Is apathy the greatest sin? Revd Victoria accounts how an angry Lenten Vicar led to her rebellion against an apathetic ‘Sunday Christianity’ and led her to fellowship with much older Christians in a housegroup that fired the vocation she now bears.
May I speak in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. And our reading reflects Jesus’ journey through his ministry to a easter day
Six weeks where our concentration is focused not only on Christ’s journey, but very much on our own spiritual journey. Lent is a wonderful time to reconnect with the scriptures, with our own spirituality, to set ourselves discipline in prayer, fasting and action that will sustain us for another year. We started on Ash Wednesday when we make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, a visible sign of what lies beneath. We put that dirty cross on our foreheads to say, publicly, I have mess, I have sin, I need help. I need God.
It’s about honesty, about admitting that we’re not perfect, admitting that there is much in us which, if left unchecked, will prove destructive for us. And maybe for those around us and beyond to the fact that we are sinful, that humanity as a whole is sinful is not news to God. He sees us for who we are. Perhaps God is the only one in the whole of the universe who truly sees us as we really are on the inside. And He still loves us. Amazing, isn’t it? That God knows everything, every tiny thought everything about you, and he still loves you. Hold on to that.
This morning, we join Jesus at the start of his public ministry. We hear how in those 40 days, he manages to resist all worldly temptations and remain faithful to His ministry and his mission. Interestingly, there was a programme on during the week I don’t know if you saw it about healthy diets, and our temptation in this country particularly to eat rubbish to eat lots of takeaways, or food that’s not great for us.
The temptation, I wonder if the programme makers or sheduleers had any idea it was Lent. The good news; Well, for some of us, at least Is that according to them, some of us are programmed to resist temptations. And some of us some of us have what’s known as an addictive personality and find it more difficult to resist. Sorry, guys.
I wonder if you’ve given up anything for Lent. Or perhaps you intend to take something up instead? Whatever you do, it requires discipline to keep to it. And that is the point of Lent. It’s not just the depriving of something like chocolate and then feeling virtuous. But it’s more about the effort it requires. It’s not supposed to be easy. If you can easily cheat, for instance, have the odd square of chocolate, then your it’s your spiritual discipline that is broken, not your diet.
This year, you will probably have noticed that both Julia and I have given up shoes. There are two reasons for this. One is to raise awareness of the refugee crisis around the world, to help people to think about their own lives and their own blessings, and perhaps a bit more about their attitudes towards those that have nothing when we have, just because of an accident of birth, so very much. And the other reason as individuals, and we might say, the most important reason is that spiritual discipline. If we can bear to live like this for 40 days, to suffer with Christ, himself a refugee; in the desert, and not desert him, then perhaps we can understand just a little bit of the love, the perseverance of Christ and giving his life for all of us. And in turn, perhaps we will grow in our discipleship. It’s putting God first. Something that is often difficult in our increasingly busy lives. I’m sure Julia will be happy to talk to you about it if you ask her afterwards at coffee, and it’s not too late if any of you would like to join us, in full, or in part. Maybe you’d like to take your shoes off when you take communion this morning.
Lent is God’s gift to us a time to reflect on our lives, to see where the spirit is leading us to pray and yes to past it’s a time to self examine and to give up sin. So what are those sins we can fall into? Well, we are told that the three biggest sins murder, theft and adultery and I don’t think I’m sure in fact that there aren’t any here who regularly indulge in those.
But I do think that there is a sin that for Christians can be greater even than these, and one that we all commit from time to time apathy. When I was quite a bit younger, and just a person who sat in the pews in church on a Sunday morning, I remember a particular sermon. It was an unusual sermon because our Vicar usually gave a great sermon, opening the scriptures or discussing current affairs. But this Sunday, she was angry at us, very angry. The congregation was quite a good size, it was of mixed ages. And I felt the church was doing quite well as I sat there in my pew. I came most Sundays and so did those in the pews around me. I couldn’t quite see why she was So Cross With Us. She berated us for being Sunday Christians, for not joining house groups or thinking about God during the week. After the service, she left immediately and didn’t join us for coffee as usual. And I can tell you, there was quite a lot of conversation over that coffee. And quite a lot of people were cross with her. But during the week, I began to think about what she had said. I thought about the fact that I didn’t give God much thought between Sunday’s except if I was in need or trouble of course.
And I didn’t study my Bible very much, if at all, if I was really honest with myself. So I decided to join a house group. Well, there was only one I was the youngest At least 50 years. But it is thanks to that group that I am here now. I began to enjoy my Wednesday evenings with this group of octogenarians. I enjoyed learning more about my faith from people with more experience than I and the courses that we studied together. From that I and another younger women set up the women’s group, and eventually that became the young mums group.
I got involved in our overseas group. I even went to Africa to Ghana and came back with a husband. Did all right didn’t I? I joined the PCC became a Church Warden and my journey towards ordination began. All because of that group.
Apathy: perhaps the greatest sin again God, it’s so easy to get used to the way things are to not be bothered, especially when it’s cold and dark. So what is it that stops us from spending more time with God? Why don’t we prioritise him more? As Lent begins, so does the Lent course. What excuse have you told yourself not to go? If you really can’t make Tuesday evenings at all, what have you put in place instead? to grow your faith, to read your Bible to share faith experiences with other Christians? Are you guilty?
So we’ve heard a lot about sin. And let’s go back to where we started this morning with Ash Wednesday. And that cross marked on our foreheads. The good news about that cross is that we can wipe it off. It’s not a brand. It’s not there forever as a reminder that we are sinners. It’s a temporary mark. It rubs off to remind us that we are forgiven always. Paul reminds us that because of all humanity, represented in Adam, we are all subject to sin ended and its effects. No one is immune from it. But likewise, by virtue of Jesus’s divinity and his taking upon himself, our humanity, we all receive the effects of his forgiveness and love and His overcoming of sin and death itself. The gift of life means we live in an uncertain world, a world in which there is in pain and death, in which we all must share. But it is written where Like Jesus in the wilderness, that we place our dependence, dependence upon God and surrender to Him, that we will receive the love, Grace and strength to face what the world throws at us.
So may this Lent be a time for us to discover this truth together, deep within ourselves and be given the strength to do His will? Isn’t it then worth our time and effort?