Sermon for Lent 2 Evensong Sunday 17 March 2019
Sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff
‘None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’ words from our second reading, the Gospel according to St Luke, the 14th chapter, the 33rd verse.
During Lent we reflect on Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, and seek to imitate his overcoming of temptation. One group of Christians took this imitation rather literally, and fled to the desert to train themselves in discipline and self-denial: the Desert Mothers and Fathers.
St Antony of Egypt, living across the third and fourth century, was the founding father of this movement. It was a passage similar to the one given to us by the lectionary this evening that lead him to this calling.
St Athanasius described St Anthony’s conversion:
‘As St Anthony was pondering the image of the early church holding all things in common, he entered the church, and it happened the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man,
‘If you would be perfect, go and sell that you have and give to the poor; and come follow Me and you shall have treasure in heaven’. Anthony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints, and the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers… that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister. And all the rest that was movable he sold, and having got together much money he gave it to the poor, reserving a little however for his sister’s sake. He entered the Church again and heard the Lord say in the Gospel, ‘be not anxious for the morrow,’ he could stay no longer, but went out and gave those things also to the poor. Having committed his sister to known and faithful virgins, and put her into a convent to be brought up, he henceforth devoted himself outside his house to discipline, taking heed to himself and training himself with patience. ‘St Anthony heard the call of our Lord to sell all that he has and he takes it seriously. He sells most of the considerable amount he had, reserving a little for his sister.
Hearing the Gospel reminds him that we should not fear for the future, he realised that selling most of what he had did not go far enough. He sells the remainder, and leaves his sister with some faithful virgins. I’ve always wondered what his sister made of this, since she seems to have no say in the matter. Not only did he give all of her possessions away, he forces her to live in a nunnery. St Athanasius is silent on what she made of this move.
St Anthony, meanwhile, would go on to become the father of monasticism.
‘None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’.
We find it hard to take this call as seriously as St Anthony. We struggle to believe that we might have to give up all that we have to follow Christ. We find ways to gloss this passage that leaves us not having lots of lovely things.
‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’
Lent is a season in which we prepare to enter into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are preparing ourselves to enter into the sorrow of Good Friday through which we experience the joy of Easter Day.
On the cross, Christ lays down his life for us. Christ gives not just all he has, but all he is. He lays down his life for us. In Christ, God doesn’t give us his possessions, whatever that would mean. He gives us himself. He comes to us as one of us.
If we find it hard to think that we might have to give up all he have, how much more demanding the call to give up all we are. To give our entire lives. To do what Christ has done for us.
If we do this, if we lay down our lives, the call to give up all our possessions seems much less radical.
If we give our lives to Christ, we can’t but ask ourselves why has God given us all that he has?
Why has he allowed us to be custodians of this wealth, this property, these possessions that he has entrusted to us?
If we give our lives to Christ, we can’t help but ask what it is God wants us to do with all these things?
One thing we know for sure, as our first reading reminds us, is who our possessions are supposed to benefit. Not ourselves, but those with whom God is especially concerned. The poor. The needy. The outcast. The victim of injustice.
God has given all that he has given us that we might serve those he calls us to serve. Thehungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner. Those through whom we give back to Christ what he has given us.
Lent is a time to ask ourselves difficult questions.
To resist temptation. To deny ourselves.
To take up our cross. To follow him.
Are we giving Christ all that we are?
Are we using all that we have been given in the way he is calling us to use it?
Are we willing to give up all that we are and all that we have to follow him?
Are we willing to free our hands and our lives to receive the greater gifts that Christ wants to give us?
Are we willing to follow him through the discomfort of the Cross to the joy of Easter Day, even as we gaze on him in the Sacrament this evening?