A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. My resolution for this Lent is ‘Not giving up anything for this Lent’. Last Lent, I gave up coffee and I was just miserable to be around, I must have been such a pain to Dean Frank and Canon Jenny Wilson.

While giving something up for Lent may be helpful for some, the problem for me is that it is approached in entirely wrong way, particularly, with an emphasis on duty which the Church requires us to do. 

And in one sense, that is not a terrible thing. I am not here to criticise someone who wants to giving up things, and I definitely think that there is an element to that in Lent. 

At the same time, fulfilling the duty can never be the END that we seek. It can’t be the primary goal of our spiritual lives, and it misses the reason for the suffering in the first place. 

As I said earlier, I gave up coffee during Lent last year, but I ate more ice-cream and chips. I had too much stress. New to the city, I am from small NZ, new to the hot weather, new to the job, 200 new people’ names to remember, new to the global pandemic. There is another drama last year during the Lent. I was not well in the morning because I ate too much ice-cream ( half a litre ) around the mid night when I was writing my sermon. I was not well. Next day I missed the morning Eucharist at 7:30 am, and missed the morning prayer at 8:45 am, and then didn’t take the rubbish bins out at 10 am. Then at 10:30 am, I received the text message from Frank. He asked me if I was ok and emphasised it was 10.30 am. I texted back by saying I was not well. Frank was very worried. He was wondering if this had anything to do with Covid 19. If this was the case, the Cathedral was forced to shut down. All the staffs would be self isolated. As you know, that is the very beginning of the Covid 19, we didn’t have lots of experience. I texted him more information in my next message. ‘Oh, Frank, nothing major and I was not well because I ate too much ice cream at the midnight. I had a lot of stress because I gave up coffee during this lent’. Dean Frank then relieved and texted me back, ‘Peter, please don’t give up anything’. 

I told my wife I was not going to give it up anything during this Lent, but she is still very ambitious to give up wine which is her favourite drink. I hope my life will not be too miserable. Pray for me. 

Lent is not an end in itself, it is not a stand alone season-its entire purpose is to prepare for Easter. When we go back to the very beginning, we see that Lent began, not as a general practice for all Christians, but as purification for people who preparing to be baptised at Easter. They engaged in fasting, prayers and almsgiving giving up things in their lives precisely because they wanted to live a new life. Eventually, the general population began to adopt the pratice out of solidarity with them, to help and encourage them, but the focus remained the same: to prepare for baptism, to renounce permanently those things that keep us from God, to become a better disciple. The purpose was never suffering in itself, it was never a mere forty-day test of will before we got everything back. The idea of giving something trivial up for a short period of time would have made no sense to early Christians. 

Lent is about preparing for the resurrection. What is it that’s preventing us from following Jesus with our whole hearts? What vices do we cling to that leaves us trapped in sin? What about our discipleship is lacking that could use a little focus? These should be the questions we ask ourselves today. This is what Lent is about. 

Now, does that almost inevitably mean giving something up in our lives? Of course. Does it require sacrifice? No doubt. But you see how the focus as changed? Instead of picking something like coffee, alcohol, to give up for its own sake or for the sake of suffering, what the Church asked us to fast is let deep hunger to emerge. What is our deepest hunger? We have a hunger for God, which is the deepest hunger. We’re meant to get access to that hunger. We’re meant to feel it so that it can direct us toward God. Every spiritual master recognizes the danger that if we allow the superficial hunger of our lives to dominate, we never reach the deepest hunger. 

In this sense, fasting and giving up things we love is a way of disciplining the hunger for food and drink. It is a way of quieting those desires by not responding to them immediately, so that the deepest desires emerge.

So brothers and sisters, don’t give up anything for this Lent, give up something for life. Look at the way we live, look at the things we spend our time doing, and compare it to the beatitudes, compare it to the life of Jesus. If Jesus were to walk up to us today, inviting us to follow after him. What would he require that we let go of? What in our lives are getting in the way of true discipleship? That is what we need to do this Lent. Forget about giving up chocolate or Facebook, or coffee, forget about giving up some small practice that won’t make a lasting difference in our lives. Focus our eyes on Jesus, look to the resurrection, and do what we got to do to be ready. For me this year, it means focus on a single word. Authentic. What about you? If I ask you to choose one word, what will it be? Amen.