Sermon by Clare Heard, First Sunday of Lent, United Benefice of Holland Park, 18 February 2018

 Sermon by Clare Heard, First Sunday of Lent, United Benefice of Holland Park, 18 February 2018

I wonder how you are feeling today?

Personally, I’m feeling worn down and apprehensive.

We’ve had a long hard winter and it’s not over yet, Christmas seems like a distant memory. My husband, James, has just left for India and it will be 4 weeks before I see him again, I’ve had a horrible cold and been feeling quite useless for a couple of weeks and I’ve really had it with this time of year.

I want to retreat under my duvet and hide. I want spring, or even better summer – I want light and warmth – and I want it now.

And here, today, at the start of Lent, God speaks into this feeling of depression and gloom…. the readings we have heard today have focussed on the covenants God has made with us. The first with Noah, after the flood, with the rainbow as a sign of God’s promise to the earth. The second with the baptism of Jesus – God’s affirmation of his son, of the incarnation and therefore affirmation of the world into which his son is born.

And yet in both these stories there are the times of waiting and emptiness – Noah on the ark surrounded by nothing but water, Jesus in the desert. These times would not have been fun – they would have been horrible.

So whilst God has made promises and affirmed his commitment to creation, it’s not all happiness and light from then on. Life can be hard, we face times of trial, loss, suffering. And they can feel like they last forever.

I wonder how you are feeling today?

And yet...and yet, in the midst of the darkness we are told – the kingdom of God has come near – Jesus comes out of the desert and immediately starts to proclaim the good news, the kingdom of God has come near. If there’s anything I need to hear today, it’s this – this message of hope – of God’s love – of his presence with us. I crave it like I crave the sun.

Jesus says repent and believe in the good news. Can we do this? Can we look away from our trials and sufferings enough to believe in God’s love? To believe that his Kingdom has drawn near? Can we turn our face away from the darkness and towards God’s light?

It can feel like a big ask. Sometimes we want to cling onto our misfortunes – they can help define us, they can give us something to blame for everything in life that may not be how we want it to be.

I wonder how you are feeling today?

A common theme of Lent is giving things up – we are asked to pray, to fast, to give, and in part, we do this to help focus our attention and dependence on God, rather than any of the material things we may hold dear or any of the other ways in which define ourselves – be that our pain, our work or our family. We are being shown how to put roots down, to grow them deep into the soil, as plants do, during winter. So, whilst the world is grey and gloomy, lent gives us an opportunity to go deeper, to strengthen our roots so that we can really thrive when times are hard.

And we suffer temptations, just like Jesus did in the desert, we are faced with things that pull us away from God, prevent us from turning to the light of his love. Instead we find comfort in chocolate, television or shopping. We find comfort in gossiping or complaining about other people, or life generally. We find comfort in twisting the gifts God has given us, making us, and the world around us, less than God intended us to be.

Lenten practices, such as fasting, giving and silence are all opportunities to break some of these unhealthy patterns. Lent is a time to remind ourselves of God’s goodness – and of all the goodness within creation. And this is really hard. We like our comfort blankets, I like chocolate, I like complaining about things, we might even like filling our time so that God can’t get a word in edgeways – and so fasting, having periods of silence and solitude, giving – all things many Christians do in Lent, have an important role in helping us turn back towards God.

But from where I am this year, fully intending to fast and to pray – this is not the central point – for nothing I do will ever be enough – I am not strong enough or good enough to earn my salvation or bring God’s kingdom by my efforts. No-one is and we all know it.

No…the central point is to throw myself at God’s feet – to look to him for the love I need for when I fail, when I am greedy, when I am selfish. To throw myself on his mercy and forgiveness and to repent – literally – to turn my face -to God.

There is a danger to Lent, that it becomes legalistic – a mechanism to earn God’s favour, to show what good Christians we are – let’s be honest – we will never be good enough.

I wonder how you are feeling today?

The good news we have is that in many ways it doesn’t matter if we feel sad, low or useless, some of the time, because God is bigger than our own emotions. The kingdom of God is near. This truth, that is greater than our personal bubble of feelings, is that Christ redeems us, God loves us as we are. The more we accept this and open ourselves up to that love, the more God can use us to bring his kingdom near. And perhaps our feelings will change. Like a plant with deep roots, we are able to grow towards the light and love of our heavenly Father.

My number one prayer for this Lent, is that I will be able to allow more of God’s love into my life – yes, I will fast and I will try to have periods of silence, in the hope that this will help me on my journey – but ultimately, I am praying that I will be able to trust God enough to receive his love and follow him. I am praying that his generosity will replace my selfishness, his humility will replace my pride and that his joy will lift me from the darkness of this long winter, as I travel with him towards Spring, Easter and New Life.

Holland Park Benefice