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First Sunday in Lent

Holy Communion

West LaHave and Crousetown  March 1, AD 2009

2 Corinthians 6:1-10   Matthew 4:1-11


Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.


We have begun our forty days of Lent last Wednesday.


The Church has set aside this time of year for us to fast together, that we might encourage one another, in preparation for the great feast of Easter.  In doing this, we are following the pattern of our Lord’s fasting and temptation in the wilderness for 40 days.  And Jesus was affirming for us an ancient pattern followed by Moses, by Elijah and by other saints of the Old Testament.  We also think of the Israelites travelling through the wilderness for 40 years before entering the promised land.  But why do we fast?


A couple of weeks ago, some of us gathered at the Rectory in Petite Riviere to see a movie called Chocolate.  It is about a quiet village in France where the people are trying to be good, to be obedient to the church, and they have entered into a time Lent and are fasting.  And they are all in a turmoil because a woman and her daughter have moved into the village and have opened up a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent!  What an outrage!  How wicked!  And the movie goes on to show us all the wrong reasons to enter into a Lenten fast. 


We do not fast as a kind of punishment of ourselves, to hurt ourselves to make up for the evil we may have done.  We do not enter a fast to think ourselves better than others who are not fasting, and to somehow resent those who do not follow such a discipline.  We do not fast so we can continually be tortured thinking even more about the things we have given up.  We are not to become morose and judgmental and nasty with one another.  All of these things are revealed by the community in the movie and the heroine is the woman who reveals to the people just how unloving they are, how intolerant of others, and what a farce their Christianity is.  She who is a non-church-goer, a pagan, is shown to be more loving than they who are professed Christians.


But what the movie fails to show is what fasting is meant to be about.


The three Sundays, those “gesima” Sundays, have all been leading us to think about the true purpose of Lent:  It is about entering into the Lord’s labour in the vineyard that is our souls (Septuagesima);  it is about our souls becoming a garden where Life flourishes (Sexagesima – the sower and the good soil); it is about love of God and love of our neighbour or it is all vain and useless (remember the Epistle from Quinquagesima - 1 Cor 13 - if I give my body to be burned and have not charity it is nothing worth and the Collect). 



This morning I would like us to focus just on the first of the temptations of Jesus in today's Gospel.  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. 


If you have given up some earthly delight for Lent, you have probably already, experienced something of this moment, where the very thing you gave up, looms before your eyes, and you want it.  There is a bit of pain as you battle within yourself to not have the thing you gave up – and that pain will probably increase, we are only four days into our fast, we have 36 to go!


In fasting we are being reminded of something we know – something about the inner life of our souls and about how desire works in us. 


As St. Paul put it, I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity. 

I have made a vow to do something out of a love of God, and yet it is not easy for me to break with an outward habit – there is a battle within me, but I also discover God will give me the grace to keep my vow.


But why should we break with that habit, the thing I gave up was something good?

True – chocolate is a great good; chips are a great good; tea coffee, they make me more alert; luxurious food, it is all good, a sign of God’s bounty; TV, it makes me connected with the world, I learn things from it and from the radio, it is all good. 


Bread, surely that is good?

But our Lord said,…wait….

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 


It is not that he says we should forever give up bread or all the good things that we might presently be fasting from.  But rather, it is just so that we come to remember…there is a greater good that we may be passing up on if we satisfy ourselves only with the goods of this world.


Are we passing up on every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God?

This is what the movie Chocolate failed to show – the good of giving up something good that we might know also an even greater good.


In the moment that we feel the anxiety about not having the thing we gave up, we are to turn towards God for a spiritual good – that’s what Jesus did, or we will be morose, we will be grumpy with those around us, we will be perhaps judgmental and less tolerant – not pleasant to be around.


But if we turn to God in that moment, to seek out spiritual consolation, it is, like I said on Wednesday night, like putting the shovel into earth that has become hard, it is turning the sod, exposing it to the air, crumbling it up.  This is painful, but we don’t stop there, we then plant a seed, or many seeds, the seed of God’s Word.  And we meditate upon that word, allow its roots to take a firm hold in us, we seek inwardly to know God and be known of Him.  We dig deep – we do not satisfy ourselves until we reach that Spring of water welling up within us – divine consolation – renewing us in a love of God and of our neighbour.  And because in Lent we have given something up, we are being confronted more often with this inner desire reaching out to be satisfied.  And we have a good hope that we might discover another way to satisfy it.


You know how wonderful it is to see those first green sprouts pushing up out of the hard earth in the Spring.  If our fast is authentic, we will see those sprouts in us.  We truly become more joyful, not less; we become more at peace with ourselves, not less; we become more accepting or our neighbour with all their foibles, not less; we are being filled with all the fullness of God – and that makes us wonderful to be around.


If we are fasting for any other reason, we should definitely give it up!...or…change our reasons for doing so.


The Word of God sinks more deeply into our souls, when we spend more time in quiet, in contemplation, thinking upon God, or simply beholding God and our neighbour with the eyes of our mind in love.  We may also discover, in that contemplation, in that inward turn, some things that we regret having done, or sometimes ways that our love could be better directed.  If we have discovered things that have caused a hardness in us we bring them before God this morning and ask Him for forgiveness and He will break up the soil and plant in it new life.  This is our hope.


Jesus said, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.  And we discover in our fast the truth of this eternal word.


Strangely, and wonderfully, Jesus unites for us bread and the Word of God.  In his coming to earth and taking flesh and in the sacrament of Holy Communion, which He has left for us, Jesus gives us both together – bread becomes holy, flesh becomes infused with divine Life. 


Let us prepare ourselves now to be partakers of that holy Bread of eternal life and the Cup of everlasting salvation.  





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