26 February 2023 – First Sunday In Lent
Homily preached by The RT. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan
Below is a TRANSCRIPT of the homily. It may vary considerably from the prepared version. Please do not cite without permission.
God’s word only be spoken and God’s word only be heard. Amen.
Grace and peace to you people of All Saints. It is such a very great joy for me to be here with you this morning. I’m grateful to be here along with such valued colleagues as Richard and Tammy. We’re missing a Noma today. And I know our prayers are with her as she continues her recovery. And then grateful also to be with Stefan and with this extraordinary choir, whose gifts are manifest not only here, but in our wider diocese, especially through Stefan’s work at the Cathedral. So we’re so grateful to be here. And I’m especially pleased because the last time I was here, was for Tamizh ordination, which was a wonderful event and celebration and was in that first winter of the pandemic winter of 2020. And so pre vaccination, right, we were here with an in person congregation that was, by necessity, very limited. So it’s so good to be with you in the pews. It’s a wonderful sight. We’ve learned so much in these past three years about what’s important. Having been forcibly isolated, we now understand more than ever, what it means to be alone, and what it means to be together. So let’s think about our lives with God, alone. And together. Four days ago on Ash Wednesday, we were invited to enter the season of Lent. Many maybe most of the devotional practices of Lent are individual and personal practices. From the prayer book on Wednesday, we heard an invitation to self examination and repentance we were urged to mark Lent with some form of fasting and self denial. Lenten disciplines are likely to be done individually alone, reflecting our personal piety, and our own spiritual growth. But this year, perhaps more than at any moment, in my lifetime, I am feeling that our repentance and amendment of life these days really need to be collective and communal, right alongside and maybe even more in this moment than individual. Shall we not repent together? Of the cesspool of ignorance and bigotry that are afflicting our legislatures and our common life? Shall we not repent together of our incapacity to find humane ways to welcome the stranger as scripture commands commands us to do? Shall we not repent together of the still escalating insanity of gun violence and our escalating capacity to tolerate it? Call a solemn assembly we heard on Wednesday. From the prophet Joel gather the people, the Hebrew prophets constantly called the people as a people much more often in their case than as individuals. Surely our penance and change must be as a people and not just as a pious exercise for individuals. So we’re beginning a 40 day Lenten season individually and together. And if the world around us suggests that that penance and amendment of life must be not alone, but together than our gospel reading suggests that the way we face those challenges, is also meant to be not alone. But together. This may seem paradoxical from a story about Jesus in the wilderness. And to be sure he wandered 40 days in the wilderness facing both physical hardship and spiritual temptation. He was alone in the wilderness and yet he was not alone. In marks, temptation, Marks account we hear that He was accompanied by wild beasts. Neither Mark nor the accounts in Matthew or Luke suggests that Jesus was threatened by those beasts. So I chose to imagine them as companions and not predators. And, of course, he was not alone because as we are told, the angels came and waited on him, they’re so alone, but not alone. And beyond the beasts and angels 40 days in the wilderness gave him other spiritual companions. 40 days in the wilderness made him a spiritual companion with the ancient Hebrews who had wandered 40 years in the wilderness. 40 days made him a spiritual companion with Moses, who spent 40 days on the mountaintop 40 days made him a spiritual companion with Elijah who fasted 40 days before that earthquake and fire that brought him the still small voice. Remembering all these stories, helped Jesus to remain confident that God was with him in the wilderness, and that God’s grace would be sufficient, it would be so because it had been so for others before. Jesus drew on that experience, the wisdom and the support of those others. And this is how he rebuked the tempter Satan using words of Scripture drawing on stories that he knew from the faith of others who had gone before. And then there was the support of those angels know Jesus was alone,
but not alone. You and I, in resisting our own temptations are I suggest also alone, yet not alone. There are, of course, various sorts of temptations some things tempt us to give in to let some desire or fault or pattern get hold of us.
Other things might tempt us to give up. To give up trying when things are hard, to give up caring when things are overwhelming, to give up believing when things are not clear, to give up hoping, when things are just frankly, beyond our worst imaginings. Do not know what sort of temptations you might be facing this year as we begin the season of Lent. I do not know whether you are inclined to give in or to give up. But I suggest that like Jesus in His wilderness, we can look for strength from those who have gone before us and those around us. A cancer patient enduring treatment finds hope from the cancer survivor who walks with her. Apparent coping with the challenges faced by their child find support from other parents who have previously known such challenge. A person in grief confronts loneliness with the help of others who have who have known loss and are now further along the path of new beginnings. An addict in recovery confronts his own demon tempter with the support of others who have likewise heard that tempters voice and found the strength to rebuke it. and advocate for justice and compassion in public policy in the face of assaults on the powerless finds renewed inspiration from a longtime warrior for justice, who has faced the powerful winds of bigotry and hatred before and reminds us that the arc of history really does bend toward justice. Finally. In these and countless circumstances, we find that we are not after all, alone in the wilderness. In the past three years, we have often felt deeply isolated. It’s been a challenge and a grief for us all. And along the way we have gotten through the pandemic by leaning into those things that remind us that even in days of isolation we have not been alone. Ben remind reminded by that fact by faces on a zoom screen. I phone calls of those who reached out to us by the stories of all the health care workers in public servants and spiritual leaders and neighbors and even sometimes perfect strangers who have been and still are putting the well being of others ahead of self interest. We were reminded by how good it feels to be back together. We are alone and not alone. Globally, this week we’ve marked the anniversary of the horrifying attack upon the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Grievous to us and every person of goodwill around the world. We see in Vladimir Putin one who believes that ordinary rules do not apply to him. One whose nationalist pride overrides the legitimacy of other nations. One who does not believe that truthfulness matters, one who taps into the religious ideology of his people to claim a messianic role for himself. And we see the consequence. Tragically, we see some leaders with similar convictions even in our own nation. exceptionalism, nationalism, disregard for truth, religious distortion. So we must guard against these perversions wherever they occur. And we must guard against them, not just individually, but together. So here is the heart of the Christian gospel that comes to us in Lent.
That we are broken, that we must acknowledge, confess and repent. That we know that we need one another. That we must labor together for God’s realm. That it is in harnessing the power of community that we push back against hopelessness in our lives and our world.
And that in the end, God’s grace will suffice. self examination, repentance, community and grace, thus is the path of one’s so whether you are tempted to give in or to give up. In either case, I remind you once more that like Jesus in the wilderness, so in yours, you are individual, you are not alone. May others be for you. channels of God’s grace. May you be for others, that same channel of God’s grace and may you know God’s grace to suffice in Jesus name