When did you last tell someone that Jesus is the person who is in charge of your life?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the First Sunday of Lent. Year C

When did you last tell someone that Jesus is the person who is in charge of your life?

The Chinese Martyr, St Anna WangAnna Wang was born in China, to Christian parents, in 1886; her mother died when she was only five years old. At the age of 14, Anna was among a group of Christians captured by a radical group known as the Boxers. The Boxers told their captives: “The government has banned the practice of western religions. If you renounce your religion you’ll be set free. If you refuse, we will kill you.”

Anna’s stepmother decided to renounce her religion, and urged Anna to do the same. But Anna refused, and cried out: “I believe in God. I am a Christian, I do not want to renounce God. Jesus save me!” Anna, with a number of other Christian prisoners, prayed through the night. In the morning, the Boxers took the Christians who refused to deny their faith to the execution field.

There, a soldier said to Anna, “Give up your faith and you will live.” But she was silent, and when he insisted, she said, “Do not touch me; I am a Christian. I prefer to die rather than give up my faith.” After repeated blows, she whispered the name of “Jesus” three times, lowering her head. Saint Anna Wang – for that is how the Church now knows her – was beheaded for Christ on July 23rd, 1900.

As followers of Jesus, we are invited to do two things: believe in our hearts, and profess with our lips.

In Bible-language, the heart is the place of KNOWING. Faith is a special kind of knowing, a knowing which God writes in our hearts. It’s not the kind of knowing which we can back up with a scientific experiment: Jesus refused to provide a proof of his powers to satisfy the Tempter!

When we hear amazing stories of faith – St Anna Wang declaring her belief in God in the face of executioners, or St John Lloyd labouring as a priest when it was forbidden to do so in Wales – we might wonder how we would react if the ultimate test came our way.

Perhaps you’ve never really been confident in your heart that God is real. If so, then this Lent is an invitation to ask God to be real for you. Not to put God to the test by demanding a miracle on YOUR terms – but asking God to choose His way to connect with you and to make His loving presence clear.

Scripture also invites us to confess what we believe with our lips. The Old Testament reading today was a kind of Jewish Creed, to be recited when making an offering in the Temple. Imagine that you had been picked at today’s Mass to bring forward the bread and wine, and on reaching the step of the altar, I paused the hymn to ask you why you wanted to offer these gifts to God today… what answer would you give?

Every Mass is our thanksgiving to God for the dying and rising of Jesus. We should be people who feel no embarrassment about mentioning the name of Jesus, disciples well able to give a short summary of what we believe about Him. But perhaps you’ve never been invited to have a conversation about what you believe, or why. In fact, we hardly ever hear it spoken about at all, apart from sermons in church and R.E. lessons in school – and then we wonder why our children drift away from faith!

Actually, this stuff matters a lot! What does today’s reading say? Roughly this: “If your lips tell other people that Jesus is real and he is in charge of your life, then you are in the right relationship with God.” But perhaps you’ve never said anything like that to anyone…

If you’ve never said it because you’re not comfortable speaking about what you believe, this Lent is a challenge to try and put your faith into words. Choose a safe pair of ears – your husband or wife, a parent, a friend from this congregation – and break the taboo! Speak about faith! Don’t worry about it coming out in an embarrassed or awkward way. The first time will be the hardest.

There again, perhaps you can’t say that Jesus is your Lord because you’ve never made a conscious decision that Jesus is going to be in charge of your life. Perhaps you’re afraid of what he might ask you to do, or have some serious doubt about whether God is really real. It’s OK to not be sure. We have to know where we’re starting from before we can make the journey called Faith. Remember that Lent leads to the moment at Easter when we renew our commitment to God – this year, let’s make that deeply meaningful.

More people than you think struggle with this. You won’t be the only person here thinking “I can’t talk about my sense of relationship with God” or “I’ve never deliberately decided that Jesus is going to be Lord of all the decisions in my life.” Deacon Rigo and myself will both be very happy to have a conversation with you about your inner struggles with God, if you would find that helpful; you have only to ask.

But remember St Anna Wang. She had the gift of knowing that her faithfulness to God was most important, and she was not afraid to say so. She faced martyrdom; we only face a little embrassment and awkwardness. But it’s not a magic formula – we can’t just say “Jesus is Lord”, we must also know it in our heart. That’s a gift which God will give us at the right time – if we ask for it.

Today I leave you with some questions to ponder during the week ahead, and you will also find them in the bulletin:

How would you answer a friend who says: “Who is Jesus Christ for you?”

What makes it so difficult to speak to others about your religious beliefs?

How do you give thanks for the gifts God has given you?

When did you last tell someone that Jesus is the person who is in charge of your life?

Saint Anna Wang – pray for us!