May the God of love be with us during this season of Lent, making in us, new, contrite and joyful hearts. Amen
Plastered all over the news magazines this week is the face of Whitney Houston. As you know she died aged just 48 years of age about ten days ago. Hers was a sad end to a life of fame because of her remarkable voice which led to movies and other work. She began her life as a singer at a Baptist Church where her private funeral took place last weekend.
The question again … what price fame? For years she was the subject of articles in the gutter press as we call it in England, often to do with drugs and the life-style that surrounds it.
My heart goes out especially to her mother and her 18 year old daughter.
As a society we have over-active interest in the lives of the rich and famous, and the media can make a fortune (as it will have done this week) in making up or reporting the lurid details of other people’s lives. Like car accidents most of us cannot resist slowing down to take a look and we hardy know why we are doing it.
It was no surprise to me that my newly restored subscription to Maclean’s had Whitney Houston (in happier times) on its front cover … the magazine like all the others never wanting to pass up an opportunity to miss a sale.
The fact is we all have things in our lives that we would rather not share with the world, but because we aren’t famous we tend not to make the media outlets. We all have our phobias, our blind spots, our prejudices and our weaknesses. And although they may not amount to very much, they hardly do us justice and usually aren’t the details we share with other people (aside from our closest friends and loved ones).
In fact it is our loved ones and friends who usually know all about our weaknesses and hang-ups because we tend to make them visible to them from time to time. And those same loved ones and friends know that these parts of our lives are just some of the story of who we are, and they still love us in spite of them.
And then there is God … who knows us even better. God knows our needs and our weaknesses, our sins and our silliness. And God is totally steadfast in the relationship God has with us. God isn’t interested or deceived by our faults; God sees our gifts and hopes to see us use them for the kingdom. God knows we have stuff of which to repent, but isn’t a vengeful and judgmental deity who will punish us for our shortcomings with ill-health or worse. For our God is a God of love, a God of patience, a God of hope who created human beings to enjoy the world, and has great expectations for our essential goodness (which after all God placed within us in the beginning).
This may all seem to be counter-cultural to our traditional understanding of Lent. However this day, in my mind the most important day in the Church’s calendar after Good Friday and Easter, is actually not about hopelessness but is about hope. Today is the day when we turn our minds and our hearts towards Jerusalem, to the cross and beyond. Today is the moment when we recognize our need and our dependence on God, who loves us and cares for us and walks with us throughout our lives.
Each Sunday as we come to worship, we willingly acknowledge before God and one another [though the details remain with us], our faults and failings. By so doing we make clear our need of God. Today, Ash Wednesday is the annual occasion in our lives when we offer ourselves back to God, looking to amend our lives, knowing that this can only happen with God’s help.
God made us and gave us life not so we could mess up but in order that we might have life in fullness and abundance. Life is for living. Every hour of every day is given to us as gift to make a difference in the world, to care for others, to pray for others, to walk with others as they too face the challenges and uncertainties of life. It is not all meant to be work, and it is not all meant to be serious, and we don’t have to live for others … we are meant to gain from life too.
I’ve mentioned before a woman who worked her socks off being helpful and being there for people. Sadly it was all done out of a sense of duty, and she seemed to derive no joy from her tasks … it seemed it had to be done to keep a vengeful God at bay.
Our lives as Christians have to be so much more. We have to derive joy and a sense of worth from what we do or how do we expect to receive God’s grace through our actions, or for that matter, how do we hope to pass on the joy of God to others.
In our journey there has to be joy, there has to be a sense of fun, of recognizing and capturing the moment when in our mission and ministry we know we have made a difference. If we only give and never receive, we will soon dry up, and the grace and the promise and the joy will be gone.
Sure it is sometimes easier to give than to receive, but you know the Christian life is about receiving from, and then giving to God, and it is about receiving from and giving to one another. Yes some of the tasks are hard work and sometimes time consuming, but unless we get a buzz from what we are doing we are probably doing something we shouldn’t be doing or we are missing the point.
For so often in our encounters with one another we receive so much and from that abundance (which comes ultimately from God) we are able to give. To take an example: the relationship between a priest and their parish has high as well as low points. Yet as someone who comes from outside the community a priest hopes to be made welcome in a parish, to be trusted and released by God, and by the congregation to use the gifts God has given you. That then continues to be a two-way street in terms of receiving and giving, where priest and people offer and receive affirmation, support and love. This in turn restores both congregation and priest to be encouraged and released to keep giving and to keep receiving.
Each Church is special because it is God’s, it belongs to God, and we meet in God’s name to do the work of mission and ministry from a Church building. And the Church is special because we come as equals before an all-loving God who sees the best in us, the potential in us, to do great things in our community, in our locality and beyond. We aren’t perfect and we will always make mistakes on the road, but while we have God in our midst and remember in whose name we gather, we will continue to receive from, and give to God, as well as receive and give to one another.
So may these 40 days ahead be a time of reflection, for recognizing the goodness in ourselves as well as in each other, for praying for the kingdom here on earth.
And may this Lent, when we receive all that we can imagine from God, be for our community, and for one another, holy, challenging and full of joy.