Sermon – preached on Valentine’s Day/Lent 1

So. It is Valentine’s Day and the church bids us to go with Jesus into the desert.

Well, that’s the story of my love life. But what are we to think today? How are we to deal with this story of Jesus being tempted in the desert?

Jesus gets led in the desert, we are told. (And by whom are we told this odd story? – for there was no-one else there but him). And there he is tempted three times.

Firstly tempted to turn stones into bread for himself.

Secondly tempted to accept worldly power in exchange for worshipping the Tempter himself.

The third to doubt God and put himself at risk in doing so.

The other night I found myself at the theatre sitting next to someone who had a huge slogan written on his T Shirt and every time he leaned forwards I got to read it.

In huge gothic letters it said – “Worship Satan – Cuddle Kittens”.

I’m not entirely sure what the motivation is for wearing such a slogan. (Mind, I guess a lot of people can’t work out the motivation people have for wearing the badges I think up but they keep on selling all the same).

In our modern world, we have such complex issues of identity and personality that we are prepared to have words emblazoned onto our clothing or pinned to our lapels or tattooed right into our skin.

“Worship Satan – Cuddle Kittens” – though? What’s that all about.

I suppose it is a way of trivialising all that religion offers in terms of speaking honestly about the world in which we find ourselves.

Does it really matter whom we worship. I rather think it does.

Jesus seemed to think so too.

Well, so much for Jesus’s desert experience. What are the great temptations that the Great Tempter dangles in front of him as he wanders through the deserts of this world in the form of the body of Christ today – you and me.

I think there are maybe still three great temptations.

The first is to think that sexual sins are virtues and sexual virtues are sins.

The more I find I have to campaign for gay Christian couples to be able to get married in the light of day, the more I think that the rows over it are one of the great tricks of the Great Tempter today.

If we are all squabbling about something so gentle and good as letting God’s people get married within God’s eyes then for a whole generation, God’s people have given up the chance to speak sense to society where sexism still allows women to be treated as being of lesser worth than men – watch 30 women giggling about for one man’s attention on Take Me Out on the tellybox if you doubt it. The faster we sort ourselves out on same-sex marriage, the faster we can have something powerful to say about the inadequacies of sex and relationship education in the education system and the faster we can find something hopeful to say in the midst of the supercharged insanity of an online dating world where sex is only a click (or indeed 200 yards) away.

The second modern temptation is to think that the world revolves only around ourselves. If ever there was a Western Temptation it is this one. However, modern forms of communication don’t quite let us get away with that. When we see refugees on the news or see places where war is a present reality, we cannot escape facing the reality that the world doesn’t just consist of people like us and doesn’t happen to revolve around our experience. We can push the off button and fall to the Tempter’s tricks by thinking it all goes away when the screen goes blank – but God has put a conscience in each one of us for good reason – a conscience that we can train and nourish and feed and Lent isn’t a bad time to think about doing so.

The third is to think we are immortal.

On Wednesday evening, again and again, Cedric and I put ashes on people’s heads with some variation of the words: “Remember you are mortal, from dust you came and to dust you will return – turn away from sin and believe in the gospel”.

One forehead after another.

“Remember you are mortal, from dust you came and to dust you will return – turn away from sin and believe in the gospel”.

No doubt some find the repetition of those words rather morbid. They are not meant to be. They are a simple reality check. We are mortal and we don’t know what lies ahead.

A friend of mine uses those words as part of her prayers at night – repeating them again and again on a string of prayer beads.

“Remember you are mortal, from dust you came and to dust you will return – turn away from sin and believe in the gospel”.

What I didn’t know on Wednesday, as I worked my way through the rosary of foreheads with the same words was that someone whom I’ve worked with in the diocese would be dead by Friday night.

And when someone dies suddenly like that it is a shock.

The reality of Ash Wednesday is not to bring that shock to bear but to wake us up from wherever our spirits slumber and live life to the full. We know not what our tomorrows hold so we’d better make the best of today is what those words are all about.

Lent is for teaching us how to live, not how to die.

For some things are worth living well for.

And that take us back to Valentine, funnily enough.

Valentine, whose relics are said, oddly enough to rest in the Gorbals – in this great City of Love.

Not much is known about Valentine from contemporaneous stories. Instead, all we’ve got to go on are medieval myths – though we mustn’t be tempted by the Tempter to disregard such things for they so often contain the wisdom of the ages.

Valentine whom we know today as a providing for a great Retail Feast is commemorated as someone who didn’t just life for something, he died for it too.

One of the medieval sources suggests that Valentine’s great crime was helping Christians out and doing so in a particular way. He helped them to get married at a time when the authorities wouldn’t allow it.

All of a sudden, Valentine seems rather contemporary to me.

Having been arrested, he became something of a favourite pet to the emperor Claudius who was entertained by him. But only so much. When Valentine started trying to convert the emperor he ended up being martyred. Beaten by clubs and beheaded in Rome.

Maybe Lent and Valentine’s day tell us the same thing but in different ways.

Some things are worth living for. Worth living well for.

And some things are worth dying for too.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


  1. Barbara says

    Thank you, Kelvin, for this excellent sermon. I was lucky to attend the service last Sunday and am now lucky to have the chance to watch and read the sermon again. Having to deliver my first sermon in English in Nuernberg in two weeks time (some people try parachuting, for me preaching in English is more than enough thrill…….. ) I can get such a lot of inspiration from my St.Mary’s experience……….

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