The recording of the talk from the Ash Wednesday service follows or if you prefer please read the transcript below
Do you ever feel that God ignores you, that he does not hear your prayers? Do you feel that they just bounce off?
Do you ever feel that you are struggling alone with illness or not knowing what to do, how to cope in the situation which is before you?
Are you feeling misunderstood and maligned, whatever you do or say?
Are you unable to discern what to do in the challenges which face you?
Are you faced with constant anxiety in a situation which in the past you could easily handle?
There is a spiritual dimension to all these things. And, for Christians, Lent is a good time to bring that supernatural dimension to bear on what is causing us distress.
If we do what Isaiah suggests (verse 10 see below):
‘[the Lord’s] light shall break forth like the dawn
and [the Lord’s] healing shall spring up quickly
[the Lord’s] vindicator shall go before [us]
the glory of the Lord shall be [our] rear guard.
Then [we] shall call and the Lord shall answer.
[We] shall cry for help and he shall say “Here I am”
Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
So how do we get there?
Well we know (intellectually) that Lent involves repentance….
but have we really understood that many of the things that trouble us most of the year have a spiritual source?
And do we know that we have it within our power, as Christians,
to overcome the spiritual problem at the root of many of the problems which afflict us?
Not all of everyone’s problems, perhaps, some are physiological, some are psychological, but some are spiritual and some have elements of all three.
Some of our problems have at their source a faulty relationship between us and God, sometimes caused by unconfessed sin.
Lent is the time to change all that.
Lent is time to change our relationship with God.
Lent is a time in which we draw closer to God, removing the obstacles that there are between us and him. It is thus a time for
confession, we need to bring everything to him which we have done said or thought, which we know is unconfessed.
The best way of doing this is to ask the Lord, in the words of Psalm 24:3-5: “are my hands clean?” “Is my heart pure?”
Ask him to identify the obstacles between us and him, then he will tell us what we need to confess….the thoughts will come into our mind. It’s no good saying “oh that wasn’t my fault”, if he draws it to our attention, then we need to confess it with a real determination never to do what has been suggested to us again.
And then we need, as Isaiah suggests, to stop behaving as if our religion were a question of ticking boxes (like crossing our fingers) to get God on side…..
You see we often see Lent as a time for personal sacrifice and often we think of giving something up ‘for Lent’ a little self abasement of personal pleasure perhaps….no chocolate; fasting for one day a week, maybe; or choosing to do something new which we would not normally have the self discipline to do ‘for Lent’ but these practices, good as they may be, focus upon ourselves: Giving up chocolate helps us with our weight issues as well as reducing expenditure!
These acts can be, verse 5, only as significant as a bowing of the head, a lying in sackcloth and ashes…perhaps something we do to impress others…. “what are you doing for Lent?”
“Oh I am giving up sugar” – Jesus in the gospel reading warns us not to fast like this.
And Isaiah suggests that when we fast, when we are in Lent, we should do things which focus entirely upon others.
So perhaps a better Lenten fast would be:
to stop moaning about how we have been treated
to stop sending poisonous emails
to stop gossiping about others
or to start treating bad behaviour, with grace
or to start being loving to our neighbours
regardless of the provocation
Isaiah makes three suggestions on the sort of sacrifice
that God likes:
Firstly, change the way we use power:
“loose the bonds of injustice,
undo the thongs of the yoke
let the oppressed go free
and break every yoke’
Secondly, care for the destitute;
“share your bread with the hungry
bring the homeless into your house”, and
Thirdly, look after, verse 8, our own families, the ones we forget about, the difficult ones.
So you may be thinking, how can I change the way that I use power
in the course of a month?
I suppose that there may be some of us here this evening who are exploiting people, underpaying workers, but it seems improbable in the Valley.
There might be someone who has slave labourers chained in the attic….but I think its a bit unlikely on the whole in Itchen Valley although I guess, we all have people who work for us in one way or another.
I was so struck by seeing Alan Jordan today; a man with one foot in heaven I always think. Florence says that, despite all his illnesses in and out of hospital, he is always so courteous to everyone he encounters always thanking the carers, always so polite.
So perhaps our Lenten fast could be to do the same? To use our power in a different way to be courteous to:
the waitresses in restaurants;
the civil servants at the council office;
the call centre people who work for BT; and
the local and national politicians who serve us.
So we may think that “letting the oppressed go” and “undoing the thongs of the yoke”, is not really within the power of most of us, but we can choose how to deal with people who work for us or over whom we have power, because we pay them or they are paid by public funds.
We may think that politicians have power over us but they have to listen to our complaining the whole time about things that much of the time they can do nothing about.
Just imagine what that must be like!
Let’s see if we can get through the whole of Lent without being cross with a single call centre operative; with a single official;
without complaining to a single politician.
Lets spend time thanking them for what they do; lets take Alan Jordan’s example of how to behave for the whole of Lent!
Lets flood the email boxes of our local politicians with appreciative emails to thank them for something that they have done for us or for our community; best to be specific. Tell them (whatever their political party) that we appreciate them!
I think we ought to turn around the popular contempt for politics which must make people who get involved in it feel like mugs….
Lets spend some time doing the opposite to complaining about them; let’s start a campaign on twitter and social media #praiseapolitician!
Secondly, before we do our food shop either on line or at the Co-Op in Alresford or Waitrose in Weeke, look at the list of items needed by the Food Bank and order items from that list equal to 10% of the cost of our shop and at the Coop or Waitrose and drop the items in the trolleys for the food bank there or take them to our drop box at church.
Thirdly, identify at least one member of your family that you have not seen for a while and get them over or go and see them!
Think of Alan Jordan…
A Lenten Project of this kind will change our relationship to others
and it will change us. It will certainly change our relationship with God; let me know how you get on!
58 Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Is 58:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.