The Third Sunday in Lent - Reflection

‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’  Luke 11:23

Brothers and sisters, ‘Your Country Needs You’. None of us were there at the time but lots of us can picture that poster used in World War One of the Chief of the British Army, Lord Kitchener, asking the British public to sign up to serve in the war. The response was amazing and there were long queues for the recruitment centres. There was a very similar response in Ukraine. With the might of the Russian army bearing down on the country huge numbers of people, factory workers, teachers, gardeners, and nursery workers have signed up to fight. Like the British people in 1914, the Ukrainian people of 2022 know they are in a war, and they are choosing to fight. Since 1991, however, the mindset of Britain and Europe has been very different. Since the end of the Cold War we have been led to believe that war was something which only happened in far away countries. War for people of my generation happens in the Middle East or Africa, but it doesn’t happen in Europe, and there is no real threat to our island. Though Russia and others told us of their plans, though they sent ships into the waters off Scotland, and poisoned people on our streets, we continued to act as though war here could never happen. We, and even more so our European allies, continued to trade with Russia and rely on Russian energy to power our homes. We thought we could be friends with Putin’s Russia. All of that changed with the invasion of Ukraine. Now we’ve woken up to realise we’re either on Putin’s side or on NATO’s. That is how it is in a war. There is no fence to sit on. We’re either for Putin’s Russia or we’re against him. There is no middle ground.

There is something similar going on in our readings today; Jesus says in Luke 11:23: ‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters’. Jesus, it seems, thinks we’re at war. Jesus looks around Him and sees demonic, evil activity. There is the obvious demonic possession which Jesus is dealing with in our Gospel. However, that is not all that Jesus has in mind. Jesus sees poverty, famine, war, injustice, homelessness, alcoholism, neglect, abuse, and addictions of every kind, and He sees the devil behind them all. In His ministry—as recorded in the pages of the Gospels—we see Jesus fighting those things at every turn. We see those things today, and we rightly call them evil, but too often we’re blind to the devil who is behind them. We’re like Balaam in our first reading (Numbers 22:21-31) the loving donkey trying to keep his master safe, and the spiritually blind Balaam trying to force the donkey to take him to what would be his death. It is only at the end of the story, in verse 31 when it says: ‘Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn’ that the spiritually-blind man realises the danger he is in. We in the West have for too long been like Balaam before his eyes were open. We’ve seen the symptoms of evil but we’ve been blind to the spiritual disease and the spiritual evil behind them all. In the West we have fought against the symptoms but without curing the illness, without dealing with the evil behind the symptoms they will always come back. We’ve had wars on drugs, wars on poverty, wars on cancer but we never completely win, for we do not deal with the perpetrator. Jesus wants to show us the danger, show us the battle raging all around us, and then like Kitchener’s poster He cries out ‘Your God Wants You’. ‘Whoever is not with me is against me’. It is time for us to pick a spiritual side.

So, how do we do that? Briefly, there are three things to do: Join Jesus’ side, start getting into spiritual shape, and then get in the fight. First, join Jesus’ side. This is the initial and most critical step. Like the Ukrainians, who are even now signing up to fight, we need to pick our side, and then put on the uniform. We join Jesus’ team by believing and trusting in Him, by choosing Him over everything else, and having made that choice, being baptised and confirmed. If you haven’t made that choice for yourself this morning, then now is the time. If you have questions, ask them, if there are things you need to know find them out, but there are no fences on which you can sit in this spiritual war; as Jesus said: ‘Whoever is not with me is against me’. It is time for us to pick a side. Second, having signed up and put on the uniform, as it were, we then need to get into training. When the Ukrainians who sign up to fight and put on their uniform, they are then sent off for training. The same is true for Christians, signing up, choosing Jesus is a necessary and critical step, but we can’t then just sit around and not fight in the spiritual battle, or we may as well of not signed up at all. We must go into training. We must —with God’s help—work on our spiritual health. This is why the Church has us focus during Lent on charitable giving, prayer & fasting; these are the tools, the exercises, which get us spiritually fit. We fight against materialism and our own desires for comfort by giving away money, and in so doing we help others who are struggling for want of money. In a couple of weeks time we’re having our Lent lunch when we will share a simple meal together, and then each give a donation to Safe Families; a charity which provides support so families can stay together. Give to this charity and you will not only help the families but also—done with the right attitude—improve your own spiritual health. There is more for there are other exercises we need to be doing: prayer and fasting. We need to be sitting down each day reading the bible, hearing God’s truth, and then praying to Him and asking for His help. God’s Word opens our eyes to see the evil all around us, and the greater evil which lies behind them. Without daily prayer and bible reading we will slip back into thinking we’re at peace and slowly and surely fall away. The last of the Lent spiritual training is fasting. Fasting is a way to ensure that we give up those things which distract us from the spiritual fight, and in giving them up, create more space and time for prayer, scripture reading, and acts of service. So if you haven’t got a daily devotional pick one up, and if you’ve been reading it but are starting to struggle, are starting to tire, allow today’s readings to wake you up, and rededicate yourself to prayer and bible reading each day.

Finally, we’ve signed up to fight. We’ve done our training, and now we’re ready for battle. This is what we have signed up for, this is what we’ve trained for, and now we go and get on with it. For Christians this will include the fight for justice, the battle against war, and against drugs, and the fight alongside people through their addictions and through their struggles. This is part of our Christian battle, but only part, for if we’re not careful we’ll find ourselves fighting the symptoms and not tackling the root cause. How do we take the battle to the enemy, even as we bide up the wounded? Jesus tells us at the end of verse 23:‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters’. How do we gather with Jesus? We speak to people and we call them into His kingdom. We tell people of our love for Jesus and we invite them to follow Him too. We answer their questions, and we provide them with resources to get to know Jesus better. In short we help people to sign up to follow Jesus, to be baptised and confirmed as they find faith. We work with Jesus to win one person at a time, and in doing so ensure that the devil looses battle after battle. This is our Christian calling, the answer to our individual and national needs, and is the way in which God chooses to bring His kingdom in. This morning God turns to you, to each one of us, and says: ‘Your God Wants You’. May our answer be ‘I am willing’ Amen (from Fr Mike).