All Saints Margaret Street

Sermon High Mass Lent 1 Fr Michael Bowie

Monday 2nd March 2020

Lent 1 HM

Here's my text for Lent 1: 

‘The devil doesn't carry a gun: the devil carries fast food, cheap appliances and bad television.’

That's a line from one of my favourite films, Children of the Revolution (a comic portrait of the rise and fall of an Australian Union official who turns out to be Joseph Stalin’s love child).

I suspect that the deep-rooted temptations which Lent reminds us to dig out and deal with are not the things some of us routinely bring to the confessional; nor, probably, are they the things we articulate to others or ourselves as our weaknesses. The daily temptations of human life for most of us are not grand temptations to acts of random violence or infidelity but sideways nudges to easy ways and short-cuts through things, ordinary muddled thinking and 'good-enough' self-justification. And although the temptations offered to Jesus seem grand, this is what they're really about too. Short-cuts and pointless cheating.

Children of the Revolution is predicated on the primacy of human values over those of states and systems: Stalinist Communism and those who naively believed in it in places like Australia are gently mocked (the temptation I won't resist this morning is to share my other favourite line from the film, delivered by Stalin himself: ‘never underestimate Australians – they are not as silly as they sound’).

Children of the Revolution is a film about the importance and tragedy of the human relationships which dash themselves against ideologies in the lives of its characters, and the ordinary madness which follows; not as spectacular as becoming a suicide bomber, but far more common.

Hence, 'The devil doesn't carry a gun: the devil carries fast food, cheap appliances and bad television’, a line which was written and delivered long before the advent of 'reality TV'. We are frequently and imperceptibly led astray by beguiling and soulless homogenizing influences which detract from our own history and civilities. The expenditure of our time, money and energy on dross is the greatest temptation of our culture and our age.

What to do? Jesus offers us a lifeline this morning, in answer to his third temptation, which is an excellent starting point:

'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'

So you're halfway there – well done; you've made the effort to come to Mass this morning to worship God. Now comes the sting in the tail – serve only him.

Well, we can all say we're going to try to do that; we also all know we're going to fail, unless we temporise ('it depends what you mean by serve') or convince ourselves that serving only God really means doing what we already enjoy doing – like attending High Mass at ASMS.

Not worshipping, in the sense of giving ultimate priority to, other things like fast food, cheap appliances and bad television will certainly help us, for the devil is the prince of easy things at others' expense. We are really talking here about something very old-fashioned. Conversion. Not as in going forward at a Billy Graham Crusade, but as in conversion of life. This is a whole-of-life project both qualitatively, now, and quantitatively, the whole span of our years. Our baptism and confirmation committed us to that lifelong project. And that's the real point of Lent: to get us back on track in the repeating patterns of our lives by challenging us to an annual reappraisal and spiritual spring-cleaning before we celebrate Easter. 

St Alban's Abbey offers its congregations an annual spiritual MOT in Lent, a one-to-one conversation with one of the clergy to help re-set our relationships with God and the church. It's an excellent idea. This year, here, there's only me, not a team of Canons, but I'm prepared to give it a go if any of you wish urgently to talk through where you're up to on your spiritual path. And perhaps next year we could work that up into something more systematic.

Many of you have already had an hour with Fr Adam Atkinson in which you have no doubt solved all the problems of our parish and its future. Perhaps, having got a taste for the experience, you would now like to have another conversation to see what you can do about your own path. Of course it needn't be with me – if you have a spiritual director or someone else to talk to, Lent is the time for self-examination and recalibration. If I get any response to this offer I'll organise some times. You may not even need to talk to someone else to do this, but it usually helps.

In my opinion this is a more useful exercise than Lent groups because it is about you, where and who you are now, in relationship with God. Groups are good for extroverts and head-stuff, but I find they can also be a very good displacement activity to avoid examining who we are, deep inside.

And that's the point of Lent: who we are with God. It isn't, mostly, about resisting the temptation to commit murder or massive fraud; it is about challenging fixed ideas, easy readings of others and short-cuts which damage ourselves and them; about leaving behind whatever is, for you, that diabolical banality:

‘The devil doesn't carry a gun: the devil carries fast food, cheap appliances and bad television.’

More news items »