Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—Lent 1

Notes for a More Coherent Sermon                                                                                                                                                      Sunday, March 13, 2011
Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave., Toronto
11:00 a.m.

FIRST LESSON

2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 10

We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”) Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

GOSPEL OF THE DAY:

Matthew 4: 1 – 10

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.  And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.

And when the tempter came to him, he said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”

But he answered and said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.”

Jesus said unto him, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”

Then saith Jesus unto him, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

The church calendar has brought us to a new season—a time of reflection and contemplation. We are being encouraged to look at ourselves and our own long faith journeys. But Lent isn’t only a time of thought; it is a time when we are encouraged to make an effort to change the way we live in the world, to put aside the habits and rituals that weigh us down and interfere in our relationships with God and with one another. In the language of the intellectual world of my youth, Lent is Praxis time—we act in the world, take to time learn from our actions and then reengage in the world with renewed understanding. The seasons of the church year lead us through this process and most clearly during Lent.

One specific Lenten tradition is fasting—putting aside for 40 days drinking or chocolate, watching television, surfing the internet, evening meetings—putting aside behaviour and practices that have become dominant in one’s life, liberating one’s self from self imposed chains. It is not a time for proud exhortations and public displays of piety, but quiet steps towards a freer, more joyful life for ourselves and for all who share in creation.

For us, fasting has a social and political component. On a personal level, we seek to cease being dominated by the barriers we have raised between us and a good life. On a communal level, we seek to bring down the barriers that others have in their ability to live a rich and full life. Our fasting includes feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless as well as changing personal habits. It is a faith practice that changes our personal lives and the quality of life for everyone.
Even on a quiet and personal note, our fasting can lead to a new life for others. If we give up chocolate, for example, during Lent we could spend time reflecting on the source of chocolate, on the quality of life of those that produce the commodity. When Lent is over, we might then start eating chocolate again but this time only fair trade chocolate. During Lent we can prove to ourselves that the world doesn’t have complete power over us and devote time to consider what impact on the world on faith could and should have.

The gospel today challenges us to listen to the voices around us that offer us good things in return for renouncing our freedom, through turning away from our relationship with God. The world offers us easy solutions, from credit cards to Facebook friends, to address personal problems and to lead us away from a truly liberating life. The temptations Jesus faced—to exploit the natural world for personal gain, to tempt fate, to gain power over others rather build community—are not temptations foreign to us. We don’t face them in the midst of a 40 day vision quest, but in the midst of our daily lives. Temptations to take the easy way abound. We are often challenged to do things that distract us from building a better life for ourselves and for others. Our divine GPS unit shows us where to go, but we get prompts to try a different way that distracts us from our desired destination.

The global Christian community is walking from Bethlehem to Calvary. We are learning about the nature of the world our creator intends us to have; we are being exposed to doubt and temptation and selfless love and unending generosity. It is a hard journey, with a cruel end. It is also a peaceful journey filled with hope and abundant possibilities.

We know that the Lenten journey ends at Calvary but we also know that the world begins anew on Easter Monday. This isn’t a time to build a reputation for somber piety but to show in our normal lives that we are a positive presence in the world. It is a time to pay close attention to what is around us, to what we are being tempted to do, while seeking to be open to the possibilities freely offered us by our creator, grace offered without trickery or traps.

We might use the time of Lent to read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain, Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness, The Little Flowers of St. Francis or Saint John of the Cross’s The Dark Night of the Soul. Lent is a time to learn from others, to think about the way they responded to a call to a faithful life.  By giving up some of the distractions of life, we may finally have the time to think more seriously about faith and the way others have responded to personal spiritual needs and our shared communal responsibilities.

We might also use Lent to practice new ways of living out our faith, experimenting with the practicalities of evangelization by deed. We might finally take part in a weekend prayer retreat or take a poverty plunge, finally start volunteering at a food bank or working with a community literacy agency. We may change to a 100 mile diet or learn to put on a sweater instead of turning up the thermostat. Lent can be time a time to make cookies together with your family instead of continuing to wander aimlessly in every widening and ever fragmenting circles.

We are constantly finding new information, but don’t always take the time to make sense of it. There are always demands on our time, but we rarely take the opportunity to consider how important any demand really is. In Lent we are asked to think more seriously about ourselves and our world and then act upon the results of our reflection. We are to be prepared to move into the light on the far side of Calvary.

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