I suspect that many of us have whiled away time on a long car journey, or in some other context, playing ‘word association’ You know that game when someone suggests a word and then you have to respond by saying the first word that comes to mind.
Let’s play now and the word that I am giving you is Lent………….
Thank you for your Lenten words. The word I would like to offer you is gift. Lent is God’s gift to us of a period of time, forty days, to reflect deeply on our faith, so that we grow in faith. As with all good gifts the onus is on us, the recipients, to cherish the gift and use it wisely. We need to start by recognising that we haven’t earned the gift, we have simply been given, or graced, it. This simple act of recognition and grateful receipt marks the beginning of our growth in humility.
My simple encouragement to you this week is that you use the gift of Lent wisely and lovingly.
During Lent we are providing various tools to help enrich your faith. There is of course the Lent talks and discussions, please do come along. Then there is the tool that you will be given at the end of this service which might help you think about discipleship more deeply. Finally we are producing each week, during Lent, a card which includes a quote, a bible passage and a prayer to help you meditate and reflect on some of Christianity’s big motifs. This week we start with denial, before moving on to lamentation and reconciliation.
I want to encourage you to use Lent wisely for one simple reason: the world needs more and better Christians. Lent is an opportunity to enrich your faith grow in holiness and to become a better Christian. Go for it!
The fruit of a Lent well spent, will, I think, be more love for God and more love for each other. A Lent well spent will find its fulfilment in the ability to obey the greatest of commandments: loving God with all of our being and loving our neighbour as ourselves. The Old Testament reading and the epistle both point towards this outcome.
In Deuteronomy we read that after a period of trial the Israelites ‘will bow down before the Lord your God, then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house,’ whilst in the epistle to the Romans we are told that salvation is truly for all, for ‘there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.’ The point is not to erase our temporal differences, as though they don’t matter, but to hold them together, in Christ. Christ is the chalice in which the dignity of difference is held. Lent, therefore, invites us to accept the radical proposition that all are truly equal in God’s eyes. Lent challenges each and every preconception we might hold of what neighbourliness means.
In many ways today’s gospel reading – the temptations of Christ – can be read as an invitation to self aggrandisement and the abuse of power. Satan who is depicted as the self-styled Lord of the World offers to give Jesus any amount of worldly riches, power and authority if he will only worship him. He also seeks to tempt Jesus into using his Divine gifts for purely selfish ends: the satisfaction of his own hungers. Satan, you see, has recognised something very different and highly dangerous about Jesus. He has recognised that, unless he can stop it, Jesus is going to offer an entirely new way of doing religion: an incarnational way, and a way that invites intimacy and love. Intimacy and love with God, intimacy and love with our neighbours, whoever they are, and wherever they are from.
Satan the Lord of the World’s power is contingent on idolatry, selfishness and division. Jesus’ power and authority, which is the same power and authority given to the church is, by contrast, vested in humility, intimacy, service and love, where all of these are the practical out workings of true worship.
Lent is the gift of a period of time, forty days, to grow in humility, intimacy, service and love; these are just some of the words I associate with Lent.
Lent is the period of time given to us to grow in holiness so that come Easter Day we really do love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and strength and our neighbour as ourselves.
Go for it!