Sermon preached at Grosvenor Chapel. Epiphany 3 2016 by Fr Nicola Stebbing CR  

“The sprit of the Lord has anointed me to the preach the Gospel to the poor”

Here at the beginning of his ministry in Luke’s Gospel Jesus places a kind of manifesto. He will care for the poor. Right at the heart of the Christian Gospel is a care for the poor. Who are the poor? Obviously they are those who do not have money. They are also the weak, the powerless, the people who get left out of our society. In Jesus’ day they were the lepers, the sick, the blind. They were also tax collectors who were actually quite rich but were rejected by society. In Jesus day there were the women, the widow of Nain whose son had died, the woman taken in adultery whom men wanted to stone, the poor woman who put her last two coins into the temple treasury. Jesus had an eye for noticing people like that. Most people don't notice. Jesus remembered seeing a woman who had lost one single coin and cleaned the whole house until she had found it. Jesus noticed people. Do we?

In a few weeks' time Lent begins. Grosvenor Chapel has very kindly promised to support Tariro, the charity I run in Zimbabwe. I am very grateful for this. Frankly we need the money. We look after a lot of children in Zimbabwe and they cost us a lot. I will tell you more about this after the service. Lent should not only be a matter of giving money to Tariro. Lent is a time to grow in our Christian faith. One way of doing that, this Lent, may be to take the question I put a moment ago - do we notice things? We go through life in a great rush. In London everyone walks at great speed. Crowds rush down into the tube, rush out of the tube, rush along the pavement. People travel long distances to get to work, or to church. Do we look at the world we are passing through? This is God's world. He made it. He cares for it. He loves it. We know we are destroying it. Our economy is eating up this world at a faster and faster pace. We know that but we push it on one side. We try not to notice the effects of the work we do and the things we eat. Lent is a time to stop and notice those things.

Recently Pope Francis wrote a wonderful encyclical called Laudato Si. It is about the damage we are doing to our world and the effects of climate change. All through there is a refrain: Listen to the cry of the poor who are suffering from these things. Listen to the cry of Sister earth who is being destroyed.

Are we listening to that cry? Lent is a time when we should open our eyes and see, open our ears and hear and then think what to do. See, Listen, Act. That could be a good rule to keep throughout this Lent. We are followers of Jesus. We need to do as he did.

When Jesus had read from the prophet Isaiah he sat down and they all gazed at him and he said " Today is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears” and they got angry and even tried to kill him. What made them so angry? Was it just because here was a local boy claiming to be the Messiah. Or was it because they didn't want to listen to what he said? When we don't want to hear what is being said we can react in two ways. We can just quietly ignore it. That is what we do most of the time. We try not to notice the people suffering around us. We simply get on with our lives and ignore their needs. Or we get angry. We deny there is a problem. Climate change just happens; there is nothing we can do about it. Maybe so but we can look to the needs of those who suffer the effects of climate change - the people of Africa and the Pacific islands, for instance. We know that our economies are devouring the world's resources. Can we do anything about this? It is easier not to bother, not to try but it is not Christian.

I don’t  know how many of you are fans of the Harry Potter books. In one, JK Rowling gives one of the best definitions of sin I have heard. Dumbledore is talking to the school after Voldemort has killed Cedric. He says “Remember Cedric. When you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy remember Cedric”. That is sin – we know what is right but we do what is easy and terrible things happen.... well Lent is a time when we stop taking the easy option and try to go for what is right.

Do these words make you uncomfortable? I expect they do. They make me uncomfortable. The thought of Lent always makes me uncomfortable. I don't like the idea of giving up things I like, working harder at prayer, taking Christian life more seriously. It would be easier not to bother but, actually, when we try we find we enjoy it. Doing what is right, rather than what is easy turns out to be stimulating. Finding new ways to recycle, new ways to shop sensibly, new ways to save money turns out to be rather fun. Even for me, raising money for Tariro, visiting the work in Zimbabwe is enormous fun. We tend to think that doing what is right and good is going to be hard and grim. That is because we look at it from our sinful selves. Actually doing what is right and good turns out to be satisfying, stimulating, even exciting. Lent is a time of grace. Each thing we do for Christ will be blessed by Christ. We will learn new things, find the world is not a depressing place filled only with refugees, wars and disaster. Even now the world is a good place and there are lots of people doing wonderful things. Can we be like them?

Christianity, you know, is not boring. Jesus is not boring. Following Jesus through this Lent will not be boring. He may ask a lot from us but we will be glad to give it. After all, we follow him because we love him. What can be nicer than doing good things for a person we love?


            Nicolas Stebbing CR