Bishop’s Lenten Message
First Sunday in Lent, 5 March 2017
OVERCOME THE ENEMY AT THE DOOR
In Bibliotheca Alexandria, the Library in Alexandria in Egypt, there is a whole section on the life and speeches of President Anwar Sadat who was assassinated in 1981 while in office. President Sadat is best remembered for the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel signed in 1979. He sought to end the hatred, conflict and bloodshed between the two peoples that had brought so much of pain to human lives. One can say that where there is true forgiveness and a firm resolve to forge a new future, a genuine beginning is made. On the other hand, where anger and hatred are unresolved and lurk in the depths of the human heart, violence and destruction are more than liable to break out.
Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty on 26 March 1979
That was indeed the case in the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-15). Cain was angry and upset that while God accepted his brother Abel’s offering, God had no regard for Cain’s offering. The Lord cautioned Cain about his seething anger with these words:
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6).
The warning of God is clear. Deal with the dark thoughts and emotions in your heart for sin too has a cycle of growth, and when it is fully grown, it will “pounce on you and overwhelm you.” This is what happened in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain allowed resentment against his brother to grow and finally murdered him in the open field. Resentment when fully grown becomes hatred that destroys the other. God judges and punishes Cain, yet even in this instance, God’s justice is matched with amazing grace (Genesis 4:10-15). For a fuller exposition of the story, do listen to my sermon on 5th March 2017 on the Cathedral website.
Lent is a time for purifying the heart. In the tradition of the church, it marks the 40-day journey (not including Sundays) to Easter. I suppose we all want to live in the complete freedom, light and joy of the Resurrection. But our journey towards Resurrection must be through the way of the Cross. And that journey begins with a contemplation of our own sinfulness and the death we deserve. Hence, Lent is a time of recognising and overcoming the dark shadows and desires upon our hearts. If we don’t, then “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:15). So, a good place to start in Lent is simply to ask yourself: “What is the enemy that is crouching at my door to overwhelm and destroy me?” For Cain, it was unresolved anger in the heart that led to violence against the other and the loss of life under God’s gracious rule. For you and me, there could be the same or different dangers lurking in our hearts.
When by the grace of God, you seek to purify your heart of all wrong thoughts and intentions, you will find yourself drawn to the Cross of Jesus Christ. For there at the Cross is full pardon from the past and power to break the stranglehold of sin. That is why the Bible says that God’s mercy in Christ Jesus has reached a new level of utmost:
“You have come… to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24)
God has made provision in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for you and I to ‘overcome the enemy at the door’. As we grow in holiness we declare His glory, experience the joy of our redemption and advance His Glorious Kingdom.
May the Lord grant you and your church a blessed Lent.
Warmly in Christ,
Bishop of Singapore