Bishop John’s Homily from the First Sunday of Lent

Tuesday 23rd February 2021

Each week we will be sharing Bishop John’s homily for each Sunday in Lent.

The First Sunday of Lent

I think we’ve got to be a little bit careful, because we have begun the Season of Lent, the Liturgical reading, the Gospel, takes us right back to the beginning of the Gospel of St Mark. We got through the whole of the Chapter but we go right back to the beginning, but there’s good reason for this.

In those first verses of Mark’s Gospel there is something very deliberately stated. It’s interesting to note that in those first fifteen verses, the word ‘wilderness’ is used four times and it doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Gospel. So Mark is making a definite point. He is setting the scene.

So let’s see what happens in those first fifteen verses. It begins with proclamation of the Good News, the proclamation of Jesus Christ the Son of God. And immediately we are led to the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Isaiah: ‘Look I’m going to send my messenger before you, He will prepare your way, a voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord.’ And so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, all the people of Jerusalem and Judah made their way to him and they were Baptised by him in the Jordan and they confessed their sins.

Now, you may think that Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled in simply John the Baptist appearing but no, very quickly Mark reminds us  through the words of John he is not the Messiah, no someone is following me. Someone who is more powerful than I am and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I Baptise you with water, He will Baptise you with the Holy Spirit.

So clearly a movement from Isaiah to John the Baptist and now Jesus appears from Galilee and he’s Baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner has he come up out of the water and a voice declares ‘You are my Son, the beloved’. And then the spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days. He is tempted by the devil. He is preparing himself to acknowledge the Mission that he’s going to have, he’s preparing for everything that is about to come.

And then we see him emerge from the wilderness and he has his mission statement. The time has come, the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand, repent and believe the Good News. That’s Mark, setting the stage for the mission which is about to follow because the very next words take us into the active mission of Jesus where he chooses his Disciples, he goes off to the synagogue, he begins to teach with authority and to heal those with evil spirits and those who are sick. A real urgency, but first were those 15 verses setting the scene, and they’re all in the wilderness.

I wonder if a good way of looking at Lent is to see it as a bit of  wilderness where we get things straight in our minds again, where we get the foundations of our faith – yes, God loves us so much that He sent his Son to be among us, to teach us, to guide us by his example, to die for us and rise for us. If we can get that solidly renewed in our minds, yes we believe it but let’s concentrate on it in the Season of Lent so that at Easter we can emerge stronger in our Discipleship, listening more carefully to all Jesus has to say to us and so that we can adapt it to our lives in the circumstances in which we live. If we prepare to be in the stillness of the wilderness, then our priorities might change in the way that we see our faith and the priorities of our faith Who would have thought ten years ago that we would have to be so urgent about the environment, that we’ve got to be doing something to change our lives, the lives of our industry and through our Governments and their policies because we’re damaging our world and we’ve got to find a way through this, it’s so important.

I don’t know if anyone listened to the Sunday programme this morning but there were three young ladies there saying that I go to church and I don’t hear enough about the environment. So we need to be making that more of a priority in how we live our lives as Christians. A few years ago we weren’t nearly as aware as we are now of human trafficking and the appalling conditions refugees live in the world we exist today. Our brothers and sisters, 100 million people – refugees or internally displaced people – in our world today. So if we’re going to be true to our faith and follow what Christ says, we’ve got to be rooted in who he is, the example he gave and live the Gospel values that he taught us in his ministry.

I think that Lent is a very powerful time and if we can make it into our wilderness, where we can stop and think and reassure ourselves about the firm foundation of what we believe than we will be able to more effectively put into action everything that God may be asking of us.

Just going back to that Gospel, when Jesus was in the desert, the Angel looked after him. The spirit had driven him into the desert but he wasn’t on his own. We are never on our own, we are never isolated, the Spirit is with us. We are looked after, when we’re trying to do the right thing we have God’s power and spirit and strength working within us. We may never see, feel or be able to measure it, but we will truly be Disciples. Let’s offer our Season of Lent as one a little bit in the wilderness, where we check our priorities that we have and that we want to be true Disciples of Jesus Christ and we believe that if we’re trying, the power of the spirit working within us is far more than we will ever imagine.

As ever, we pray that the Lord stays with us on our journey.

To watch the Mass for the first Sunday in Lent, please click here

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