Here is another reading for the First Sunday in Lent from Faith and Life, this one being from Gregory Nazianzen:
May the God of peace, who places kings on thrones, and “raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill,”—who “chose David His servant, and took him away from the sheepfolds,” when he was the least and youngest of Jesse’s sons; He who “gives a word to those who preach with great power’,” for the full proclamation of the Gospel,—may He Himself “take hold of our right hand, and guide us in His counsel, and receive us with glory,” acting as Shepherd of shepherds and Guide of guides; so that we may act as shepherds of His flock with knowledge, and not with “the instruments of an inexperienced shepherd”—the former being announced as a blessing, the latter as a curse, to those of old;— may He “give strength and power to His people,” and Himself present His flock to Himself, all bright and spotless, and worthy of the heavenly sheepfold, in “the abode of those that rejoice’,” in “the brightness of the Saints’;” that we all, both flock and shepherds together, may sing His glory in His Temple, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be all glory for ever and ever. Amen.
–St. Gregory Nazianzen, Apologetic Discourse, c. 117.
One might call this a written blessing for our ministers – and one that is apt for any and all who labor for the cause of the Gospel.
This is a repost from past years – from the book Faith and Life: Readings Compiled from Ancient Writers, here is a selection for the First Sunday in Lent, by St. John Chrysostom:
I. THE ACCEPTED TIME.
“BEHOLD, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Let us not then throw away the opportunity, but exhibit such earnestness as is worthy of the grace bestowed. “See that ye receive not the grace in vain.” For lest they should think that reconciliation to God consisted simply in believing in His summons, he adds this requirement of earnestness of life. For if a man has been released from his sins, and made a friend, and then again plunges into his former evils, this is to return to envy, and, as far as conduct goes, to receive the grace in vain. For if we live impurely, we are not much helped by grace in regard to salvation; on the contrary, we are all the more injured, being weighed down by it in the midst of our sins, seeing that after such a recognition and such a bounty we have returned to our former evil deeds. But he does not as yet express this thought, for fear of making his discourse repulsive; he only says, grace, in this case, does us no good. Then he reminds them of prophecy, urging and pressing them on to start up and lay hold on salvation. “For the Scripture says, In a time accepted I heard thee, and in a day of salvation I succoured thee; behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” What is the accepted time? It is the time of bounty, the time of grace, when we are not called upon to answer for our sins nor to suffer punishment; but, besides being released from it, to enjoy innumerable blessings, righteousness, sanctification, and every thing else. Let us draw near and show forth goodness of life; for this is easy. For he who enters on the contest at such a time as this, in which such exuberant bounty is poured forth, in which such fulness of grace, will easily win the prize. Let us then enter on our contest in the time of this bounty; it is a day of grace, of Divine grace; therefore we shall easily win the crown.
–St. Chrysostom, Hom. xii. on 2 Cor.
Indeed. now is the accepted time, and this is a great reminder that we are truly in “a time of bounty, a time of grace” in this season: will we “not then throw away the opportunity”?
From Fr. Matt Kennedy of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York, here is a reflection on “What is Lent?”.
From the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier of Providence REC in Texas, here is an excellent Lenten sermon that really speaks the truth about the subject of repentance:
Returning to our Father’s house
Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Repentance lies at the heart of the season of Lent and “There is, no true repentance but that which begins in the love of God and of righteousness.” In our previous sermon we heard how the Love of God is the only valid motive leading us to true repentance, and that in order for sinners to see the Love of God, our hearts and minds must be healed from our spiritual blindness, that we may contemplate the meaning of the Cross.
The Cross of Christ, the proclamation of the Lord’s death, although inscrutable for us, also carries a simple message: For God so loved the world, that he gave his Son, that whosoever would believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Scripture makes it clear that God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner.
Sinners choose their own destruction, by obstinately ignoring and rejecting the Truth of the Word of God calling them to repentance.
Repentance is therefore the only alternative for us sinners to turn away from destruction, to attain eternal life in communion with God.
This means that repentance is a very important concept for us. It is the turning point upon which our eternity hangs.
How much regret will there be in the heart of all those who chose to pay no heed to the word of the Gospel while they still had a chance!
This is why the season of Lent offers such an important opportunity for us to focus our lives upon the things which are really important, to grow into true repentance, by engaging in fasting, and other spiritual disciplines to helps us walk in that direction.
During the season of Lent we will consider in detail the meaning and application of repentance to our Christian life.
First, let us begin by defining true repentance. As we mentioned before “Repentance” means a change or turning of the mind and heart away from sin and towards God.
Repentance is of such importance in Scriptures, that there we find multiple vivid examples illustrating its meaning.
Take for example the parable of The Prodigal Son. There we find the story of a young man who wanders away from his father’s house, abusing and squandering his inheritance in sinful living until he was out of money. Then there was a famine in the land, which forced him to take the only job he could find feeding pigs, but he was still hungry, he was not even allowed to eat of the miserable food of the pigs.
At this point listen to what scripture says :
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! Luke 15:17
Notice how the Lord described the change of heart on this young man: “when he came to himself,”
Notice that up to this point the young man had acted without any regard to any moral restraint in his conduct.
We could say that he was “beside himself”, in the sense that he was acting against his own best interest by pursuing the desires of the flesh instead of the commandments of God.
There is a certain “madness” connected to our corrupt nature.
It is not hard to see that sin, even when pleasurable in the short run, is necessarily destructive to our long term well being.
Our minds like our bodies were designed to promote our true well being. Neither the body nor the mind was designed for sin. Sin carries death as a consequence, while our bodies and our minds were designed for life. God’s commandments are nothing but boundaries designed to prevent us from harming ourselves and each other.
Therefore whenever we choose to act against God’s commandments we are always acting against ourselves and against each other, we are choosing lies and deceit, instead of truth and light, death and misery instead of life and peace.
This is the perversion of love by which sinners love evil more than good.
Of course because choosing evil over good is contrary to both conscience and reason, it happens that the only way we can indulge in sinful conduct is by ignoring both the voice of conscience and perverting the testimony of reason. In other words in order to love evil more than good we must deceive ourselves calling good “evil”, and evil “good”, ignoring the word of God. Then light becomes “darkness”; and darkness “light”.
The young man looks into the horizon, forgets the commandments to honor father and mother, and chooses the adventure of sin in the big city. The life of sin looks so much more enticing; He is convinced that it is the right choice for him and therefore insults his father asking for his inheritance while the father is still alive and then goes to spend it all in sinful living.
In the city, I bet he lied concerning his past life, as he left behind all the teachings of his up bringing. As long as there was money, everything went according to plan, he had no thought of the good he had abandoned.
And there is no telling what would have become of him, had his lack of money and the famine in the land had not pushed him to extreme misery.
This is why “the prosperity of the fools shall destroy them.”(Proverbs 1:32) Because when fools commit evil and get away with it, they wrongly presume that it is all really good for them. They then continue to pursue the wrong path leading to destruction while being content with themselves and their choices.
Sin is deceitful; it could not take a hold of our hearts and minds otherwise, because it is based upon a lie; that there is another way to life and good and truth, than obedience to our Creator.
This is why the words of the Lord are so important for us: “I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.” John 14:6
All this is to bring us to the important realization that our blindness to truth, life and right conduct, brought about by our natural corruption leading us to reject the light of God in order to follow our own light, must change or we will perish.
Therefore repentance necessarily involves a renewal of the mind, a transformation by which we choose to turn to God instead of doing whatever our sinful desires would rather we do.
Notice how this turning point came to the heart and mind of the prodigal son: “he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!”
His misery finally gave him a reality check.
He was hungry, and his hunger got him thinking about how good his father was, and how good was his life before even as a servant.
This illustration helps us to understand the value of fasting. When we fast we voluntarily deprive the body of something it likes, something the body naturally craves for, and not having it produces hunger, but this hunger for temporal things, can help us put in perspective the truth of our fallen condition and our mortality, so that we may turn towards the light of the word of God and eternity.
Notice that there is no virtue in self-punishment, but that the hunger of fasting only may become helpful to us if it leads us to reflect and pursue the will of God for our lives. Fasting helps us realize the truth about our condition and its consequences, in order to turn our attention away from the temporal things and focus upon those that are eternal.
The misery of this young man’s condition was the fruit of his bad choices. He was hungry, and it was that hunger which spurred him to change his mind and rise to begin to walk in the right direction and return home.
That turning point was the beginning of his conversion, but he was a long way away from home. So he had to make a decision, he had to take his hunger with him and keep walking all the way back, fasting and still hungry on his way back to his father’s house. (I wonder if his journey might have take him forty days?) We can call his long walk home his season of lent, giving him the opportunity to deepen his resolution to leave his life of sin behind, while checking his craving for immediate gratification, patiently walking home instead of remaining far away trying to eat some pig’s feed.
We should realize that privation and adversity are not necessarily evil, they are often used by God to correct and help us turn our minds and hearts in the right direction.
The change of mind was but the first step, it carried as a consequence a change of conduct; which included a sorrowful and humble recognition that he had done wrong.
Luke 15:18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
Repentance begins with a true recognition:
“I have sinned” first against God, for every sinful action is ultimately an offense against God, and then against our neighbor.
These days hardly anyone pays attention to the concept of sin and its consequences. “I have sinned” is not a message typically valued on our self-help culture.
No, these days it is the opposite, guilty feelings are the problem and medication and non-judgmental counseling the solution.
People go to counselors so that they may feel relieved from their sense of guilt, in order to feel good about themselves with whatever choices they have made regardless of what these may be for or against the law of God.
Of course for a modern church which has left behind the concept of sin, repentance can carry no true meaning either, and even less contrition, (the sorrow which one experiences always with the deep realization that one has offended God).
This is why I think the season of Lent has become the most important season of the Christian year for the contemporary church, if we would take seriously its meaning; calling us to turn to God in repentance, as we read in the book of Joel 2:12
“Turn ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”
There is a sense in which God “repents”, which of course is not the same sense in which we repent, for God is incapable of doing any sin and therefore repentance from sin, is impossible for him. But scripture refers to God as repenting whenever he spares us from judgment if we turn to him seeking his mercy.
Take for example the preaching of Jonah towards Nineveh, he preached that after 40 days Nineveh would be destroyed. But, Nineveh was not destroyed, for the whole city turned in fasting and prayer to God pleading from mercy, and God spared them.
The compassion of the Lord for this heathen city, and his willingness to have mercy, is an important reminder to us that the judgment of God only comes upon us when we obstinately refuse to repent in spite of God’s continued call to turn away from our sin and return to him.
The prodigal Son, came to his senses, acknowledging his sin and humbly returning to his home knowing that he was unworthy of his father’s love.
But, what happened then, surely baffled his expectations. He hoped nothing better than to become a slave in his father’s house. But instead he was received as a born again son, as one who had come back to life after being dead.
This reveals to us how much God loves us, and is willing to receive all sinners who truly turn to him. May these season of lent help us to follow on the example of all those who through true repentance have returned to our Father’s house, for his honor and glory. Amen.
There is a lot to think about here, but certainly let us not forget that a culture with no understanding of sin truly cannot know true contrition or repentance.
This is another repost from past years – a quote for Ash Wednesday from Faith and Life: Readings Compiled from Ancient Writers, and it is from St. Leo:
WE have come, dearly beloved, to the beginning of Lent, that is, to the more earnest service of our Lord ; and as we are entering on a kind of contest of holy exertion, let us prepare our souls for strife with temptation, and understand that exactly in proportion to our greater heartiness in pursuing our salvation will be the vehemence of our enemies’ assault. But stronger is He that is in us than he that is against us, and we have force through Him in whose power we confide; for it was to this end that our Lord allowed Himself to be tempted by the Tempter, that, as we are guarded by His aid, we should be instructed by His example. For He conquered the adversary by authorities from the Law, not by the exertion of superior might; that by this means He might at once put a higher honour on man, and inflict a heavier punishment on the adversary, in that the foe of mankind was conquered not as it were by God, but by man. He therefore fought then, that we too might fight afterwards; He conquered, that we too might conquer likewise. For there are no works of virtue without the trials of temptation, no faith without probation, no conflict without a foe, no victory without an engagement. This life of ours lies in the midst of snares, in the midst of battles. If we do not mean to be deceived, we must keep watch; if we do mean to conquer, we must fight.
–St Leo, First Sermon on Lent.
As J.C. Ryle said, “True Christianity is a fight.” Lent is a reminder of that.
As always at this season, please remember: Lent and Beyond: An Anglican Prayer Blog is the place to go for Lenten resources. There is no better compilation on the Internet.
This is a repost from previous years, for I find this excerpt from Augustine of Hippo from Faith and Life: Readings Compiled from Ancient Writers to be powerful:
In the night of this world a lion is prowling abroad, seeking whom he may devour; it is our adversary the Devil. Amid the night of this world, so full of perils and temptations, who would not fear? who would not tremble to the depths of his being, lest he should be adjudged to deserve being hurled into the devouring jaws of so cruel an enemy? Therefore we must fast and pray. And when should we rather do so, when more earnestly, than at the approach of the solemnity of our Lord’s Passion, by which annual celebration the thought of that same night is, so to speak, again engraven upon our memory, lest it should be effaced by forgetfulness, lest that roaring devourer should find us sleeping, not in body, but in spirit. For that very Passion of our Lord,—what else did it chiefly set forth to us in our Head Christ Jesus, than the long trial of this life? Wherefore, when the time of His own death was drawing near, He said to Peter, “Satan asked to sift you as wheat; but I prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith should not fail: go and strengthen thy brethren.” And indeed he has strengthened us by his apostleship, by his martyrdom, by his epistles; wherein also, warning us of the terrors of that night of which I am speaking, he has taught us, by the consolation of prophecy, as of a nocturnal light, to be forewarned and wakeful. “For we have, more sure, the word of prophecy; to which ye do well to attend, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts’.” Let our “loins, therefore, be girded about, and our lamps burning, and let us be like men awaiting their Lord, when he returns from the wedding.” Let us not say to each other, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,” but the rather, in that the day of death is uncertain, and the day of life is grievous, “Let us fast and pray, for to-morrow we die.” Now, therefore, in the person of Christ I exhort you, lest ye be circumvented by Satan, to obtain God’s mercy by daily fastings, by more bountiful alms, by more fervent prayers.
–St. Augustine, Sermon ccx.
This is a good statement for why we have Lent.
I have posted a piece by composer Ola Gjeilo before, but this piece, performed by the Sofia Vokalensemble, is stunning. Below you will see it in both YouTube and Soundcloud formats – whichever works best for you.
Here is another excerpt from Faith and Life, this one from Augustine of Hippo, on charity, or love:
IF you have not leisure to examine all the sacred pages, to unfold all the recondite discourses, to penetrate all the secrets of Scripture, hold fast Charity, on which all depend; so will you hold fast what you have learned, and also what you have not yet learned. For if you know Charity, you know something on which that also depends which perhaps you know not; and in what you understand in Scripture, Charity is patent—in what you do not understand, Charity is latent. Accordingly, he who holds fast Charity in his conduct, holds both what is patent and what is latent in the Divine discourses. Wherefore, brethren, follow after Charity, the sweet and salutary bond of souls, without which the rich man is poor, with which the poor man is rich. Charity is patient in adversities, temperate in prosperity, strong in grievous sufferings, cheerful in good works; most secure in temptation, most expansive in hospitality; most joyous among true brethren, most patient among false ones. In Abel it is acceptable through sacrifice, in Noah fearless amid the deluge, in Abraham’s wanderings most faithful, in Moses most forbearing amid injuries, in David’s tribulations most gentle; in the three Children it awaits with innocence the harmless fires; in the Maccabees it bravely endures the cruel ones. It is chaste in Susanna towards her husband, in Anna’s widowed life, in Mary’s virginal one. It is freespoken in Paul for rebuke, humble in Peter for submission; human in Christians for confessing, divine in Christ for pardoning. But what can I say of Charity, that is greater or richer than those praises of it which the Lord thunders forth by the mouth of the Apostle when he points to the “far-surpassing way?” How great is Charity! The soul of letters, the power of prophecy, the saving virtue of sacraments, the basis of knowledge, the fruit of faith, the riches of the poor, the life of the dying.
–St. Augustine, Sermon cccl.
Truly, love is the greatest of the gifts, and without it all else is vain.
This being the last of the Sundays before Lent – the one called “Quinquagesima” -again from Faith and Life, here is an excerpt on love or “charity” – this one by John Chrysostom:
This is the marvellous point about Charity, that all other good things have evils yoked with them; the man who has no property is often puffed up on that account, the eloquent man has a morbid passion for glory, the humble-minded man is often, in his secret soul, actually proud of his humility; but love is free from every such mischief, for no one would ever be lifted up against the person he loves. And do not suppose the case of only one person loving, but of all alike, and then you will see the excellence of love. Or rather, if you choose, first imagine one person beloved and one person loving; that is, of course, loving as it is meet to love. Why, he will live on earth just as if he were in Heaven, every where enjoying tranquillity, and weaving for himself innumerable crowns. He who is such will guard his soul clear from envy, and anger, and jealousy, and arrogance, and vain-glory, and evil desire, and every unhallowed love, and every moral disorder. He will be as far from doing any evil to his neighbours as any other man from doing evil to himself. Being such as he is, he will be standing by the side of Gabriel himself, while yet he walks on earth. Consider how vast a blessing is the mere act of loving; how much cheerfulness it produces, in how great grace it establishes the soul; which is its peculiar excellence; for the other parts of virtue have each their pain connected with them, but love, together with its profitableness, has its pleasure too in abundance, and no pain at all. He who loves is more pleased to be commanded than to command (pleasant as that is); yea, love changes the nature of things, and appears with all blessings in her hands, gentler than any mother, wealthier than any queen, and makes difficult things light, rendering virtue easy and vice most bitter.
Hence it is that Paul says that Charity is the mother of all good things, and prefers it to miracles and all other gifts. For as, if golden robes and shoes appear, we need some other indication of sovereignty, but seek for no other if we see the purple and the diadem; so it is here. When a man wears the diadem of love, that is enough to point out the thorough disciple of Christ, not to us only, but also to the unbeliever. For, says He, “by this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” So that this sign is greater than all signs, since by means of it the disciple is recognized. For if any men were to do innumerable miracles, yet be at variance with each other, they would be laughed at by unbelievers; so, if they do no miracle, but thoroughly love one another, they continue to be reverenced and to be invincible by all. For Paul also is admired not for the dead whom he raised nor the lepers whom he cleansed, but because he said, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” For if you add innumerable miracles to this, you will say nothing so grand. If he even glories, it is in weaknesses, in outrages, in his intense sympathy with the injured; just as here he also says, “Who is weak, and I am not weak?” These words are greater than dangers, and hence, when increasing the emphasis of his discourse, he places them last of all. Both soul and body did he give up that the men who stoned and beat him might attain a kingdom. “For thus,” says he, “has Christ taught me to love, who left that new commandment of His about love, and Himself fulfilled it by His own actions.” Combining then in our view these deeds of God and of men, let us emulate these virtues, and possess ourselves of that Charity which transcends all spiritual gifts.
–St. Chrysostom, Hom, xxxii. on 1 Cor.
Love is the “mark of the Christian.”