Sermon given at Evensong on the Second Sunday before Lent 2022

To begin to understand the present precarious situation in Ukraine we first need to understand what has happened in the past.

The Reverend David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 20th February 2022 at 3.00 PM

To begin to understand the present precarious situation in Ukraine we first need to understand what has happened in the past.

For most of the twentieth century, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.). But when the Soviet Union began to unravel in 1990–91, Ukraine declared sovereignty (July 1990) and then outright independence (August 1991).

Ukraine gained full independence with the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in December 1991. So as world leaders scramble ever harder to try and find a diplomatic solution much talk has naturally turned to the 2015 Minsk Agreement as a possible way out of the crisis.

The agreement, the second of its kind (and the one that really matters), was hammered out in a bid to end what was then a bloody ten-month conflict in eastern Ukraine. But the problem is Minsk II was never been fully implemented, and its key issues have never been unresolved.

To explain the present, we always need to look at the past. We know that if we live our lives in a forward-looking manner, we understand them by reflecting on what has been.

So, to discover why things have turned out the way they have we journey back into the past in an effort to uncover the origin of it all. All great cultures and religions have a sacred story that describes the beginning of the world:

For example: the ‘Hadath’ within the Qur’an; the Brahma in Hinduism; the Karma in Buddhism. Most of these stories are a variation on a simple theme: In the beginning it was good, but then it got worse!

To account for the order (and disorder) of their own world the ancient storytellers and writers told tales of the beginning. That is genesis, the story of the beginning.

In today’s first reading we hear the first account of creation from that great Hebrew story. But as we all know well with the coming of Adam and Eve it all soon began to go wrong.

At first it was blissful in the garden of Eden. Man and woman knew happiness together, and no shame, as they lived in harmony with nature and the animal kingdom. It was the age of innocence and of peace with God—but it did not last. In eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve disobey the word of God.

Their eyes testify to their new knowledge and lost innocence: ashamed of themselves and afraid of God, their first reaction is to hide parts of themselves from each other and the whole of themselves from God. Covering-up becomes the new way of relating to God and each other.

The writer of Genesis tells us a profound truth about sin and its effects. Because of sin there is dislocation everywhere; everything becomes askew; nothing is as it was planned, as it was meant to be.

It means that we can be open neither with God nor with each other. We spend our time and energy in covering our tracks, covering ourselves. We cannot face God.

In the Genesis story God has to come searching for Adam and Eve. So, the first question of God in the Bible is the everlasting one: “Where are you?” and if salvation is a matter of being found by God, the first question is the root of all biblical questions: “Where are you?”

When God finds Adam and Eve he expels them from the garden into the wasteland and so the first human beings are the first refugees: In the beginning there was the exile.

Banished from the garden they must make do in a world where they will have to struggle for survival; a world where human relationships will be fragile; a world where fidelity to God’s word will always be a challenge.

Genesis tells us that sin enters the world through disobedience to the word of God. But there is a promise of salvation which leaves room for hope.

St Paul consistently reminds us that as sin entered the world through one man’s disobedience, so salvation enters the world through one man’s obedience. Christ comes in the name of God.

Like God in the garden of Eden, he comes to look for those who have hidden themselves from God: “I have come to seek out and to save the lost”. Christ is the one who comes seeking us out, calling our names, knocking on our doors, asking to be let in. He is the quest of God in search of a lost people.

The primary purpose of Jesus’ divine calling is to save us for his heavenly Father. Of all the verbs that describe what Jesus does, the verb “to save” is the most important.

But his mission to save is not free from trial. He is tempted to abandon trust in his Father and go the way of power and prestige and public display, before his mission gets under way.

The Gospel shows him in the wasteland facing a series of temptations, the same temptations that Israel faced in the desert. Jesus is seen to face temptation with the power of the word of God.

He does not argue himself; he uses the word of scripture and makes fidelity to that word the mark of his mission. He lives by the word of God and he feeds on that word.

Obedience to that word will take him through trial and temptation to the cross itself, the great sign of our salvation. In Jesus’ obedience to the word of God we are saved.

At Easter we will celebrate the resurrection, the most important feast in the Christian calendar. In the not too distant future (in ten days’ time on 2nd March: Ash Wednesday) we will begin Lent as a time to ready ourselves for that great feast.

We’re invited to let God find us where we are. He has the same question to ask each of us: “Where are you?” To explain the present, we always need to look at the past.

During this coming Lent it’s worth making time to look where we are in our lives and discover God’s presence anew. We are challenged to make time to listen to his word. We are invited to let him get close to who we are and how we are.

Traditionally Lent is a time when we give up some things or take up some things. Whatever we do, it would be a good idea to allow the word of God to get close. The word comes to question who we are; it comes to support the kind of people we could be.

A key to this may be found within today’s Second Lesson: Christ is commanding His listeners to take control of what is going on in their minds and hearts.

The word translated "worry" or "be anxious" here is merimnate. This can mean to care for or think about something. In this context, it means to obsess or agonise. Christ’s point here is not that we should be careless, but that we should not be fearful.

Lent is a good time for us to hear Christ’s voice afresh and his call to cleanse and sanctify ourselves. During Lent Christ wants to cleanse us of our sins, - our bad attachments and our bad ways.

So, we need to hear the words “do not worry” and understand them as directed to us personally in spite of the fact that this might be really difficult.

He wants to free us and make us all more beautiful in our lives.