Sunday, March 05, 2017

Some thoughts on Lent for Urban Hope and Open, 5th March 2017


Why do we have to keep it?
40 days without chocolate

40 days of getting grumpier by the second

40 days that feel like 400….because you’re trying to do without whatever gets you through

Is that what it’s actually about?

And if it is, why on earth should we bother? Life’s hard enough without making it worse by giving up things that make you feel good

But for some reason the Church  seems to think that Lent is worth thinking about...maybe because we know that at the end of Lent comes Easter with its explosion of new life and new hope, its promise that no matter how hard the here and now things WILL be better than we can begin to imagine, as God’s life bursts up again to heal all the brokenness we find in ourselves and in our world.

And maybe, when we think of that, we begin to wonder if we’re quite ready to really celebrate that promise and that new hope – think that we might like a bit of time to get ready, to look at who we are now, and who God invites us to be – and a bit of help to make the journey from here to there.

And I’d say that’s what Lent is about.

It’s name ties it very firmly into the spring time – because it comes from a very old word that reminds us that the days are getting longer...that there is, little by little, more light coming into the world.

More light. That's something to think about

It’s really welcome to find myself waking to birdsong, to walk the dogs after work without having to find a torch first…I feel happier and safer….but there’s also the small matter of the way that light on the windows makes it very clear quite how grubby they are...and more light in the house reminds me that it’s a really really long time since I did any serious housework at all (I blame the job...but come to think of it I never really did much). Light shows up the dirt – in our lives as much as in our homes...things that we know aren’t quite the way they should be….things we ought to find time to fix…

And that’s both a challenge and an opportunity.

A very long time ago I was saying something like this in a school assembly, and a Y3 put up her hand and said “Are you saying that Lent is when you spring clean your soul”
And though I hadn’t been...she was completely right...that’s part of what it’s all about.
Using the light (the true light, that comes from knowing about God and his love for each of us) to have a hard look at the messy parts of our own lives and our own ways of behaving...and to ask God’s help to put them right, baby step by baby step. 

Sometimes that means we need to say sorry to God or to put things right with other people – and it’s worth getting on with that, because we’re not here forever. As Lent starts, some churches invite people to have a cross marked on their foreheads with ash...the ash reminds us of the dust from which we are made, reminds us that none of us will get out of here alive….but the cross reminds us that death is never a disaster, because we are all marked with the sign of God’s love, and given a bridge across which we can walk to safety and happiness with God forever.  

If Lent is about spring time after a long winter, then it’s a time to celebrate what God has already done for us – and to try and co-operate with God in doing more and more. Here’s what he wants us to concentrate on- 

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry,

inviting the homeless poor into your homes,

putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,

being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,

In other words, Lent isn’t about giving things up for no good reason – but it is very much about seeing what we can do to make a difference, to support one another – and anyone else who might need it. We, you and I, are invited to live in ways that show the people around us that they are loved by God – and that means trying to share that love with everyone.

Yup. Everyone.

Yes, even that one person whom you’re thinking “Not THEM. God can’t mean THEM!!”
And if that sounds scarily hard, it’s because it really is. I need a lot more than 40 days to even get started on that – because there are so many people I struggle to like let alone love.

So maybe Lent is mostly about learning how to practice love – and asking God to help with the project….which will probably mean that we need to spend more time trying to talk to God too….I know I can’t do that kind of love on my own. 

But does that mean that we don’t need to give up anything at all?
Speaking through Isaiah, God seems to have very strong views on this...He doesn’t want us to fast for its own sake, for sure. There’s no point in giving up smoking if all that does it make you realise how much you want a cigarette…and while giving up cake might make me “lighter” in terms of kilos if all I do is dream about the carrot cake from the Cathedral cafe that I shall have once Lent is over, then I’m actually more burdened than ever. It’s not lightening the load, for sure. 

But  there’s something to be said for giving up things that are getting to be too important to us.
If I REALLY can’t get through a bad day without some chocolate – maybe I’m looking in the wrong place for help.
You see, I think that above all Lent is a time for us to try and get closer to learn again how important it is to put God first in our lives. Ahead of chocolate...And gin...And the next cigarette. Even (and this one is really really hard) ahead of our friends and our family….

Putting GOD first. Not the Church, not for a second. But God...and his way of living that depends on loving him with all that is in us, and loving other people too.
That’s the point of any Lent project. The things we might do as part of “Love life, live Lent”
The things we might try to read or to think about.
The things we give up and the things we take on.
The whole point is to help us to get closer to God, to learn again what it means to be living as part of God’s family. 

So in the end, there are 3 ways to travel through Lent – and in a perfect world we’d work on all 3 of them.
There’s spending more time WITH God – trying to pray.
There’s fasting – giving up those things which are a bit too important...things that get in the way of putting God first.
And there’s practising kindness in whatever way we can. 

Lent is an invitation to make God our priority, and  to walk in the light of his love day by day.
That’s going to take me a lot more than the 40 days leading up to Easter, but I’m glad that every year I get a chance to remember that this is what it’s all about, and to try and make it real again.


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