A Sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Psalm 32

Romans 5:12-21

Matthew 4:1-11

It was 1970, September, spring – the perfect time to set out on a journey. The plan was to hike into the mountains from the beautiful trout-stocked dam which supplied the town’s water, following the river course up into the thick rain forest, along the escarpment and then down through plantations into the little town before catching the train back home. With our stout boots, lemon-squeezer scout hats, walking staves and overloaded backpacks, nothing was going to stop us – four keen Boy Scouts out to prove a point – that they could navigate 80km of rough terrain, keep detailed logbooks, and emerge safe and sound at the other end (with not an adult in sight).

Lent is about a journey – the journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day. It’s about preparation, deciding what to take and what not to take. What is essential for daily living and what is best discarded and left behind. This year our Lent began with what was described in last week’s Sunday Mail as ‘one small step.’ That step was taken on Shrove Tuesday when, in the course of a moving and deeply poignant service, Archbishop Geoff placed his hand in blessing on a plaque containing the words of the formal Synod 2004 Apology to survivors of child sexual abuse perpetrated on vulnerable young people by members of the Church in the Diocese of Adelaide. Among many things, it was like the moment when, having eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve knew they were naked. The running and hiding had finally stopped, the pretending that nothing had happened, the cover-ups, the denials, the protection of the institution at all costs. ‘One small step’ it might have been for the newspaper editor, but for one survivor here last Tuesday night it was a giant leap.

What does one take on the journey? We spent weeks drawing up lists, chatting with more experienced hikers, laying out our clothes, bedding, pots and pans, and different bundles of food individually labelled for each meal of each day of the journey.

How do we plan for our Lenten journey? For some it will be a very intentional preparation for baptism and confirmation on Easter Day. For some it will be engaging in thought-provoking study and conversation in the company of others at our Lent Courses beginning tomorrow. For some it may be making the time next Wednesday afternoon to listen to two scholars – one Jewish the other Christian – talk about the Psalms, that great collection of songs spanning the whole gamut of human emotion. For some it may mean getting up a little earlier on a weekday morning to come to the 7.30am Eucharist in the Lady Chapel. For some it may be using the “Pray as you Go” App or any of the several similar offerings available on the internet. For some it may be getting hold of the Lent Study produced by two of Adelaide’s Anglican priests for the Anglican Board of Mission entitled, very appropriately for this sermon, “Where do we go from here?” https://www.abmission.org/resources.php?action=list-items&catId=28 Based around the Five Marks of Mission it is a study of the Book of Acts set in an Australian context.

We had several maps for our journey – and a compass. But, as it turned out, a fifteen year old needs a bit more than youthful enthusiasm and a compass to interpret a detailed topographical map of the terrain. Paths marked are not always paths walked. And sometimes, perhaps often, the longer route is actually the quicker way. We discovered this to our cost when, deciding the contour path looked too far, we cut across country and left the path to cross a deep and steep wood-covered valley. It wasn‘t all that straightforward. Was this the bottom of the valley? Which way to turn to get back on to the track? Oh for a signpost – a pillar of fire or cloud to guide us.

Our journey would, we hoped, only take us five days. Jesus’s journey in the wilderness took forty, with many trials along the way. That of the Israelites under the leadership of Moses took forty years. It’s on the journey, as one places one foot ahead of the next, hitching up the pack when it rubs, leaning against the stave to rest, or wiping away the sweat and flies, that one has time to think about the stories and learnings of the past. How do we make sense of the strongly metaphorical story of the serpent, the man, the woman and the fruit? Can one live by bread alone – what does that mean today? Eating only pizza and burgers? All they do is add extra weight to be carried. What can be shed?

On another hike in other mountains, two young university students struggled under the weight of their packs which seemed so much heavier than those of their companions. Lagging far behind the rest of the group, they eventually admitted they each had a six-pack of beer and bottle of whiskey in their luggage. Having learned the hard lesson of carrying extra and unnecessary weight they decided to do something about it. Yes, they emptied the bottles and cans – but not on to the ground! How their heads ached as the sun came up!!

Do we not learn anything from the scriptures – the teachings found in holy writ, the sermons preached, the conversations with older wiser people? What is needed to travel safely through this barren land? There’s time aplenty to muse on the Gospel stories during Lent – the parables Jesus told perhaps – the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep or Prodigal Son, the Sower with his abundant and profligate sowing of seed. Or, as we rest up for a few minutes, think of Jesus taking himself into the mountains to pray. When last did we do that – go away to pray? When last did we pray? Not just bringing a long shopping list to God – a sort of ‘please bless x, y and z and make the sick cat better’ prayer – but taking time to pray, deeply and meaningfully, the Lord’s Prayer with its opening words “Our Father in heaven”. The monthly Saturday morning meditation group may be worth considering, or the gentle music of a Taize service on Saturday night, or allowing Wednesday’s Evensong to wash over us, and wash away the stress of the day.

Songs are important when you’re in a group, having fun and stepping out bravely. Campfires and Gangshows were part of our bread and butter and we whistled and sang the familiar tunes and words. No different really to the ancient Hebrews who have bequeathed to us and all Christians their song book. Contained within those 150 Psalms – many of which were sung so beautifully and in quite different settings by the world’s finest choirs in this Cathedral yesterday – contained within those 150 Psalms is the broad span of human emotion. The deeply disturbing opening words of Psalm 22, uttered by Jesus on the cross – “My God, my God why…?” are followed in the very next psalm by that lovely image and idea of the Shepherd leading me beside still waters. It is said that on the night before an execution in South Africa’s Pretoria Central prison, the prisoners sang all night – bringing the only thing of comfort they could to their brother or sister about to be hanged. Many of those songs would have been psalms and hymns learned in church.

Among the songs those four intrepid, if at times foolish and overconfident, Boy Scouts sang, as they climbed out of the deep valleys and strode with renewed vigour towards the railway station and the end of their journey, was one from another land of valleys and hills. To the stirring and much-loved tune of Cwm Rhondda, William William’s words take us on a journey with Moses and the Israelites, with Jesus in the wilderness, with the abused and the abusers, with Adam and Eve, Simon Peter, Andrew, Mary and Martha and all the people of faith who have ever set out on the journey to the cross, uttering one of the only prayers that ever really matters.

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand: Bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore. Feed me now and evermore.