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Lent is about …

Sermon preached by James at Lent 1

‘Cause baby, there ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough,
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, baby

More on that later

Welcome to Lent. LENT is a focussed period of learning to draw closer to God.

We have three tools and one Gift

Lent is about Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving. – so its about our bodies and our souls and our wallets.

In Fasting we remember that we are body and soul and these two are connected.

So traditionally we might give up biscuits and alcohol – the Bishop last week told us about the one time he tried to give up Coffee for Lent.

And the sheer process of doing that reminds us that our souls and bodies are interconnected. We discover that we lack self-control over the simplest of silly things – if you do a fast well it should leave you feeling a little hopeless and helpless and in desperate need of God’s grace.

IF it leaves you feeling a bit smug, then you’ve got bigger problems.

WE have had a year of fasting – from Hugs, Travel, Congregational Singing, Holy Communion, seeing Faces – what more would you be adding to the list ….

So I would echo Derreck’s advice from ASH Wednesday sermon – be gentle with yourself regarding any extra fasting you plan to do.

Remember the aim of Lent, the aim of fasting, is to bring you closer to God.

And then note how 1st Peter 3 told us that Christ came to live and die ‘to bring you to God’.

In the Gospel we heard how Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the Desert, into the wilderness, and here’s an impromptu fast. He could rightly blame God, his Father for all of this. He could see it as a test, as an opportunity, as a training ground.

He could see it as utterly pointless waste of time.

Think of all the people he could have been healing during this wasted desert time.

But in the desert there’s no one to impress. There’s no one to boost the ego. And many of us feel as if we have been in a desert of sorts for a good deal more than 40 days. And that this has been wasted time, or that you’ve lost your way

Jesus has had this wonderful baptismal moment. Where he hears His Father saying “I am well pleased with you” the statement of unconditional love – the Father loves the Son and the Son hasn’t done anything – no teaching no miracles, nothing.

And we have had to learn that God loves you as a human being not a human doing. He loves you.

The Father loves the Son and then He sends the Son away.

Here in the wilderness Jesus is tempted by Satan – worn down by the Accuser – IF you are who you think you are – you’re no good at this – you’re not cut out for this saving people hero thing – you’re a rubbish Christian – you know the kind of thing.

So Jesus is driven Away into a pointless stupid waste of time in which Jesus must wrestle with who he is and what that means.

Perhaps not such a waste of time.

And we read how he was with the wild animals – I have no idea what that means – is that scary Ooh wild animals! Or is that good – to see the glory of God’s creation?

And comforted by Angels.

If you were one of the angels who got to go and comfort Jesus – what would you say?  –

“Trust me, this will turn out okay, you are loved, you are held, keep going”.  That’s what we would say.

I wonder if you’ve noticed any angels comforting you in this year of fasting?

So allow this time, this fast, to be your moment in the wilderness, and while you are there look out for – not only the temptations of the Devil – but also the wonder of God’s wild creation, and look out for Angels.

Lent is about making an effort to draw closer to God. Fasting is one tool. Prayer is another too.

If fasting is about rediscovering how our bodies and souls connect – and that explains why it’s so important to keep up your exercise routines.

Then Prayer – prayer is about expanding your heart, your soul. Its about connecting you to God, your creator and through God to all of Creation.

You know that prayer is working when your prayers start getting more painful, more personal, when your prayers start going further afield

and you’re praying for Stefan and Messy Church, for friends struggling Grief or with Covid19, when you find yourself praying in response to the news for the appalling tearful things we hear of every night, and for those places that seem in the eyes of mainstream media to be barely newsworthy like Syria.

And you know that prayer is working when you take time to receive.

 Allow God to hear your confession, allow God time to clean your conscience.

Allow yourself a moment to get lost in worship, lost in wonder love and praise.

We have learned to pray differently this year. Coming in to Church quietly to light a candle.

Buying a PC, joining Facebook – well done that’s a really brave thing to do.

BUT there have been times when In this sort of a wilderness, with this sort of fast, in this sort of a prayer we also become more aware of, how shall I put it?

When the shadow wins. When we fail, when we fall, when we go back to our sin – as Proverbs puts it like a dog returning to its vomit, as Job puts it as surely as a spark flies up. And again we feel that we have failed.

Its dispiriting and adds to our feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. And then we need a moment where we remember that we’re not alone.

Shame wants to insist upon it and constantly suggests yes we are alone.

So we struggle in prayer.

I was on the phone to a vicar, at the end of the conversation he said, ‘Well lets just pray about all that now’, and launched into a prayer. Gosh! Good for him, and thank you Lord. That was an angel to me in my wilderness.

Making an effort to connect – to pray with me on Facebook at 6pm every evening, to pop in here and light a candle, to do things on a daily basis that remind ourselves that we’re not alone. To allow angels to attend to us.

Lent is about drawing closer to God. Fasting is about drawing closer to God. Prayer is about drawing closer to God. And Almsgiving.

So If you give through the Parish Giving Scheme – PGS – then consider increasing your giving. IF you don’t give using PGS then please please have a closer look of it because it is key to our survival.

If you give in other ways then bless you and hear the call of Lent to review your giving. To give generously, to give sacrificially. If you’d like to know more about this then give me a call and I will see if I can help – probably better off at calling the office and having a chat with Charlie.

Almsgiving is the hardest of all of these spiritual practices – Fasting, Prayer yeah ok but Almsgiving?

The wallet is the last part of ourselves to get converted.

Odd isn’t it. Fasting – very spiritual. Prayer – very spiritual. Giving Money to the Church – remind me how is that Spiritual?

Remember Lent is about drawing closer to God. Almsgiving should be about drawing closer to God.

That might mean challenging you to let go of false gods, false forms of security.

But the sheer practice of putting your faith to work, of living out of the love and forgiveness and peace that you have received and so contributing to lightening the load, the burdens that others carry.

That in itself, that brings joy, it helps form our character.

I said at the beginning that we have 3 tools and 1 gift. Fasting Prayer Almsgiving – they are all tools for us to be using to draw closer to God. And the Gift. Well, that would be Jesus.

You heard in that first reading how Jesus descended to hell, – this is after Good Friday, this is Holy Saturday, Jesus descends to the imprisoned spirits – and there he made proclamation to them – (you should absolutely go back and listen to what Derreck preached at the 9.30am service on this)

I just want to point to the depths that Jesus will go to to bring you home.

That Proclamation wasn’t an empty one, it wasn’t a boastful one, it had hope in it.

The lengths, the depths that Jesus will go to to bring us home.

And that’s why I started off trying to sing a bit of Marvin Gaye –

 ‘Cause baby, there ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough,
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, baby

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