cross, have ourselves experienced the ‘hour’ in which Jesus was shown forth as he really was – the Son of God who tore down the barriers that separate and segregate, that keep people apart from people, and people apart from God. People whose own lives have been radically changed, and who now bring others to Jesus so that their lives may also change.


Jesus said to them: ‘The light is with you for a little longer. … While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light’ (John 12.35-36).

Highways to God for the Heart

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, at the second annual Provincial Choral Evensong for the Anglican Province of Victoria, on 9 March 2014, at the Metropolitical Cathedral Church of St Paul, Melbourne:

Tonight’s readings (Isaiah 40.1-112 Peter 3.8-15) encourage us to place our trust in God’s future. They tell us that the future that God intends for this world is to be a place ‘where justice is at home’ (2 Peter 3.13), and they encourage us to become partners with God in shaping our world to reflect that future. Above all, they invite us, as clergy and people of this Province of Victoria, to become ‘heralds of good tidings’ to those among whom we live, work and worship (Isaiah 40.9).

Our first lesson, from the second part of the prophecy of Isaiah, are words of comfort spoken to a people without hope; a people whose homeland and sanctuary had been destroyed, with the city of their faith in ruins. The place where all Israel had come together to ‘give thanks unto the name of the Lord’ lay in ruins (Psalm 122.4). The place promised them during the Exodus, the place ‘that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there’, had been devastated by a superpower (Deuteronomy 12.5). Babylonian invaders, who exiled the nation and turned their city of peace, Yerushalayim, for that is what the Hebrew words from which we derive the city’s name ‘Jerusalem’ mean, into a spiritual and physical wasteland.

For generations, the people of Israel had been in exile, cut off from their homeland and the place of their religious loyalty. For years, they had marked ‘the day Jerusalem fell’; solemnly recalled in their prayers how their enemies cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations’ (Psalm 137.7). The Psalmist tells us how they sat down ‘by the waters of Babylon, and wept as they remembered Zion’ (Psalm 137.1). In Babylon, their pagan tormentors lorded it over them. Their captors not only ridiculed their continued service of the God of Israel, a God who ostensibly failed them in their time of need, but also perverted their worship: they ‘called for mirth: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion”. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’, the Psalmist expressed his people’s affliction (Psalm 137.3-4). How can we remain loyal to the city of God in servitude and exile?

And now God’s prophet speaks to the exiles in Babylon, speaks to them as if Jerusalem lived on in their hearts. He speaks tenderly, not to a ruined city, but to a whole nation: ‘comfort, comfort’, he says. And he assures them that in spite of the destruction and devastation they had experienced they remain God’s people: ‘Comfort, comfort, my people’ (Isaiah 40.1). Now their ‘penalty is paid’; they have ‘received from the Lord’s hand double for all their sins’ (40.2). Even though they now live far away from the place where God’s glory dwelt on Mount Zion, their God still cares for them. And God gives them a vision of the future: a highway that leads them out of the desert of their exile. In speaking to them his words of comfort, God in fact inscribes in their heart ‘highways to Zion’ (Psalm 84.4).

Those highways are broad and level; where they lead through the desert the wasteland will become ‘a place of springs’ (Psalm 85.6). They are a way on which those who walk on it ‘will go from strength to strength’; a way that leads each one who travels on it to ‘appear before God in Zion’, as the Psalmist sings (Psalm 85.6-7). The Zion to which it leads is not the ruined city they left behind, but a new Jerusalem. The highways of their hearts will lead to place where ‘the glory of God is revealed’, where God is made known to all nations: ‘all people shall see God’s glory together’ (Isaiah 40.4). Although God’s people still live in captivity, although the city of their faith they left behind still lies in ruins, God sets a future before his people. He points out to them the place where his glory continually dwells. He instils in their hearts not only a deep yearning for that place, but also plants in their hearts the highway to that place, that city.

It is in the strength of that yearning that God encourages his people in the words of prophecy: ‘make straight in the desert a highway for our God’ (Isaiah 40.3). That highway for God is the highway to Zion. It is a highway of the heart, and not necessarily a physical road. And it does not matter that this road, that lifts up every valley and makes low every mountain, may not at first be a physical road; for it is real in every member of the people of God who yearns for God’s presence, and for his glory to be revealed. Nor does it matter that each generation passes away, ‘withers like the grass, fades like flowers’; for the promise of a road that leads to God has been granted to every generation; that promise will ‘stand forever’, like the word of God that ensures and safeguards our futures (Isaiah 40.7-8).

This yearning for God to establish his city of peace among us so that we might go there, worship him there, and live with him there, is ours as much as that of previous generations of believers. Our second lesson, from the second epistle of Peter (2 Peter 3.8-15) gives us an insight into that yearning for God to rule and reign from the point of view of one of the first generations of Christians: ‘the Lord is not slow about his promise’, Peter writes to the early Christian church (2 Peter 3.9). We may still wait for God to act, want him to bring his city to earth, and build his highway to take us there. But God ‘is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but wanting all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3.9). God will bring his city, will bring his rule to earth at an unexpected time of his choosing: a time when ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed’, a time when ‘everything that is done on earth is disclosed’, Peter assures his readers. In the strength that promise, ‘we wait for a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness is at home’ (2 Peter 3.13).

As they yearn for the coming of God’s new heaven and new earth among them, Peter exhorts his readers to use their time of waiting wisely: ‘while you are waiting, strive to be at peace, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation’ (2 Peter 3.14-15). When God brings in his rule of righteousness, there will be no more room for injustice, Peter explains. Earlier in the chapter, Peter spoke of the fate of those who act against God’s rule of love: they are ‘stored up for fire, are kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly’ (2 Peter 3.7). God’s people will be vindicated on the day God levels the mountains and lifts the plains, and finally reveals the highway to his city: ‘the Lord God comes with might, his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him’, our first lesson put it (Isaiah 40.10). Until that day, however, God places into our hearts that yearning desire for a world of justice and care for those who are oppressed; a world where the hungry are fed as by a shepherd, and the vulnerable gathered like lambs in the shepherd’s arms (Isaiah 40.41). Until that day, God teaches us patience, so that we may bring many to share our yearning for God’s values to shape the world we live in today.

When he reveals his glory, God will break all injustice, and restore the rights of those brought low, our readings assure us; if needs be he will do so by bringing in a new creation altogether. At the same time our readings assure us that God does not wish to bring destruction to the people he made: he does ‘not want any to perish, but rather wants all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3.9), ‘so that he may be merciful to all’ (Romans 11.32). And in doing so, God relies on us, the people of each generation who heard and believed his word, to assure others that his promise is certain: the promise of a future where all can know and be known by God; the promise of a world where righteousness is at home. This promise is both for our future—a time when God’s glory will be revealed to all people in his kingdom of justice and peace—and for now—a time when many neither know justice nor peace. At the end of time, it will be God who will ‘come with might’, bringing reward and recompense, bringing justice and peace, care and comfort for his people. Until that day, however, it is you and I who are called to show forth, through our actions, the values of God’s rule in own generation.

Here at St Paul’s we believe that this Cathedral can be a place where the transformative message of God’s kingdom can be made visible for our City, Diocese and Province. We believe that by living out the values of God’s kingdom we can be a place where people can find and nurture their own ‘highways to Zion’, their own pathways to God’s rule. We do so through our ministry of prayer: when we pray each day for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven; for God’s people to be given their daily bread; when we pray that God would forgive our sins, and in turn commit ourselves to live by the way of forgiveness and mercy. We do so through our ministry of welcome: welcoming those who increasingly know no welcome in this country, working for and with migrants and refugees in the heart of our state capital. We do so by sharing our conviction that God gives us a future, and by inviting others to put their trust in our hope. We do so by caring for the physical environment around us, and ensuring that generations yet to come will enjoy grass and flowers, mountains and valleys, and God’s breath blowing over them. We do so by inviting others to belong and find their home here in this church, and to know it to be a place where ‘the highway for our God’ can be found.

As we celebrate our belonging together and our joint ministry as Christians in this Province of Victoria, I invite you to share with us who worship and work at your home church in Melbourne’s CBD in being heralds of good tidings to those who may not yet know God’s good news; the good news that God gives us a kingdom and a future, that he assures us that our penalty has been paid in his Son Jesus Christ. The good news that he seeks to be ‘merciful to all people’ and that, as a token of this promise, he inscribes in the hearts of all who love him the map to this kingdom of peace and justice, reveals to us the ‘highways to Zion’.

Breaking down the walls that divide us


In the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, there is a small chapel, bare except for a large piece of rock.  A piece of rock that’s split straight through the middle.  The chapel is right underneath the place where Christians believe that Jesus was crucified.  The rock is the part of the bedrock on which the cross may have stood. That empty place is called the chapel of Adam.  It is named for the person that embodies all human beings.

This chapel is empty.  You’d miss it, if no-one told you it was there, walk past it because it only contains the bare rock of Calvary.  That is all there is, in the chapel of the father of the human race.  For me, that empty place is a strong reminder of how the power of Christ’s crucifixion has broken down the barrier between God and man, literally by splitting the bedrock of Calvary.

In this morning’s psalm—Psalm 51—the psalmist speaks with passion of that barrier that once separated man from God.  He describes his life that is lived apart from God, a life that to him is full of guilt that stands, dark and threatening, like a wall between the writer and God.  So deep is his feeling of guilt that the writer asks God to turn his gaze from his sinful life (51.9).  And yet, although he knows himself far from God, the writer still knows that God is inextricably linked to his own story, knows that ‘God desires truth in the inward parts’ (51.5).

At the same time, he also speaks of the profound realisation that there can be a way out for those who find themselves far away from the love of God: ‘I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me’, the psalmist prays (51.3).  Where we confess our sins, there is a way back to God; where we seek God’s help, there life and spirit can be renewed, the psalm singer has experienced.

And all that follows is God’s work: beyond confessing that he stands in need of God’s healing, there is nothing more the psalmist can do himself to improve his lot.  God does not desire sacrifices for sins, the psalmist knows, ‘for else he would give it to him’ (51.16).  God does not delight in burnt offerings for sins, either.  Rather, ‘the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit’, the acknowledgement of human sin, in the certain hope that God will pardon, the psalmist proclaims (51.15-17).

For me one of the most striking features of the chapel of Adam in the Holy Sepulchre is the fact that there you can see the bare bedrock on which the cross of Jesus is said to have stood.  Centuries later, it is still split in half.  For at the moment of Christ’s death the very rocks that supported the cross were split, we read in St Matthew’s account of the Passion.  Just as the curtain before the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple—the barrier that kept apart the sacred and the sinful—was rent asunder, so the ‘rock of ages’ was cleft for us, and remains there in Adam’s chapel as a visible reminder of our salvation.

At the moment of Christ’s death, the wall of separation, that dark wall of depression and guilt, came tumbling down, and a new relationship between God and man came into being.  A way of life that is based on our understanding that in the face of sin we are frail and helpless without God.  A way of life that is framed by the words of confession prayed by our psalmist—‘I acknowledge my transgressions’—the very words that stand at the beginning of the way to forgiveness.  A way of life that promises new hearts and spirits made new to those who acknowledge their sinfulness and seek God’s friendship.  A way of life that encourages us to become people who trust the saving work of Christ, people who know that it is in turning away from sin and believing the gospel, that we are made whole.

Photo credit: Wikimedia, The Chapel of Adam