Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent: Psalms, Angels and Evil

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,  will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

Those were the words at the beginning of our Psalm today.

There are times when I need the words and images in the psalms to sustain me more than anything else.

In times of trouble I turn to the psalms to help me pray. The psalmists knew what it was like to be pursued by evil doers, to be mocked for their trust in God, to suffer life threatening illnesses, to be surrounded by the enemy on all sides, to be hungry and thirsty, to feel abandoned by God….and yet to continue to hope and say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

Other psalms express similar thoughts:

Psalm 27 v3 “Though a host encamp against me my heart shall not be afraid, and though there rise up war against me, yet will I put my trust in him”… in God.

Psalm 34 v6,7 “This poor soul cried, and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them

For me, the news we received on waking on Friday morning, 4th March, is still only just sinking in, how close we got to a global environmental catastrophe when Russia shelled, set fire to and seized the Ukrainian power station. We must continue to pray and trust that a force – an army greater than the evil forces of a man, tempted by greed, hatred and a desire to control and manipulate – is ultimately in control. We thank God and the heavenly host that all creation was protected from disaster on that occasion.

Today we are worshipping in Christ Church, but, of course our parish church on the Tor is dedicated to St Michael with its stained glass east window of St Michael the archangel with a sword in his right hand. St Michael, who the book of Revelation informs us threw the devil and his angels out of heaven – there is no place for evil in heaven.

Above the gates in Independence square in Kyiv, I understand is a statue of St Michael the Archangel, patron saint of Kyiv.

Following the shelling of the power station on Friday, you may have seen the video message on YouTube by the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church  from the besieged city of Kyiv. Of course I have only read the subtitles in translation but I know God loves the people of Ukraine. In fact, in the collect for Ash Wednesday, which I will again say (as our post communion prayer today) God hates nothing that he has made. We need to keep praying and trusting that he continues to protect his people on all sides: the angel of the lord encamps round those who fear him.

The Archbishop said on Friday that “many people” have told him that they have seen “luminous angels over the land of Ukraine.” And there have been photos of cloud formations with the appearance of angels put on social media – how they need that comfort and reassurance at present.

The Archbishop also said:

“I would like to address all those who care for the environment….it is necessary to stop this war immediately, this is not only becoming a humanitarian crisis before our very eyes, it is an irreversible attack on God’s creation, that for decades or for centuries will be impossible to correct. Ukraine has already experienced Chernobyl, now it is on the threshold of a new atomic threat that can be 10 times worse.

“Here in Kyiv we perceive that the patron of our city is the Archangel Michael who with the cry ‘Who is like God?’ cast into the abyss Lucifer — the one who rose up against God’s truth and was the leader of the diabolical armies,

“We perceive today that the Archangel Michael together with the whole Heavenly Host is fighting for Ukraine. So many people from throughout Ukraine are turning to me saying that they saw luminous angels over the land of Ukraine.”

He added: “Today we pray: O Archangel Michael and all the Powers of Heaven, fight for Ukraine! Cast down that devil who is attacking us and killing us, bringing devastation and death!”

Major archbishop: Many seeing ‘luminous angels over the land of Ukraine’ – Catholic News Agency

Keep praying, they need hope and encouragement not to despair; and to keep trusting that though they are walking through the valley of the shadow of death God is with them,

Our Gospel reading today reminds us of how Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. It is a very familiar reading but one word struck me as I read it again, a very small but significant word the devil used… If.

Jesus had just been to the river Jordan and submitted to baptism. Heaven had opened and the Spirit descended on him, like a dove. He heard the wonderfully affirming words of the father, as he prayed: “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased, or my joy, my delight”. You are my beloved son – no doubt there. The true word of God the Father.

In the wilderness, though, the voice of temptation said: If you are the son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread….if ….sowing doubt in the mind of the son…..and trying to twist the truth….offering him all the kingdoms of the world if he bowed down and worshipped the evil one. To take power without enduring suffering first must have been a real temptation.

Jesus needed to overcome those temptations at the beginning of his ministry to enable him to overcome them at the end too. In the garden of Gethsemane he faced the enormity of the agony he had to endure, praying his own ‘if’: “Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will but yours be done”. And he accepted the cup of suffering. Listen to the mocking of our Lord on the cross: “the rulers scoffed at him saying, ‘He saved others, let him save himself.’ The soldiers also mocked him… if you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” And then, of course one of the criminals said: “Are you not the Christ, save yourself and us.”  If, if, if…

Jesus knew he was the Christ, the promised Messiah and the Son of God the Father but he also knew he had to suffer.

Our Christian brothers and sisters in Ukraine and in the rest of Eastern Europe, including Russia, know that they are precious children of God and much loved but at present they are suffering terribly. As they continue to trust God to protect them, I pray they will receive comfort, and that the Lord will deliver them from evil.


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