Sermon preached on the Sunday before Lent (15 February 2015) by the Reverend Prebendary Duncan Ross

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Sermon preached on the Sunday before Lent (15 February 2015) by the Reverend Prebendary Duncan Ross

The Reverend Prebendary Duncan Ross talks about the challenges we face at Lent and says: "Lent is not just about us and our failings, but about daring to open ourselves to the living God."

This morning we have just heard of a remarkable face to face encounter, unique in the Bible, in that reading from Exodus.

Set in the remote heights of Sinai, a mortal being, Moses, is called to stand before the searing, terrifying Presence of the Lord of hosts. And he survives such a traumatic, testing time of forty days and forty nights, during which a lasting Covenant is made, forged in devouring fire, between Jehovah and the people of Israel, a Covenant which we still honour alongside the New Covenant of our faith.

Today, we also stand just two days from the start of another forty days and forty nights - the sacred season of Lent, echoing that other ‘Forty days and forty nights,’ the time of trial and testing of Jesus in the wilderness perhaps 1400 or 1500 years after Moses Newly baptised, Jesus prepares Himself for the way ahead.

We find Jesus wrestling with the choices which lay open to Him off how to fulfil His task to be His true self and choosing a way that would lead to the Cross and also to Resurrection. For Jesus, the desert was the place of testing, haunted by wild beasts and demons and delirium and dangers of many kinds as He faced the choice of an easy way or His Father’s Way.

In the season of Lent we too face a choice, and a challenge, truly to follow Jesus, or to go our own way; a challenge to face up to ourselves, to examine and, perhaps, to recalibrate our lives, to live them for Christ and with Christ and in Christ. Or not. Not in the wilderness of Judea but in the familiar place of our everyday life.

But we live busy lives, full and distracted lives, we are always on the run. And we know it isn’t going to happen, unless take time out, to stop, to turn about, to face up and to reflect on our life, maybe in a place beyond our comfort zone. And if we mean business, this holy season of Lent could provide just the opportunity we need.

But what kind of Lent will we lead? There is a ‘tabloid’ version of Lent, we know where the struggle could be … against the demons of chocolate, or chips or alcohol or bad habits or addiction to Facebook or Twitter or wherever our weakness lies. Don’t get me wrong! All of these are things that many of us do need to struggle with. But, the real question is, why? To what end?

If, when Easter comes we breathe a sigh of relief and then guzzle and feast and tap and click ourselves back to normal with no lasting legacy of Lent was that a true Lent? What is a true Lent?

The clue to Lent lies surely in its very name, with roots buried in the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘springtime’. Lent is a time to grow and not to be punished. A time to become more faithful disciples of Christ – mindful that the very word ‘disciple’ is close kin to the word,’ discipline’.

Yes! Testing, self-denial even, but not to show how sinful we are (we know that all too well!) but to lead us into a springtime of the Spirit, which may mean taking things on for Lent – good and self-affirming things - and not just giving things up! Lent is not primarily a time for muscular Christianity; something WE do, but rather something we allow GOD to do and to achieve in us.

In that other encounter in the wilderness - that of Moses in the living Presence of God, it was out of that encounter that the Covenant, the Life Plan of God’s people, could be forged. For Jesus, it is only because He lived constantly in the Presence of His Father that He could face the demons and live out His destiny. It is the saving Face of GOD we seek in Lent, and not our own smudged features glimpsed in a mirror of judgement.

And so Lent is not just about us and our failings, but about daring to open ourselves to the living God; to be mindful of His constant and faithful Presence to listen, to attend, to worship, to make the sacrifices He asks, not just of chocolate or of bad habits, but of pardon and forgiveness, of reconciliation and self-giving, of allowing God to open clenched hands and clenched hearts.

And this is not just a personal or private affair. The toxic effects of personal dysfunction ripple out to infect and to feed into so many of the ills of our world, as we see in the tragedies of Paris and, today, in Copenhagen and elsewhere, grieving God’s heart and our own hearts. We do this for more than just ourselves.

I want to end with the well-known words of the 17th century poet and priest Robert Herrick. In 1648 he published Hesperides, a collection of his poetry, in which appear these words entitled:
To keep a true Lent:

Is this a Fast? To keep the larder leane? And cleane? From fat. Of Veales and Sheep? Is it to quit the dish of Flesh? Yet still to fill the platter high with fish? Is it to fast an houre? Or rag’d go? Or show a down-cast look and sour? No:

‘Tis a fast. To dole thy sheaf of wheat and meat. Unto the hungry soule. It is to fast from strife. From old debate and hate. To circumcise thy life. To shew a heart grief-rent. To starve thy sin. Not Bin!
And that’s to keep thy Lent. Amen.

Let us pray:
Loving and gracious God.
We rejoice that you call us into your life-giving Presence, that in the Death and Resurrection of your Son, Jesus, you have sealed with us a self-giving Covenant of love.
As we approach this holy season of Lent may it be for us a Springtime of the Spirit, a time of growth & grace. Of discipleship & discipline. Of commitment & of re-commitment.
Walk with us on this sacred journey not in pillars of cloud and fire. But in the transforming silent Flame of the Spirit.
For you are our faithful and loving God most High, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.