A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 26th February 2023
In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.
Rowan Williams spoke these words about Lent:
Jesus in the desert … looks towards God and there’s nothing there that will solve a problem, nothing there that will sweep away all the questions. What there is is truth and love and patience and changeless welcome. In due course that will transform us, it will bring us to joy, it will make our problems … fade away. But first of all we have to get used to a new climate, we have to breathe a new air, … the air of the Holy Spirit … [we have to] get used to the idea of God quite different from what we expected and yet at the same time ringing bells with what we most care about and most deeply long for.
Jesus spends time in the desert breathing this new air, the air of the Holy Spirit, challenged, though, by the temptations meted out by the devil. When Jesus is about thirty years old, he comes to glimpse more clearly God’s vocation for him. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, baptises Jesus in the river Jordan and when he comes out of the water a dove appears from heaven and he hears God say “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” It seems that Jesus believes that this is his vocation, that the world, all humanity, all creation, hear these words. “You are my Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” That the world knows, and thrives, in the love and forgiveness of God. With God’s words ringing in his ears, with his vocation to bear this love named for him to all the world on his heart, the spirit leads him into the desert where he fasts for forty days and forty nights and where, when he is famished, the devil challenges him.
Surrounded by stones in this desert place, and overcome with hunger, he hears the devil say, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ Jesus knows that feeding the people will be part of sharing God’s love, but this temptation to cheat a little, is quickly rebuffed with the words of the scriptures that are close to his heart, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
As we know from all four gospel accounts, Jesus will feed crowds of many people and he will feed them from scarce resources, but it is not magic that enables this. When Jesus feeds, he loves the resources given to him into abundance. Taken, blessed, broken, given, just as we will experience this morning in our Eucharist, Jesus feeds through love.
The devil tries again. This time tempting Jesus to engage in a spectacle.
The devil takes him to the holy city and places him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”.
We know about Jesus being lifted up. Jesus will be lifted up to his death on a cross, and there he is challenged to ask God to deliver him. Jesus knows that there is only one way to show God’s love to the world and that is in dying there, proclaiming God’s forgiveness there, pouring our his love there and placing into God’s hands, his spirit. There is no spectacle. There is love poured out in utter pain, love for the redemption of the world.
The third temptation is the worst, really. To cut God out altogether.
Again, the devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he says to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
The word of God, the scriptures that have nurtured him his whole life, nurture Jesus at this time of temptation in the desert. And then he rests in the truth and love and patience and changeless welcome of the holy spirit of God. And finds there the strength to begin.
What of us? How shall we… looks towards God …finding that there’s nothing there that will solve a problem, nothing there that will sweep away all the questions. What are our temptations …do they match those experienced by Jesus… to cheat a little, to show off, to leave God out because loving God is just too difficult? Jesus in the desert … looks towards God and there’s nothing there that will solve a problem, nothing there that will sweep away all the questions. Finding though, that there is truth and love and patience and changeless welcome. Might this transform us, …bring us to joy, …make our problems … fade away? What of us this Lent?
Tradition has it that we take on three practices … the giving of alms, the taking on of a fast, and prayer.
In our Cathedral, we have, this Lent, set aside a place for almsgiving … at the back of the Cathedral on the righthand side as we enter the West Doors. We have cleared our beautiful notices into the narthex and we have a place to give money to the Cathedral, which we dearly need, and a place to give food to the many who come to the Magdalene Centre in great need for food and other essential items for their families. We have named this place our “Giving Area”. And when we three of us pondered this idea we remembered the story of the widow who quietly, privately, gave of what she had gave out of her love for the God who gave her life meaning and hope. And it might be that during Lent we pause there, like that widow, on our way into the Cathedral or as we leave, and that this is a place where we give with grace and generosity alms for the work of God in the church and in the world. This is one way that we might play a part in almsgiving as it has been known.
Our Archbishop wrote this about fasting:
Fasting with prayer has a rich history in the Christian church and was clearly part of the life of the earliest disciples of Jesus…There are many ways to fast, and many things we can fast from, and each person needs to work out what works for them given their age, health and situation. …The point of fasting with prayer is not to change God’s mind about something but to sharpen our awareness of God and our openness to God and to prompt us to pray.
As we explore what we might refrain from doing or consuming during Lent, we might remember Archbishop Geoff’s words:
The point of fasting with prayer is not to change God’s mind about something but to sharpen our awareness of God and our openness to God and to prompt us to pray.
And so to prayer…
I think it is about giving a little time. Looking towards God and finding ourselves in the midst of the presence of “truth and love and patience and changeless welcome” takes time. A little time each day if we can. Reading perhaps, sitting with a verse of scripture, listening to a reflection from a trusted spiritual leader, be it about contemplative prayer, or Ignatian prayer, be it about silent prayer or imaginative prayer. There will be a way for us, made just for us and God. If we give God a little time, we may find there what the theologian Karl Rahner described as “a presence, silent, but benevolent and peaceful.” The presence of God, who loves us, and as we face the temptations that address each human being as they addressed Jesus, will guide, and forgive us when we fail. Karl Rahner was writing about sitting with pain when he wrote those words. It may be that there is pain that calls out to us for our attention, pain that will only know healing if it is acknowledged, allowed in the kind company of God. It may be fear or worry or emptiness or grief… it may be joy and a sense of this time being where God has led us to be … and allowing that joy, that gracious thanks, that peace to have its time held in the love of God. For each of us it will be different.
I do think it is about giving a little time.
And as Rowan Williams writes:
In due course that will transform us, it will bring us to joy, it will make our problems … fade away. But first of all we have to get used to a new climate, we have to breathe a new air, … the air of the Holy Spirit … [we have to] get used to the idea of God quite different from what we expected and yet at the same time ringing bells with what we most care about and most deeply long for.
 #BigRead13: “Why study C.S.Lewis for Lent” with Rowan Williams YouTube video, 7.22.Jan 30, 2013. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1zBmmyVo0c>.