First Sunday of Lent – evening
Sunday 1st March 2020
Lent 1 – evening
Luke 15. 1-10
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Many tribal customs include the wearing of amulets – small packages containing something precious and holy that is worn close to the skin and the heart.
For the earliest human beings their amulets would have been contained in small pieces of leather, made into a pouch and worn on a leather thong around the neck or at the waist. Maybe some fragments of bone from the sort of animal that they wanted to hunt and kill to provide for the rest of the kinship group in which they lived? Maybe an attractive shell or curious stone that had taken their fancy and in which they had attributed miraculous powers?
Some of you here tonight may be wearing lockets? They were once pretty common items of jewellery – I had several as I was growing up. Often heart-shaped and inside would be a small photograph of a loved one – maybe a lock of hair? They seem to be much less popular today in this age of the selfie! Photographs no longer have the sort of precious quality they once did!
But in new age thinking, there may also be those who believe – quite sincerely that the wearing of a particular crystal or semi-precious gem stone may have curative powers? And I know of many people who are convinced that wearing a copper bangle helps with the stiffness and pain of arthritis! And is anyone today wearing a Leek or a Daffodil???
For devout Jews it is the words of the Shema or founding prayer of Judaism – The Lord our God is one God. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength (or might). These are the words that are written down and placed in small black leather boxes or Phylacteries that are strapped to the forearm and the forehead of Orthodox Jewish men before they begin their formal times of prayer during the day. The word phylactery is derived from a Greek word meaning amulet or safeguard – something that serves to protect. And the same words are placed in little metal containers that are always attached to the door frame of the house – not just of the Orthodox but of virtually every Jewish family I have ever encountered – and I grew up in a part of London that had at that time a very strong and vibrant Jewish community.
So while the phylactery may be one of the outward signs that mark a Jewish person as distinctive from his Christian, Muslim, Sikh or indeed Atheist neighbour, it is nevertheless a symbol that we can easily understand and appreciate. When devout Jews recite this daily prayer, they feel they are harnessing themselves to God’s purposes – putting themselves at God’s disposal to do whatever God demands, and letting God take them where he chooses. It is a love that engages heart, soul, mind and strength. It is where you put your energy; where you focus your hard thinking: where you orientate your life. And it is a very good thing to think about as we step out on this journey through the days and nights of Lent.
Today, not merely love of God, but the very existence of God is questioned. We will have plenty to discuss around this issue as we consider the life of Stephen Hawking who famously had no time for organised religion and spent a lot of his energy trying to disprove the existence – or at least the need for a divine entity. It may be true to say that many today are only half-believers. Not willing to give up the idea of something greater than ourselves, but unwilling to give it the name of God or to do anything that smacks of worship! Atheism lurks in all our lives. We have only to ask ourselves, when and where does our love of God determine our choices, our decisions, our attitudes, our conduct, our way of living? Where does it impact and make itself felt now, today? Maybe in our consideration of Climate Change or Fairtrade? Those are two areas where the Christian is a bit more conscious perhaps of a faith-driven motivation? Perhaps you can think of others?
But it is worth asking – as the world faces up to the threat of a worldwide pandemic – have we lost our first love? Lost, as a nation, as a religious community, our religious past, our corporate memory? That is where our second lesson comes in.
What has a woman with a lost coin or a farmer with lost sheep, to do with belief in God?
Well simply that the God who commands our love has, in our day, to be re-sought, searched for, rediscovered. Have we sensed what we have lost or misplaced? Have we any notion of how to go about searching for it?
When the people of Israel heeded the command to love God, they underwent a radical reform and entered upon a period of peace and stability. And there is no telling what would happen if as people, faith communities and nations we heeded the commandment to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.’ But it would be intriguing to find out!
May you find time this Lent to keep the love of God uppermost in your mind to let it direct your thoughts and your acts, and let God lead you safe through the desert in search of your own promised land.