Lent 1 (Year B)    1Peter 3: 18 – 22 and Mark 1: 9 – 15    1 March 2009

Some of the fires started in Victoria in Australlia were apparently started deliberately. Perhaps people gripped by resentment, bitterness wanted to get their own back. Who knows?

In a recent Panorama programme on the Gaza conflict it was clear that whatever the politics of the situation Israeli soldiers had callously destroyed peoples’ homes after using them as defence positions, writing offensive graffiti on the walls in the process. Israeli soldiers appeared to have been motivated by contempt for their Palestinian neighbours.

The love of money is not the root of every evil as these two incidents makes clear but it is certainly the root of many and seems to have motivated those who have recently fraudulently misused other peoples money to make fortunes for themselves.

Reinhold Niebuhr the great American theologian of the last century wrote that there was only one Christian doctrine that you could easily check on experimentally – the doctrine of human sinfulness.

There is something wrong with human life and we all share in it. In us, for instance, envy of others’ good fortune can grow into enmity, into gossip, into a campaign against someone. And as I know only too well from my time at HMP Littlehey even peoples own children can be seen and abused as sexual objects, even by people who claim the name Christian.

Where does this twisted mess come from? Is it just the effect of ‘selfish genes’ forcing us to use and abuse others? Seeing others as opponents in the battle for life and survival?

Lent is traditionally the time when we look at the human condition and use the word ‘sin’. A religious word. It signifies that the root cause of all this behaviour is an inherent alienation from God, the ground of our being, all being, the rock form which we are hewn. Alienated from God we can easily begin to see each other as competitors, others from whom we are separated, objects, rivals. I always used to feel my heart sink when a family at a funeral thought the most appropriate music for the coffin to come into was Frank Sinatra singing ‘ My Way’. It spoke volumes.

Lent is a time for self-awareness and acknowledgement of our part in the human predicament. Even Christians can be affected if you like by ‘the enemy’, however you want to describe it. As I have said, feelings of being hard done by can lead to jealousy of others; gossip against the people we are jealous of, to an all ouy campaign rooted in enmity.

As Christians we all battle against the shadow side.

It is necessary for our salvation that Jesus has to do battle with the ‘enemy’ in the wilderness. He experiences the pull and the power of the dark side. He shares in the human predicament. He is in it with us.

So in Lent we acknowledge our manifold sins and wickedness and need for mercy and forgiveness.

The root cause is alienation from God – separation from Him, which can breed FEAR. Much anti-social behaviour, much malicious behaviour is rooted in fear. Much darkness is rooted in fear.

In a recent incident a young man took another young man hostage two weeks ago. Both were serving indeterminate sentences. The hostage was a fearful, vulnerable young man; the hostage taker was motivated by fear, too; fear that he was forgotten in the system; that no-one bothered. The worst assault ever at HMP Littlehey occurred in the Visits Hall when a man attacked his own wife and nearly killed her before she was rescued. Why? It transpired he was paranoid, convinced she was having an affair.

The enemy so often manifests itself as fear – look at the world situation. Look at ourselves. Fear of being alone, fear of being forgotten, fear of ill-health, not coping. Frightened people do bad things to each other. Fear can affect the most Christian of us. Reconciled to God but still vulnerable, still human.

So in Lent we recognise and acknowledge this vulnerability and the presence of fear in our lives.

But there is another task that is fitting in Lent – to grow in awareness of God who is all pervading love.

There is a verse in the First Letter of St. John, ‘In love there is no room for fear, perfect love banishes fear.’ Ch. 4: 18.

A growing awareness of God’s love can begin to heal us, liberate us from fear. To realise we are eternally loved and valued, we need not be afraid.

Now if we turn these questions round, we find that this gospel story also challenges us, as the body of Christ -the church - to think not only about how we encounter Christ, but about the ways that we enable others to meet him too.

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