Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent
On Ash Wednesday I spoke about the fact that our hearts can themselves often be battlegrounds between our desires. Between the desire to do the thing we should do, and the thing we want to do but know we shouldn’t. Often, even, the very thing we hate, as Paul says.
But our hearts are also places of conflict between hope and fear. Between faith and despair. Between trust and distrust.
We know we are meant to trust in God and His provision for us, but too often, contrary to the Gospel we heard on Ash Wednesday we find ourselves storing up for ourselves earthly treasures, rather than heavenly. We know on some level that we trust God will care for us, yet in the time of trial and trouble we worry as if we didn’t know God at all.
This is true in the church, too, especially now.
A grim report that was released to the Anglican Church of Canada a few years ago, and one which I shared with the Parish, stated that given our current trajectory, by 2040, there will not be any Anglicans left in Canada.
Now, don’t fear too much since this is only true statistically and not realistically. Should I live another 16 years then I suspect there will be at least one Anglican left in Canada. Yet, the report highlights for the whole church the urgency of our current situation and the need to remind ourselves of our calling as disciples –to spread the good news of the Gospel – and our calling as a Parish – to be a vehicle that enables us to live out our calling as disciples.
It’s a great temptation to which we often give in, to look around at our churches and see only who isn’t here. We give in to fear and we fret, worrying about our lack of money, of people, and what isn’t happening, rather than paying attention to what is and what could be, about the ways that God is blessing us even today.
Lent is a time to be thinking about temptations, as our Gospel highlights today.
It’s a time to face our temptations and to challenge them.
Lent is a good time to admit to and face our failures and our burdens, because this is how repentance begins, how we begin to turn around, which is all repent means, from sin to virtue, from fear and despair to hope.
In Lent we hear that word sin often, we hear the penitential words of Ash Wednesday in our services that call us to turn from our sin, our wretchedness – or brokenness – and seek to be renewed in mind and spirit.
Unfortunately, sin gets pigeonholed in our mind. When we think of sin we often think only of the bad things we do – lying, stealing, cursing our neighbour, etc. But I think that sin encompasses so much more; it is those things we do that separate us from God either because they are acts that are not loving towards neighbour or not loving towards God, but tied up with sin is also our weakness and brokenness.
The contrariness of Lent is that while it feels like something that is trying to drag us down to feel awful about ourselves, it is actually a season of profound joy.
There is nothing in this world that we should think about or look at apart from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. In that moment of sacrifice, in his resurrection, he overcame death and the powers of hell so that they would not rule over us.
This means, in brief, that the worst parts of us, of the world – the sin, greed, evil and domination that drives the conflict in the streets of Mariupol, Kherson, or Kyiv, and that is behind the conflicts within our own hearts, our own weakness, frailty, and brokenness – are not who we truly are, and are certainly not the end of our story when viewed in the light of Christ’s triumph.
Far from being a time to mope and feel ashamed of your brokenness, Lent is a time to recall that through Jesus you have already been saved from it. Lent is simply a time in which we try to repent, to turn back to Jesus, and to remember this fact and rejoice in it.
The reason we fast, the reason we deck the church in purple, is because sometimes our hearts, our minds, or bodies, need a little help in making that turn around. Sometimes we become so accustomed to facing in one direction, so accustomed to being fearful about the future of the church or the future of our lives that we need something extra to shake us free and turn us around. A good reason why one might give up the news for Lent.
I learned a new word recently – doomscrolling – a word that describes what is almost an addiction to reading foreboding, sad, and sensational news articles. Spend a day reading headlines from Ukraine and seeing images and videos of bodies, blown up tanks, and destroyed apartment blocks and you too will find it hard to live in hope and not fear. We look at the church and do the same thing.
Jesus is faced with temptations today in the Gospel. After his baptism he is led into the wilderness to fast for 40 days, but there is assailed by Satan himself who goads Jesus to do that very thing that is at the heart of every human sin.
All of the devil’s temptations to Jesus, and all the devil’s temptations to us are fundamentally the same – they are the temptation to trust in ourselves more than God; to yield to our fear and our worry more than our faith and our trust that even in the midst of trial and calamity, God is with us.
The temptation is to truly believe that we are broken and unable to be fixed. Sick, and unable to be healed.
Today is the day of our Annual Parish Meeting, and last week we gathered for our Annual Church Meetings, meetings that I think offered a lot of hope for us.
We are tempted in the church – even in our parish – to live in fear. We are tempted to see only what we don’t have; to fixate on the future not in a hopeful but in a fearful way.
We are tempted to look at our purpose as consumeristic, talking about how we can get more people through the doors in the way that Sobeys talks about attracting customers, forgetting that we aren’t here to sell potatoes, we are here to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection for us and friendship with us.
The urgency in the church now, and what I highlight in my Annual Report, is that we must remember, above all things, that we are a church, and that our main goal is not to become more attractive to consumers or to be a property management company, however noble and necessary those tasks may be, it is to be disciples making disciples.
There is also an urgency for us to know this in our own hearts as well. This is why lent calls us to repent: because it is so easy to forget who we are and what we are – beloved children made in his image, created to Love Him and to bring others to love Him.
Knowing this and living this is balm for our wounds, it is what we come to know most fully when we repent and seek forgiveness for our sins and healing for our brokenness. May we all undertake the daunting task of repentance and healing this Lent.