Lenten Sunday 1, Year C. 17 February.

Before we become, at the beginning of Lent, too immersed in sackcloth and ashes, it is suggested that we start everything with a clear, explicit, expression of

THANKSGIVING! Take a look at THIS SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [ DEUTERONOMY 26: 4 – 10]. When we have read it, we should see that Moses is telling the people to express thanks through offering the fruits of their labour to the Lord because “he brought us into this place and gave us this land … flowing with milk and honey … set it down before the Lord your God, and worship …”

Instead of looking at all our faults and failings (which is always useful provided we do not embark upon a huge guilt trip!) why not start this season of

RENEWAL (a much more positive and constructive term than ‘repentance’) with a sense of thanksgiving?

God-in-Christ has already delivered us. He has done (and continues to do) great things for us. Yes, we are all sinners, we fail and need to improve. However, we need to improve on our successes and make them stronger, more realistic, and more sustainable. This is renewal at its best. Merely concentrating on our sins can often be debilitating. We need motivation, and there is no better motivation than to focus on what the good Lord has done and is doing for us, and the many times we have, in Gospel terms, truly achieved.

Renewal leads to repentance. Repentance on its own leads nowhere. Renewal must come first – then we recognise that from which we need to repent.

So, from this point of view we are able to appreciate more clearly words from this Sunday’s Preface which speaks about our being taught

“to cast out the leaven of malice.” The previous translation really does present us with a more telling, contemporary, use of the English language by stating that we “rid ourselves of the hidden corruption of evil.” As we renew ourselves so the hidden (from our immediate consciousness) becomes easily apparent. I doubt whether many of us carry malice within ourselves.

The Preface, of course, makes specific reference on

THIS SUNDAY’S GOSPEL [LUKE 4: 1 – 13]. There are many applications of this extract to our personal lives. This time around, however, let us accept that Satan fought a losing battle. The odds were against him! All the temptations involved the spectacular, and I suspect that the Devil learnt a lesson from this particular encounter. He knows there is no need to repeat the same exercise with us. How many of us are tempted to rob a Bank, murder someone, or commit a major fraud?! NO! Rather, we are tempted in the basics – to stop trying, throw in the towel, give up the practice of faith. If Satan succeeds in simply achieving a general disinterest, then he is satisfied.

At this time, therefore, the temptation with which we are presented is not to take Lent seriously, not to bother with renewal, and avoid a genuine effort in producing within ourselves a healthier, firmer, and more realistic discipleship. If we are to produce, then we need to commence Lent with a personal acceptance that production involves some sort of real effort. Make no mistake: renewal is more challenging than repentance.

Do not overlook the challenge presented by Saint Paul

{2 Corinthians 6:2} on Ash Wednesday. He tells us “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.”NOW! THIS LENT! THIS PRESENT MOMENT IN OUR PERSONAL HISTORIES! Now is, indeed, an acceptable time. So, we really should commence this Lent with thanksgiving – an appreciative acceptance that our loving God presents us with yet another opportunity to renew ourselves and our faith.

OUR NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 10: 8 – 13]

provides us with another reason for thanksgiving. We are told “that the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” We have this enormous asset within us, so be thankful it is within our abilities to USE IT! If, Paul tells us, we believe we “will not be put to shame.” In other words it is not a waste of time – which is the temptation presented to us. Our HEARTS must be involved in this call to Lenten renewal.

Our thanksgiving and willingness to renew ourselves with generous hearts find a dramatic expression in

THIS SUNDAY’S PSALM [91 or 90].

“My stronghold, my God in whom I trust … since he clings to me in love, I will free him … protect him … I will answer.”

Let us give thanks that we do, indeed, have a stronghold who will protect our efforts, and deliver us – renewed – to Easter and further thanksgiving that we have actually done it.