O what a beautiful morning; the sun shines and the frost glistens. If only briefly, this morning I can look out onto a winter wonderland. There is, I am sure, much more winter to come. This morning, however, winter sun brightens up the day.
In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus was introduced as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). For most of us, lambs are cute, cuddly looking creatures; images of spring. Lambs are also vulnerable and for John, Jesus and their contemporaries; animals for sacrifice. If Jesus is the lamb of God, then this one image holds both new life and self-sacrifice.
But what is sin? In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Eve and Adam with the prospect of becoming like God (Genesis 3: 1-6). This, then, was sin; trying to cut God out of the action to go it alone. Sin, my dictionary tells me, is ‘transgression against divine law’. Divine law is not so much the catalogue of commandments, more the equation which holds all creation together. As King Cnut famously said to have demonstrated, you can’t hold back the tide.
From poverty and social discord to environmental collapse; we are increasingly aware that human activity is threatening not just our immediate wellbeing, but the whole created order on which we depend. Disconnected from divine law, we have lost our way. Now, by ignorance, weakness or deliberate fault; we are all contributing to the problem.
Genesis (Genesis 2:15) tells us that we are creation’s stewards, not owners; put in the garden of Eden by God to till it and keep it. As human society develops, we are also called to love our neighbours as ourselves. And so, after generations of messengers, prophets and teachers; God comes in person. We have celebrated his birth. Now, this Sunday, we will hear Matthew’s account of Jesus calling his first disciples. As the gospel unfolds, we will see the disciples learn God’s way of living. A slow, dare I say life-long, process begins. En route they will see God’s sacrificial self-giving (Good Friday), and see also new life (Easter).
The Scapegoat (Leviticus 16) symbolically carried the people’s sins away; cleaned the sheet. Scapegoats remain popular but do nothing to help us sin less in the future. Jesus’ call to discipleship is not only to wipe the slate clean, it is also the call to follow his example and live more closely to divine law, and less in our own wisdom – that is taking away sin.
Rev Philip Payne Epiphany 3
The Notice Sheet for 22nd January can be found here