Lent IV Evensong: IITim 4:1-18

Lent is a time of repentance, of turning away from sin, and back to God. As we saw in this morning’s Gospel the prodigal son leaves his dissolute ways and goes back to his father: he is contrite, truly sorry for his sins, and his father runs to meet him, embracing him before he has even had chance to say sorry. Likewise God forgives us before we ask him, but that does not mean we do not have to ask, that sin is not a serious problem. It is: it nailed Jesus to the Cross. In Jesus we see the arms of the Father embracing us his prodigal children, arms flung open, bleeding and beaten and nailed for love of us. We should meditate upon Our Lord’s Passion, his suffering and death, so that we might prepare ourselves to celebrate his Resurrection.
          Sin matters, and so does orthodoxy. Christianity is not a pick-and-mix religion: we cannot choose which bits to believe and which not to believe. What the church teaches matters: it always has and always will. It may well not make for easy or for pleasant reading, nor should it. There are those who wish to water down the message of the Gospel, to make it conform to the ways of the world, and in their easy and comfortable message do not bring life, but quite the opposite. This is not a new situation, as this evening’s second lesson makes clear. The church has always faced this problem, and will continue to in the future.
As one ordained to preach the word, I have to take this responsibility seriously and be ready to ‘reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience, and teaching’ I owe it to you, the people of God, and Him whom I serve. I recognise that I am a wretched sinner in need of God’s love and mercy, and I can only do this in the power of Him who saves us and gives us new life in him.
The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. That time is now, and the church must be vigilant: to defend the revealed truth of sacred scripture, the Bible, the word of God, and the tradition of the Church which comes to us from the apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit. It must be vigilant to defend against errors, knowing that as we live after the Resurrection we await our Lord’s Second Coming as our Judge. The time is short, and the task is not an easy one, but it is what we are called to.
As one called to feed Christ’s sheep I would be failing if the food I offered was not truly nourishing, and did not build up the body of Christ, the Church. It’s the work of a lifetime, and not a single sermon. It’s difficult and costly, being poured out like a libation, imitating the mystery we celebrate, being conformed to our crucified Saviour. Quite often it can feel like the church and the world aren’t listening or understanding orthodoxy – it’s frustrating and hard, but it must be done so that ‘the message might be fully proclaimed’ so that people may know the truth which sets them free, free from sin and the ways of the world. On a day when we celebrate the motherhood of the church: the ark of salvation which saves humanity from sin, the world and the Devil, we should likewise celebrate the Faith which she teaches, cleansed from the filth of error, and heresy. We should rejoice in the beauty and goodness of the truth, and turn away from the ugliness of sin, welcoming people so that the wounds of the Body of Christ may be healed, or as a favourite hymn puts it:
We pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep;
soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.
This is what we are called to, this must be our prayer as Christians, to fulfil Our Lord and Saviour’s wish in Gethsemane that we may all be one. It’s God’s will, and we his prodigal children must come back to him, united in love and faith, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory do-minion and power, now and forever

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