Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings, and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
23 Praise the Lord, you that fear him;
O seed of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, O seed of Israel.
24 For he has not despised nor abhorred the suffering of the poor; neither has he hidden his face from them;
but when they cried to him he heard them.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
I will perform my vows in the presence of those that fear you.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord shall praise him; their hearts shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s
and he rules over the nations.
29 How can those who sleep in the earth bow down in worship,
or those who go down to the dust kneel before him?
30 He has saved my life for himself; my descendants shall serve him;
this shall be told of the Lord for generations to come.
31 They shall come and make known his salvation, to a people yet unborn,
declaring that he, the Lord, has done it.
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Sermon on Sunday Lent 2
When we pray “Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness”, don’t you wonder, just how this works? How do we see the light and return to what is good? This becomes a moral question of the first order, and I think moral questions are the most important in life and for life.
This question faces all of us, time and again. Don’t people say to us, “You are being foolish, this is what is true – this is what needs to be done”? Someone undoubtedly has said that to you, I am sure, because so many have said to me that they know what is right and I don’t – that I have begun to think that I am foolish, but more importantly I begin to think that I have deceived myself for the whole of my life. But have I? I say to them – Show me the error of my way of life. I surely have made mistakes, but is my way of life without righteousness, without any value or goodness? Have I lived without considered thought about all I have done. I don’t ask this about being a christian, rather I ask this about my day to day life, my very existence. Have I lived an evil life? Have I embraced an evil which I have not recognised? So I implore you, ‘Show me the error of my ways! so that I can turn to righteousness and truth.’
I keep asking the questions about that change – that conversion of my life. How will you make me understand where the path of righteousness is? Shine that light in my life. But still, the question remains, how will you do that?
And yet the ultimate question has to be asked: When will God do so for all of us? When will the world be taught about goodness and truth? When will the world recognise the light in world, that light which has not been extinguished despite our ignorance and corrupt willfulness?
The philosopher speaks of “the call of conscience” which orders the whole of one’s life. That call is the voice I long to hear, not the commands of regulations, but the divine voice of the spirit. I do not need to be bullied into submission, for I am sure that I would willingly follow the voice of reason, something always asked of me by parents and teachers alike. The cane never worked, but persuading me what is right always will. – “Hearts and minds,” the brigadier always said – and I am sure we have to agree with him. If we have turned our hearts and minds to the light, to the good, to truth – when we have made that complete turn – life will be fine, and the world will be transformed for everyone. Perhaps we might even have attained world peace and personal contentment for each and every one of us.
I think most of us would agree that the strictures of law and regulation rankle our clear vision – they frustrate our lives of freedom. Perhaps this is why covid has become a global emergency – because our personal whims have been frustrated. No one wants to be tied down by any of the red tape of lockdowns, long or short. We say that the imposition of restrictions has smothered us as we wear our masks in public. But have we been denied?
I think these cloth masks have really been a sign of what has always been. We have always hidden behind masks, only now they are real physical things. Whether it is a black mask, like those the robbers in the cowboy films always wore, or the light blue-green mask of the nurse in Casualty – the mask is always between us, obscuring and revealing at the same time. The mask is how we reveal ourselves as we go into the world, how we interact with the world. The psychologists and the sociologists have always spoken of the masks we wear to cope with the others ’round about us.
For instance, don’t we wear a blank mask when we wish to avoid people? Don’t we put on that mask of disregard which does not allow engagement from time to time? We don’t even look at someone sometimes as we let the mask be our face between us. Don’t we, in other instances, pretend to be “the professional” who does not want to engage, when we come across a difficult customer? Don’t we get really feisty when we want our own way in the shop? And don’t the sparks really fly when those two masks are exposed to one another at the same time? I begin to wonder, have our masks obscured who we really are?
Let’s acknowledge that masks will always be there – and actually they always have been there. We have always worn masks, both figurative and real. With Covid, our lives have changed without any possibility of reversal. The old ways have gone forever. Now we must keep a proper social distance … now we must act with care for the other. That is what the mask signifies – that we actually do care through the mask. Isn’t this why the moralists have always said – Life is living for others?
The words of the Collect keep coming back to me, ‘you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness’. Those whom we have placed in positions to wear the mask of leadership promulgate regulations and then flout them, so we wonder about whether they are necessary – let alone workable. They speak in contradictions and act in ways we would call hypocritical. Such an observation is not new. Didn’t Jesus call the leaders of his time hypocrites? And in our gospel reading for today, doesn’t Jesus call Peter Satan?
However, it is not just our leaders who are wearing masks to hide behind … let’s look at ourselves. Are we not just as sinful as our leaders? Don’t we ourselves say one thing and do another? Don’t we wear masks to cover our shame? Isn’t the light of righteousness missing in our lives? Haven’t we ourselves missed the mark which truth and goodness make in the world?
I want to say that we should keep praying our collect day by day, so we “may reject those things that are contrary to our profession of faith in the one good God, and follow all such things as are agreeable to that faith.” It is a constant struggle to open our hearts and minds to the “light of God’s truth, that we may return to the way of righteousness.” When we overcome the darkness, doesn’t life become rich and full again as we walk in the light?