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Thornbury Parish


Palm Sunday 2019

Usually we don’t have a sermon at this service but this year as an exception I am going to speak - just because its a Benefice service and, well, it’s my last one with you so my last chance to speak the faith with you!

Also because there’s something I want to say, something important. the message is this, its simple: our God is a god of change, or transformation, of resurrection. Change is at the heart of our gospel, actually. No-one and no situation was ever transformed without changing.

Now this is not what many Christians would think about God. Mostly we want to think of God as unchanging; a rock, stable, secure, reliable, trustworthy, and of course those things are all true.

You know that old hymn - Abide with me - it can be misleading: ‘change and decay in all around I see;

thou who changest not, abide with me’.

Think carefully about what it means.

Plenty of change and decay in the world around of course - along with wonderful changes of new life, which we see in the springtime all around us, if your eyes are even half open we can’t help seeing the miracle of beautiful multifarious new life springing out of apparently dead earth. Change is built into the DNA of our planet, not to mention the universe. Nothing stands still.

But God who changes not? No. If we sat down for a Bible study I could show you a dozen places in Scripture where God changes. Where God repents, even, relents him of the evil, withdraws an intention.

Remember Isaiah shouting out on behalf of God, ‘Behold I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’

God is not stuck in concrete.

There is a constant, of course, behind it all; and the constant is love. But love responds differently in every different context, and on the receiving end, where we are, that may not feel constant at all, it may often feel very changeable. Putting it very simply, Love means yes on one occasion and no on another, and that doesn’t feel like the same thing. What is best for us, what love deeply longs for us, changes over time and circumstances.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, was he praying for everything to stay the same? Cheering crowds…adulation…recognition…Was he expecting that to continue? Hardly. The shouts of ‘hosanna’ would soon change to ‘crucify him’. The coats laid down on the road would turn into his own clothes being stripped off his back. His living breathing body would hang on the cross and expire. Within the week. And was he trying to avoid all this change? Was he trying to hold it back? No. He was riding with purpose, determination, intention, into Jerusalem the very city where he would have known full well all this awaited him.

And of course it wasn’t a death wish. We could even call it a resurrection wish. When Jesus rose from the dead it was the biggest change you could - well, I was going to say the biggest change you could imagine, but actually no-one could possibly have imagined that, it broke the bounds of imagination. But this is what God did. God took death and turned it into life. What a change that is! And that is the kind of God that we worship.

So…we are thinking of this in the context of this year’s celebrations of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, Holy Week and Easter. There is a national subtext as well, which I won’t speak about today. But the local subtext is about what is happening to us all here in the Benefice. A small change; very small indeed; a change of Vicar. A change of job for me. These things raise anxiety. I have been so touched by many people saying how much I will be missed, or even saying ‘what shall we do without you?’. Change is hard to cope with.

But change, for those who follow the Way of Christ, change is not an option. It’s not a choice that we can choose or reject. It’s in the package. It’s an essential and fundamental part of our faith. We are Easter people, children of the resurrection, we follow a God whose will is to transform us, not to keep us the same. Whose love calls us into ever new things. There are new adventures with God ahead for us all, unknown ones. When you pray about this, don’t pray for things to stay the same. For no change. Pray for transformation,.

In my beloved Narnia books which you are probably tired of me quoting, there is a point where the children and the Narnian King are facing almost certain death when they come out of hiding. They gather together their courage, and prepare to go, and the King says ‘Let us go, and take whatever adventure Aslan sends us’. And of course it wasn’t death that they met - it was new life.

So let’s you and I hear God saying to us,  ‘Behold I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’.