10 March 2019

Is it true that ‘We are all in
the gutter, but some of us
are looking at the stars’?

‘The devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world’ (Luke 4: 5) … hot-air balloons drifting across the landscape in Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 10 March 2019, the First Sunday in Lent

11.30 a.m.: Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer

Readings: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11; Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16; Romans 10: 8b-13; Luke 4: 1-13.

‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit in the wilderness’ (Luke 4: 1) … travelling through a gorge in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. ‘It’s so dreadful to be poor,’ sighed Meg.

These are the opening words of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

In many of our parishes, Lent would not be Lent – or Lent would not have started properly – without singing the hymn ‘Forty days and forty nights’ by the Revd George Hunt Smyttan (1822-1870) on the First Sunday in Lent.

But perhaps there is another quotation that comes to mind because of this morning’s readings, this time from Oscar Wilde. In the opening act of Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), Lord Darlington declares, ‘I can resist everything except temptation.’

Our readings this morning ask us to see the connection between the 40 years of wandering of the freed slaves in the wilderness, where they were tempted, and the 40 days Christ spends in the wilderness. Moses eats nothing during the time he is on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, and Christ fasts in the wilderness; just like the freed slaves, Christ too is tempted in the wilderness; and in response to his tempter, Christ answers with quotation from the Book Deuteronomy and from this morning’s Psalm (Psalm 91).

In our first reading (Deuteronomy 26: 1-11), we hear how, in response to being fed in the wilderness and brought into the Promised Land, the freed slaves are asked to do things: to share their food, the fruit of the land; and because they were once refugees and migrants, who were ‘treated … harshly and afflicted,’ they are to remember their days of oppression by sharing their blessings today with the aliens who live among them.

In a similar way, Saint Paul reminds us this morning (Romans 10: 8b-13) that before God, in Christ, there are no ethnic or cultural distinctions, that ‘there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.’

In our Gospel story (Luke 4: 1-13), Christ is in the wilderness, where he fasts for 40 days.

In all, he is presented with three temptations: to find a quick, easy and flashy way to end his hunger, without respect to where food comes from and how it is sourced; to make a quick grab for power that shows no respect for God’s authority or shows no hope for the Kingdom of God; to reduce religion and worship to mere display and trickery.

After 40 days in wilderness – unlike Lady Windermere’s suitor Lord Darlington – Christ resists temptation, and he returns to Galilee to begin his public ministry. Filled with the power of the Spirit, he preaches and teaches in the synagogues, bringing ‘good news to the poor,’ and proclaiming ‘release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,’ freedom for ‘the oppressed’ and ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ (see Luke 4: 14-19).

Lent is not so much a time of fretting about temptation or dispelling any misapprehensions about looking too pious or sanctimonious, as a time of preparing to renew our relationship with God.

Is your Lent going to be an opportunity to be part of the new creation in Christ?

Is your Lent going to be a time to take account of your own hidden temptations?

Is your Lent going to be a time to explore your own wilderness places and to be aware of them?

Is your Lent going to be a time of preparation for the acceptance of the Kingdom of God?

Perhaps the best-known line in Lady Windermere’s Fan is spoken by Lord Darlington when he sums up the central theme of the play: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

These words by Oscar Wilde describe how Victorians saw an unbridgeable chasm between good and bad, between love and hopelessness, between real love and base desire, between the eternal and the frailty of real life.

But these are false contrasts. Instead, I prefer how Martin Luther King once said: ‘Only in the darkness can you see the stars.’

Spiritually, we are not in the gutter looking up at the stars. Lent is a reminder that we do not remain in the wilderness or in the darkness. Lent, as it returns year by year, offers us a perennial opportunity to renew our covenantal relationship with God, the promises of our Baptism, to accept the love of God that Christ offers us.


There is a posting that is popular on social media that asks: ‘Do You Want to Fast This Lent?’

And it then offers these bite-size Lenten resolutions, in words attributed to Pope Francis:

Fast from hurting words ... and say kind words.

Fast from sadness ... and be filled with gratitude.

Fast from anger ... and be filled with patience.

Fast from pessimism ... and be filled with hope.

Fast from worries ... and have trust in God.

Fast from complaints ... and contemplate simplicity.

Fast from pressures ... and be prayerful.

Fast from bitterness ... and fill your hearts with joy.

Fast from selfishness ... and be compassionate to others.

Fast from grudges ...and be reconciled.

Fast from words ... and be silent, so you can listen.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread’ (Luke 4: 3) … bread in a supermarket in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 4: 1-13 (NRSVA):

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ 4 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone”.’

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ 8 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,

“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him”.’

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you”,

11 and

“On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”.’

12 Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.’ 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone”.’(Luke 4: 4) … bread on a stall in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

The canticle Gloria is omitted in Lent, and the doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted in Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)


Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:

‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’ (Luke 4: 11) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


595: Safe in the shadow of the Lord (CD 34)
207: Forty days and forty nights (CD 13)
596: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God (CD 34)

‘In the wilderness … for forty days he was tempted … (and) ate nothing at all during those days’ … on the remote island of Elafonisi, south-west of Crete and on the southern edges of Europe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘You shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground … and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose’ (Deuteronomy 26: 2) … fruit on a market stall in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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