Sermon – 1st Sunday in Lent – Mark 1:9-15

The Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts remain acceptable in thy sight o LORD our rock and our redeemer.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

Although we didn’t celebrate it with a special sermon, or a hākari, last Sunday was what is known as Quinquagesima Sunday. Its name tells us that it is only 50 days left until Easter, but before then we must first pass through the season of Lent. In many ways, today here in our Gospel reading, and in this the first day of Lent we begin a journey, both with one another and a journey with God in Christ.

It may seem a bit odd, but Lent is a time where we, as Christians are spoilt. We are spoilt in that we have a rather large amount of time set apart just for us, it is a time to reflect and think about our calling as Christians. During Lent we are given 40 days during which to really stop and think about what our faith calls us to do, not just for the 40 days of Lent but on into the rest of the year as well.

As usual, Mark doesn’t spend time worrying about the details of what is happening in our reading, instead we are told that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Mark moves right along with the story, unlike Matthew and Luke who elaborate on Jesus’ time on the wilderness. Perhaps we need to be more like Mark, perhaps we need to stop getting caught up in the little things, the things that are all around us that stop our faith becoming a true and informing part of our lives. Here and now in this season of Lent, we are given the opportunity to make that happen. We are given an opportunity to stop, just for a little while and reflect on our lives and what our faith is calling us to do, and then put that faith action; so that once the 40 days of Lent have been and gone we continue to live a life informed by our faith, and ensure that we are ready to triumphantly proclaim the good news of the resurrection on Easter morning.

Traditionally Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. During Lent, the usual question we get asked is “What are you giving up?” to which the usual responses come: Chocolate, or fast food, or still others give up their cell phones and computers. While there is nothing wrong with this approach to Lent , and to be honest, whenever I give up anything for Lent I always fail miserably, the one downside perhaps is that beyond our “giving up” being a minor inconvenience to us, nothing really changes. After 40 days going without, or even less for the weaker among us, we just jump straight back onto Facebook, or start eating Chocolate again and continue with our lives. As I said, there is nothing with that approach to Lent, but as Christians I think we are called to go beyond, we are called to effect real change and let our faith inform our action. This Lent is an opportunity to do just that. Now,  I am not suggesting that we all take up a cause, grab a banner and go on a hikoi, but rather that we take the opportunity Lent gives us, and devote the next 40 days to reflect on each of our callings to love and to serve, and to turn that reflection into a real world action, however small it may be. Whether it is starting a blog to write about issues of Social Justice, or volunteering somewhere or simply becoming more familiar with the issues that surround us every day, each little act contributes to effecting change. By reflecting throughout Lent and actioning that reflection, we transform Lent from the impersonal, blip on our radar, into a powerful tool for transformation and change, all informed by our faith and empowered by our baseline calling to love and to serve.

This Lent, there is a lot to cause us to pause and to reflect even if we don’t want to. Ash Wednesday coincided with the first anniversary of the February earthquake in Christchurch and although it is a year on, there are still people using chemical toilets and a return to normal is still far off. But it’s not just major catastrophes and disasters that should be in our minds as we ready ourselves for Lent. Here in Auckland, arguably the most advanced city in New Zealand and a city with an annual budget of over $3 billion and over $29 million worth of assets, 156 families are being evicted from their homes. Not because the tenants are abusing their properties, or because they are late paying their rent or even because they are breaking the law. No, these families, some of whom have called their houses their homes for over 10 years, are being evicted so that Housing New Zealand can sell the land, and property developers can move in and redevelop the sites for new homes. While it is true that some of the land will be used to build new homes for Housing New Zealand clients, there is no guarantee that the evicted tenants will be the ones living in them. This is more than just an issue of people losing their houses, this is happening in one of the poorest communities in Central Auckland and it is happening to some of the most vulnerable people. In one foul swoop, these people not only lose their houses, they lose their community, their comfort zone, their assurance, and their homes. They lose the things that cannot be bought and sold. These are things that come through stability and permanence, not through being transient and unsure. If this isn’t enough to get you off to a start on your Lenten reflection then look to what is happening with AFFCO. Yesterday, AFFCO, the biggest Meat Processing Company in New Zealand and a company worth over $968 million, announced an indefinite lockout of its workers at 5 meat plants across New Zealand. Workers that are overwhelmingly Māori, workers that are already being taken advantage of. Both of these kaupapa are just 2 examples of things happening all over the motu that we as Christians should be condemning. Quite often though, through no fault of our own, these kaupapa come and go without much notice a part from reading them in the morning paper. Here and now, as we begin our journey into Lent we have a very rare chance in today’s day and age of 2 minute noodles and broadband, to pause, reflect and think about these issues. Issues that aren’t happening overseas somewhere, but are happening here, in our own backyard. Issues that aren’t affecting Mr & Mrs Nobody but are impacting on our very own whanau and communities.

Whanau, our calling to love and to serve demands that we at least give more than a fleeting thought to issues like these because it is only then, and when we respond with action informed by our faith and calling that we can, like Jesus, emerge out of the 40 days of wilderness that is Lent, and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and call our whanau and our communities to repent and believe in the Good News.

And so I leave you with those thoughts in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.         AMEN.

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About Christopher Huriwai
I am a twenty-something, husband, student, minister, Anglican, Maori, son, brother, uncle.

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