Sermon - 18th February 2018
Scripture - Luke 4:1-4
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Today, we mark the start of the Holy Season of Lent. Lent lavishes on us the grace and the space for ‘time out’ - time to reflect on the treasure that is our faith, time to reflect on our lives, to be still and to pray.
At the start of Lent, we hear the Bible account of Jesus, as we have done today: how, after His Baptism, He spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness, during which time He was tempted. We heard in our reading how Jesus denied Himself food, called fasting, and trusted in God’s word alone. During His time in the wilderness, we heard how He was tempted to take the easy way out: to satisfy His hunger; to gain earthly political power; and to test God, rather than to trust in God.
Have you ever wondered about the number 40? It occurs frequently in the Bible. Not including the 6 Sundays, Lent is forty days in length. The number 40 is a Hebrew code for the whole of one’s life. And so, it is for Jesus. The decision He made at His baptism rendered him publicly committed, just as our Baptism sets us apart for God to continue Jesus’ work today.
Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The name comes from the tradition stretching back to the second century of putting a small cross of ash on foreheads at Ash Wednesday church services. This is a sign of confession and helps us remember that we rely on God for forgiveness from our sins. The ash we use comes from burnt palm branches received in a previous Palm Sunday service. Today, on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday, we offer the opportunity to be marked with ash.
It is a tradition to give up things during Lent: for example, chocolate or alcohol. In the Orthodox tradition, many give up eating meat and animal products. Just as many New Year’s Resolutions are short-lived, how many Lenten resolutions are just as short-lived?
In 2017, Pope Francis had these challenging words to say at the start of Lent: “Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death… Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, He patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, He shows us His readiness to forgive.”
What will you give up for Lent? We finish with some further words from Pope Francis’s 2017 Lenten address, suggestions of things we might give up and how we might otherwise live.
- Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
- Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
- Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
- Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
- Fast from worries and trust in God.
- Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
- Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
- Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
- Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
- Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
- Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.