Sermon for Lent 3 (living with the label?)

Lent 3 Yr C 2016
Today’s readings create in me an interesting mix of emotions.
I can understand why we have them on the third Sunday in Lent… they seem to speak of repentance, they could be seen to speak of “punishment” and some might also see destruction in them too.
But as we have been discovering over recent weeks this can be dangerous territory for us, and we enter into this territory with a serious health warning once again.
Someone did say to me the other day that in my position as “preacher” I should be bringing to the fore the awareness of good mental health, especially because of my dual role in this community… I hope at least from time to time I am able to do this, and today I do certainly want to offer warnings about going overboard on self-reflection and self-criticism, at the expense of being able to see love and acceptance in our lives.
Our society seems to nudge us so much I the direction of thinking that we must surely belong in one category or another… labels are easily attached to every person and many are not at all helpful to either the person or us who get tempted to work with them.
Did you know she is an alcoholic? It’s a pity she had a baby when she was just sixteen. My mother in law!, He was sexually abused you know…. That’s the place where the professionals hang out, you can tell by the prices they pay…. It’s is full of druggys , you would not want to love there, Are you a churchgoer?…..Are just some of the things I have heard this very week when speaking about others.
In our epistle today the one phrase that stood out for me was “as some of them did”. (It was repeated many times)
Paul seems to work with labels here and I do not find this helpful or even in line with other things he says elsewhere about the Christian gospel of being one body with many differences, and how we are all invited to share in the Lord’s Supper.
Paul is warning his readers not to do such and such… as some of them did… and should we fall into this category then destruction could ensue….. scary stuff indeed and such attitudes could cause some people to simply give up and even to give up on life.
How we work with labels, both labels we may put on others, or indeed labels that we might feel like putting on ourselves, is well worth giving time to ponder. In either case they may not actually be helpful.
On the other hand Luke’s parable of the fig tree is more helpful as here we see the gardener (God we are led to believe) giving special caring attention to the “tree” (person) that is failing in some way.
There are certainly times that I have been grateful if that extra caring attention given by God when I have become aware of my own many failings and wounds.
Strangely perhaps however we have to go to the Old Testament reading to find the greatest acceptance and invitation to God.
“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, … you who have no money… come buy and eat….Incline your ear and come to me.. listen so that you may live…”
These phrases sum up for Isaiah the nature of God as he calls his people to be alongside him in calling the world to live whole lives.
It is hard sometimes to put aside the label we have given people. Sometimes we might even feel that they have earned it. Sometimes we might feel they have given themselves it…. Nevertheless it is important to cast the label aside and to see the invitation of God equally to ourselves as to those to whom labels stick.
“my story” is so amazingly different to “your story”… I cannot really begin to let you into what my story might be, and I might even misunderstand or interpret what I think my story is… but I do want God to love me for whoever I am and I would dearly like the people who see themselves as God’s people to live like God in an embracing and accepting way.
Yesterday (at the parish day) some of us experienced the sense of God’s love and forgiveness washing over some of the things that pressed on our hearts, and as it did then opening us up more to the flowing grace of God.
Lent is a time of repentance and preparation for Easter. A time we may indeed experience dark nights and dark places on which the light will eventually shine.
Concluding poem by Kate Mcllhagga in the Green heart of the snowdrop (pg50)
Seeking harbour

As the grey wave
creeps on to the shore
and the sail limps
for port,
so, Lord, do I
seek harbour,
crawl into the circle
of your welcoming arms.

May I know your forgiveness.
Then may j. forgive
as you have forgiven

And now the blue comes flooding in, transforming sea and sky with light; the white wave tops
are bracelets of glory;
the sand
a new page
on which to write my story.