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Sermon for Lent 4 Year C Evening Prayer Manasseh

February 19, 2016

ManassehI have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Words from our second lesson.

In the name…..

As a teenager, I was very impressed by my school chaplain: a quiet, holy Anglo-Catholic priest, a good listener. I was horrified to learn that he had a brain haemorrhage after a mere couple of weeks in a new parish, in a city and a hospital where nobody knew him. It changed his behaviour: swearing at people, making obscene suggestions to female nurses, anyone would think he was a dirty old man. Luckily, God knows all of us inside out. He judges us according to our whole lives, not just parts we cannot help.

You might have wondered, as the first lesson was announced because the Prayer of Manasseh isn’t in your pew Bibles. It comes from what is known as the Apocrypha: purged from scripture by Protestants but still retained by Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans.

The second book of Kings rates Manasseh as the worst of all the Judean kings. It blames him for the fall of Jerusalem. He reigned in the Seventh Century BCE for fifty-five years. A long reign was seen as an indication of God’s favour but not for Manasseh. His father, Hezekiah, was renowned as a great and pious king. 2 Kings 18:3-6 claims, “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.” because he instituted great reforms within the country, purging idolatry and foreign gods. However, he began bribing the Babylonians, to avoid the same fate as the northern kingdom being exiled. He ended his reign having to strip all the gold and silver out of the temple. So he started off good and finished bad.

Manasseh was his only son, aged only twelve when he came to the throne. The people of Judah were convinced that things were bad precisely because of Hezekiah’s reforms. They clamoured to go back to the old ways – the idolatry and foreign gods so Manasseh gave them what they wanted and restored the paraphernalia, the high places, the Asherah poles, and the worship of Baal. There is even a hint that he dabbled in human sacrifice and black magic. 2 Kings 21:16 states: “Manasseh shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from one end to another.” He killed the prophets who opposed his “reforms.” Legend also has it that he was responsible for the death of Isaiah – by sawing him in two.

So much for 2 Kings that leaves out alternative views. The author of Chronicles has quite a different view of Manasseh. The list of offenses is pretty much the same but the Chronicler states that the Lord spoke to both Manasseh and the people about repenting for their many sins. They ignored that warning. ‘So the Lord sent a contingency from Assyria to capture Manasseh and take him to Babylon in chains (actually with a nose hook) and shackles’ 2 Chron. 33:11ff Knowing that he was in big trouble, Manasseh prayed for help. This is the prayer that we had in our first lesson. God heard and forgave him. Manasseh was restored to his throne in Jerusalem

He rebuilt the city walls, removed all the pagan idols from the temple, and restored sacrificial worship. His father started off good and ended up bad. Manasseh started off bad and finished good.

Manasseh, then, is a model of repentance and a recipient of God’s great mercy. If God can forgive someone as evil as Manasseh, he can forgive anyone. God is God to all, not just to those who are righteous. What matters most in God’s eyes is how well we live the whole of our lives, not how well we started or finished it.

That may be true of governments too, as we get ready to vote in a general election.

Like Paul, Manasseh could say: I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

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