Bp. Elmer’s homily on the 1st Sunday inLent, transcribed by Deacon Andrew Gossage
1 March 2020
Whilst we are concerned about the virus, let us be reminded of God’s protection. We can be cautious, but we have no reason to fear. The Black Death in the 14th century may have killed as many as 200 million people, and “Spanish flu” in 1918 killed 50 million. Let us remember what God has promised. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by things around us, but may we not forget that God is God and He cares for us. Let us trust Him more, and trust in His promises. If He fails to fulfil His promises, He cannot be God. There is frailty, weakness and sickness, and we will all die, but the ultimate protection God gives us is from eternal death.
As we read about temptation, let us understand that what happened to Eve (Genesis 3:1-7) can happen to anyone. Everything was perfect, yet God allowed the serpent to deceive Eve, and she had the power and ability to say “no”. Jesus wasn’t exempted from temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), and we all face temptations. This is something we can’t avoid, although we can pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God doesn’t prevent it – He gave us power and authority, and His purpose is for us to choose to follow Him.
There are two opposite errors of which we need to be reminded. Some people don’t believe the devil and demons exist; but although the devil doesn’t have a physical body, Jesus encountered him in today’s Gospel. To be obsessed with the devil is equally wrong: we make mistakes, and should not continually blame the enemy. If I gamble and lose money, it’s not the devil’s fault – I should have used God’s money with which He blessed me in a proper way. The devil exists, but we don’t need to focus on him. We are to live our lives to bring glory and honour to God.
Trust in God’s protection
Recently I was prompted that we should pray Psalm 91 for protection for ourselves, our families and the world. Verse 10 is most relevant today: “No evil shall be allowed to befall you; no plague or pestilence or epidemic shall come near your tent.” Our church in Milan met on Ash Wednesday, despite the Italian government saying churches should not meet. The government is trying to protect everyone; but we must pray, because it is God who protects us all. At present there is no vaccine or cure; as Christians our first reaction is not to fear but to trust in God.
Psalm 91:1 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
This speaks of our intimate relationship with God. To “dwell” can be illustrated by the difference between residence and nationality. If you are allowed to live in Spain but are still a Filipino citizen, it is temporary; but if you become a Spanish citizen, you are part of the country: it is permanent. “He who dwells” is someone who stays permanently and faithfully, and trusts totally and completely in God. There’s no place for wavering and doubting, for being “in and out” or “on and off” – permanence is essential.
The “secret place of the Most High” is not a cave or a bunker where you can run when there’s bombing or a hurricane – God is our hiding place, our place of protection. Even His shadow will protect every single one of us. Psalm 91 is Israel’s proclamation for God’s protection as a nation, and our proclamation as individual Christians of our total trust and confidence in God in times and situations like this.
No one can protect you but God alone. Sadly, Jesus only becomes important in many people’s lives when He is the only one to whom we can turn. Often we forget, then when everything crumbles down and everything is not working, we turn to God as the last solution. As Christians, we should go to God first, not put God last.
God promises to Israel and to us all that if we trust in Him, He will be our protector:
· II Chronicles 16:9a: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”
Can God really protect us? Let’s consider some further examples:
· God commanded Noah to build an ark, and protected him and his family from the flood.
· God protected David from the lions in the desert.
· God protected David from the crazy Saul who tried to kill him.
· God protected Israel from the Egyptian army: He miraculously opened the Red Sea, and they passed on dry land.
· God protected Jesus, Joseph and Mary by sending them to Egypt when Herod hunted the Child.
· God protected the three Hebrews in the furnace, even though it was heated seven times.
Verses 5-6 say, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that starts in the darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”
We need to pray
This Psalm mentions three times of day: night, noon and morning. The Western Church usually prays Psalm 91 at the end of the day, but the Eastern Church prays it at noon.
Mark 15:33 says, “Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” Jesus was crucified from 12:00 to 3:00 pm. We see the sun at its highest around noon, but it became dark when Jesus was crucified.
The Eastern Church says that hell unleashed all its power to kill Him: Jesus was mocked, the plans of the religious leaders whom the enemy was using achieved success, and there was celebration in hell. The enemy attacks at different times, seeking to steal, kill and destroy; but the Eastern Church believes there is a spirit that attacks Christians especially around that time to take away our courage, hope and peace. The enemy acts to contradict God’s work: God created the sun, our source of light, and said “let there be light”, but the enemy brought darkness at the brightest time by killing the Son of God.
We need to stand and pray, because we know the Lord Jesus Christ brought victory to humanity on the cross. The Church stands against evil forces seeking the ruin of souls. Read this psalm prayerfully for the sake of your loved ones and of humanity. We need to stand on behalf of humanity; God is not happy when people are killed.
God promises abundant life
Verse 16 says, “With long life I will satisfy you, and show you My salvation”. John 10:10 says, “I came that you might have life, and might have it abundantly.” If we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, what can the enemy do? We cannot live in fear, because God is not the author of fear but of love. But it takes permanence: we need to rely constantly on the protection of the Most High God, and trust in Him totally and completely.