Romans 10:9-13; Luke 4:1-13

1st Sunday of Lent

St Barbara’s 06.03.2022

Rev Tulo Raistrick

The first of our three Ash Wednesday services on Wednesday took place at Prayers and Bears, for 25 young children and their parents and carers. Prayers and Bears always presents me with a good theological challenge – how do you communicate some of the deep truths about God in a way that a three-year old can understand? For the wonder of the Christian message is that it is profound enough that we will take the whole of eternity to truly explore its depths, and yet it is simple enough that even the youngest child can grasp.

Well on Wednesday we were thinking about Lent. I asked the children – how do you get ready for a party? What do you need to do beforehand, because the best parties need preparation? We thought about the need to blow up balloons, to make a cake and party food, to send out invitations, to wrap up the pass-the-parcel for the party games. We agreed that the best parties are the ones you get ready for. And we then talked about how Jesus being alive, how he rose from the dead, is the best reason for a party ever. To celebrate that is definitely worth getting ready for! And that is what Lent is – a time of preparation.

Our reading from Luke’s gospel shows us that even for Jesus, preparation was important. Jesus has just been baptised in the Jordan river by John; God the Father has spoken of how this is His Son, with whom he is well pleased; but before he begins his public ministry, before he embarks on his calling, his purpose for coming into the world, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for a time of preparation.

That time of preparation lasted forty days. Throughout the Old Testament, the number 40 is significant.

  • The rain fell for forty days and nights when the world was flooded and Noah and his family were being prepared to begin life again on earth.
  • The people of Israel, having escaped slavery in Egypt, wandered in the desert for forty years, being forged into a nation and a people obedient to God, before they entered into the promised land.
  • Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights in the presence of God, before returning to the people with God’s commands.
  • For forty days Joshua and Caleb explored the land of Canaan, before coming back to report to the people of Israel.
  • For forty days and nights, Elijah journeyed in the wilderness before his encounter with God at Mount Horeb.

Forty was a significant period of preparation, a time God used to prepare people for a significant time ahead. Indeed Jesus spent 40 days preparing his disciples for their mission between his resurrection and his ascension.

So when Mark tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, we know that this must have been a significant period of preparation, of encounter with his Father, prior to the beginning of his public ministry.

We cannot underestimate the value and importance of preparing ourselves too, of putting ourself in a place where God can speak to us. For those people who are set to embark on a new initiative, a new job, a new phase of life, the value in taking time to prepare ourselves spiritually, to seek God’s leading and enabling, is so important. After all, if Jesus needed to do it, how much more us.

But even if we don’t feel like there is anything new on the horizon, that life feels as though it will continue as it has done, the changing seasons of the Christian year mean that there is preparation to be done for us too. If we are to celebrate Easter with the joy and the meaning it deserves, then we need to prepare ourselves too. This is our opportunity to give greater focus to our spiritual lives.

Over the last few weeks in the notices I have been giving suggestions of ways that we may want to give focus to our relationship with God, and in the parish newsletter, we have given more ideas too. I don’t expect anyone to take up all these ideas, but its my prayer that each one of us will take up something for Lent this year that will help us to grow in our love for God. As we are unique individuals, it would be a surprise if we all chose the same thing, but if you haven’t begun to do so already, do think about how this Lent will be different for you.

  • Maybe it will be reading through Luke’s gospel or simply praying the prayers contained in the daily email.
  • Maybe it will be listening to a hymn or an inspiring piece of music each day (and if you have clicked on the links contained in the parish newsletter you will have seen what an extraordinary variety of different types of music inspire people in their love of God in this congregation).
  • Maybe it will be through consciously reflecting on the beauty of nature on a daily walk or as you look out on a garden.
  • Maybe it will be through taking opportunities to care for others (and I’ve been so encouraged to hear that three more members of St Barbara’s have signed up to become Good Neighbours volunteers in the last few weeks, and that two other members of the church have been over to help at St John the Divine in Willenhall recently).
  • Maybe it will be by giving generously to the Lent Appeal or by taking a stand against injustice and environmental exploitation by joining Tearfund’s rubbish campaign.
  • It may be by reading a book, or setting aside five minutes a day to pray for the needs of the world.
  • It may be by coming along to our mid-week communion services or by coming along to our evening Lent group.

Whatever we may choose to do, let us take these forty days of Lent to prepare, to grow in our love for God, one another, our community and the world.

Our Gospel reading also speaks into the tragic events of our world today.

For Jesus, his time in the wilderness was not just a time of preparation, but also a time of conflict between good and evil. Jesus was tempted by Satan. There have been few times perhaps in recent times when we have been so confronted by the realities of evil. What is happening in Ukraine is shocking and appalling. As I said on Wednesday evening, we may have liked to think that after the atrocities of the second world war, we had grown beyond this, that Europe would never be threatened by war again, that we had matured, grown wiser. But what we see unfolding before us on our TVs and phones, hour by hour, is the appalling nature of evil, of our capacity to inhumanity.

The closeness of this conflict, its immediacy, and dare I say the fact that it is happening to white Europeans, has made us all the more shocked. But what this war must also do is open our eyes to the reality that this is what life is like for the many millions caught up in war zones around our world: for the people of Afghanistan, starving to death whilst the Taliban focus all their energies in exterminating opposition; for the people of Myanmar, experiencing genocide and mass slaughter of whole communities by the military junta; by the hundreds of thousands held in detention camps in North Korea; by the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hardly ever mentioned in our news, but in which 6 million people have died.

Living in a world where there is evil as well as good, violence as well as peace, hatred as well as love, challenges each of us to choose each day which side we are on. In our Gospels we see that in dramatic form, as Jesus encounters Satan, the personification of evil. For us each day, there is that conflict too. We need to pray for God’s help, to recognise evil for what it is, to not be seduced by it, and to choose the path of love instead.

And that is part of our Lenten challenge this year, alongside all those other things we may commit to. To respond with love and compassion to those in need as best we can. We have seen some remarkable examples of that from the people of Poland and other neighbouring countries in recent days, opening up their homes to refugees. And our calling is to respond with prayer too, calling out for God’s mercy, asking for his forgiveness for our world.

Let us use these forty days to grow in love for God and his world. Amen.