In this guest post, Will Moore shares his sermon on Lent, preached on 6th March 2022.
I often like to start my sermons with a hook, a joke perhaps, something to grab your attention and get you listening.
But this week, I can’t. It doesn’t seem right and maybe I don’t even need one. With what is going on in Ukraine and the world, our hearts are heavy. As I prepared this sermon, as I pondered the texts and the global situation, I struggled to find any inspiration. But perhaps that heaviness, that desperation, that we are all feeling is exactly where I should begin.
On Ash Wednesday, we marked the start of this new liturgical season of Lent by imposing ashes on our foreheads, reminding ourselves that ‘[we] are dust and to dust [we] shall return’. What a stark reminder of our fragility, of our vulnerability, and of our humanity. Such a reminder, with what is going on today in Ukraine and in so many other countries that we too often overlook, strikes even more powerfully. Lives can be taken away in the click of a finger, with a simple command, or by the press of a button… to dust we shall return.
As we take this chance look at the world around us, its leaders, its politics, its power, we see that our gospel reading from Luke tells us that Jesus had the chance to do the same. The devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said Jesus could have them… if he only worshipped him (Luke 4:5-7).
The trickery of the devil looms near, as near to us today as it did for Christ then. Humans can be blinded by power, by glory, by putting people on pedestals, and even by fear. We can see right now how that can go so utterly wrong: how men in charge of nations can abuse their power, their place, their privilege, to create their own kingdom. Such vicious powerplay only leads to fear and violence; fear and violence that fracture our humanity and our peace.
But Jesus answered the devil with, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”’ (Luke 4:8). In all the kingdoms and politics of this world, we can often be so tempted to be lured away, but God remains steadfast – our only hope and our only God. And, at the end of time, when all this chaos is over, when all this worldly mess comes to an end, our reality will be turned on its head. And Jesus, the fragile baby and the crucified servant, will reign as King among his people. That is the Kingdom we as Christian people should seek.
But, until then, what about when temptation looms near us? We read about Jesus, full of the spirit, being drawn away to the wilderness, and there he is tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2). We don’t know how he coped – Jesus may have sat there meek and mild, disciplined and dedicated, resistant and resilient… or, I like to think, that he may have struggled. Forty days and forty nights of challenging temptation and trickery.
And if we, too, live in this same world of temptation, all around us we will find things lurking that draw us away from Christ, whether we realise them or not. Sin has become a dirty word to much of our society, but all it means is those things that make us fall short and blind us from seeing God’s goodness. We must remember that they are present in our reality today too.
And it is in this time of Lent that we are reminded to stay particularly attentive to those things, and to draw closer to Christ. Whether that is through the giving up of bad food, thoughts, or practices, or the taking up of new disciplines that benefit our physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing. Whatever we do, Lent is about preparation: drawing closer to God as we draw closer to the Cross. As we journey nearer, we should seek to remove those barriers and obstacles in our lives that get in the way between us and God.
And, at this time, in the current state of the world, we have the biggest and perhaps most evil temptation of them all, the biggest threat to our faiths, and the scariest affront to our belief in Christ, staring us right in the face: hopelessness. As we look around, we see destruction and violence, conflict and pain, nation against nation as refugees flee and missiles are fired. In this time of war, in this time of our heavy hearts, the biggest risk is that we become tempted to just give up, to lose all hope in Christ, to cease seeing the good in each other. We are faced with the temptation to lose faith in God altogether, amongst all this chaos. Right now, today, perhaps that’s where the devil’s temptation lies, in hopelessness, as it tries to rip us apart from one another and rip us apart from God.
God remains trustworthy, steadfast, and a sure hope in times of trouble – I believe in all these things, truly. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a space where we are honest and open with the anxiety and unsettledness that we feel. We ought to acknowledge it, speak about it to those around us, and to bring it before God in lament.
After all, we believe in a God who walked this very earth, who went into the wilderness and then ended up crucified on a cross by his very own people. That God we believe in, in the person of Christ, must know just as much as we do about the temptation of losing hope in humanity.
I could end this sermon by bursting through into the story of Easter, into the hope of resurrection, and into the celebration that is to come. But, for now: we are in Lent, in the wilderness, with the temptation of hopelessness surrounding us. But God is still there, and Jesus waits in the wilderness with us.
In our Christian story, even in the darkest of times, we know that, in Shelly Rambo’s words, there is still a ‘weary trickle of love’ that persists,[i] and it is that trickle of remaining love, through all this, that we must hold onto.
Will Moore is training for ordination in the Church of England at Westcott House in Cambridge, and is the author of the forthcoming book Boys Will Be Boys, and Other Myths: Unravelling Biblical Masculinities with SCM Press.
[i] Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 172, with thanks to Karen O’Donnell for this quote.
As with all our guest posts, views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CSBV.