Relationships fascinate us. We all exist in a network of family, friends, and people we know from somewhere, or who claim to know us. Most of us feel we don’t do particularly well at keeping up friendships, but resist advice or “How To Improve . .” formulae.
Of course, interaction between people is the stuff of nearly all fiction. Whether you prefer a classic book or a contemporary TV soap opera, it will almost inevitably talk about people, who spent time with whom, who put old friends back in touch and who broke up relationships. It is what we think about, sometimes talk about – because it matters.
So what about a Relationship based Lent? If faith is about our trust in a God who relates to people, could we be on better terms with the Boss? What would that mean? A greater enthusiasm for time spent together? More things in common? A new shared activity?
Perhaps a mutual friend would help get things going. Do you need to be part of a group who talk about God (that would be a housegroup – plenty of opportunities, and a choice of styles), or would you be easier with a group doing something useful, where conversations over work would develop some new approaches (so Lunch Club volunteer, green gym, Nightshelter, Street Pastors, Open the Book, . . ). Are you the sort of person who needs to set yourself to read a book, perhaps making notes or writing something about your reaction? Would half an hour’s chat with one of the clergy, or a housegroup leader, or a friend help you set a target (clergy would welcome this – without pressure on you!).
However you react, decide to do something this Lent, and make it about getting closer to God. Remember that God knows and loves you, and waits only for the opportunity to do good things for your life. The definition of the word for worship is, “to approach to kiss”. What a difference that attitude would make to our gatherings.
Lent: When I was a child, I would be told to take special care of something which was not mine. As we begin to look towards Easter, it might be worth using the pun and thinking of our use of what we are “lent”, the life which will have to be given back with an account of its use..
We might begin with Jesus temptations – first to make bread. Our food, shelter, comfort are all the result of other people’s work. Do we assume them as a right? Or ignore their goodness with misuse?
Then Jesus was tempted to grab at power, to lead and control. How easy do we find it to respect the freedom of others, and does our desire to be heard and obeyed reveal insecurity and doubt?
Jumping from the Temple and surviving would have guaranteed celebrity. It seems that many want to be famous – for anything. Are we content “to labour and not to ask for any reward” except being faithful in our Christian discipleship (as only God may see it?)
The fourth Sunday of Lent makes us think of Family. Are we happy to love and serve them as Jesus loves and serves us, or is there struggle and conflict there?
Passion Sunday reminds us of the cost of Jesus ministry. When we are called to pay the price, do we avoid, or complain, or find courage?
Palm Sunday, with short-lived celebration and welcome, has its own temptation to distraction. Can we cope with congratulation and success without losing our way to what matters for ever?
Lent is a time to think and pray about how deeply our faith has taken root – in our actions, personality and ambitions, as well as our talk. We will need to repent again, turning away from what we see to be wrong, and being practical about avoiding repeating the sin, and putting right the damage done. Like Spring cleaning, it is nice to look back when we have done it (but only if we have!).
Andrew Knight. ‘13
There is a certain tension in today’s Church between those who want to be inclusive, and those who speak of discipline and need for holiness in Christian living. Both have good points, and they deserve reflection as we come to Lent.
The Church has always needed to watch its attitude to those outside membership, and to make sure that it reflects the opinion and habits of Jesus. At times it has given in to the temptation to be a club, massaging the self-importance and supposed superiority of the insiders. At times it has been seen as hypocritical, criticising others for faults it still cultivated. Too often – as happened even in New Testament times, 1 Cor 11:33f – Christian fellowship has failed to overcome social differences, and the bonds of wealth, status or nationality have proved stronger than loyalty to the one Master.
In recent times we have worked at some projects (remember “Welcoming Angels”?) to increase our awareness of how others see us, and the difficulties we make for their coming to investigate, and then try, Christian living. It is vital that we continue to work at our welcome. Church is indeed “Come as you are” for newcomers. (“Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me . .” says the hymn, rightly).
But “Welcome” and “Come as you are” does not mean, “. . and don’t think you need to change anything”, because we all do. If in Lent (starting 22 Feb) you will join those who review their Christian living, you will find issues needing attention. The offence of the gospel is not just that God planned to use humble people (foreigners!) to do for us what we were incapable of attempting. It is also that the Way of Life involves discipline and obedience. “I did it my Way” is instant condemnation. The Way, Truth and Life that is freely offered to all, (yes, even to “them”), requires acceptance of Jesus gift of salvation, and a serious discipleship, learning obedience to him in every part of life. Yes, it is a big ask – that is why we have around 70 years to work on it.
Andrew Knight ‘12
How’s Lent going? Since it continues to 23rd April, it shouldn’t have finished by the time you read this. (We tend to call the second part of Lent, from 10th April this year, Passiontide, but it is still part of Lent). It may be that you are doing something special, or practising some extra discipline as spiritual training. If so, I wonder how you will assess its effects.
We sometimes forget the need to check up on our spiritual activities, when we would expect to review any other sort of work or training programme. Jesus certainly did not undertake his ministry without purpose, and while we may never be certain what was in his mind, the determination with which he headed for Jerusalem and crucifixion is remarkable. I think he must have understood that his chosen path would work in a way no alternative could rival.
So how might we assess our spiritual lives in general, and our Lenten training in particular? (Will they work better than the alternatives?) Don’t talk about “time spent” – in prayer, or study, or at services. These things may help, but being pleased with the effort you are putting in won’t! Think rather about the quality of relationships. Jesus dealt with all sorts of people, and always honestly, helpfully. (Although that could mean disagreeing, and forceful correction). Think also about your aim in life, how far God would want to sponsor that, and the energy with which you are going for it.
Ultimately, spiritual life succeeds as we become more like Jesus. (That’s “growth in holiness” in religious language). Spiritual life fails if we become proud, complacent, self-satisfied, or out of touch with God or our neighbour. It helps to understand, but entrance to heaven is not by exam.
Don’t get hung up on scoring your devotion – but expect your faith to change you and take you somewhere new and exciting. If it isn’t doing that, there’s time to ask questions and look for remedies.
Andrew Knight ‘11
With a late Easter, the lengthening days of February see us continuing to read about Jesus ministry and the ways he became known. (In other words, the Epiphany theme of “manifestation”). Ash Wednesday is delayed until 9th March, and then we begin Lent. Is there any connection, and does it matter to the world of work and family and economic reality anyway?
One of the challenges we face is to make our faith, and the things we talk and pray about in Church, real and practical in the rest of our life at home, at work or relaxation, and in the wider community. I think Epiphany is a very important season for that, as we ask how an “ordinary” man came to be known as someone of timeless importance. Jesus lived, as we do, with family, work and community pressures and expectations. It may even be that, with Joseph dead, he waited to start his Ministry until his half-brothers were able to support themselves and their mother. Then it was his words and actions that drew, first attention, and then trust.
So, if the February themes may show us how Christian faith might make the leap from “Church” to “real life”, what about Lent? The light that was shown in Jesus life only spread widely after his Temptation. If we hope to follow him and “live in the light”, we can expect to have to face the truth about ourselves. And isn’t that what Lent is really about? It’s not “what you give up”, or even “what you take on”, so much as “facing the truth about me, as God sees it”. If the light is to shine in us, or (to say it another way) if we are to be faithful disciples, of some use to our Lord, then we have to identify our temptations and deal with them.
We also have to work out what weapons are allowable, and what only play into the enemy’s hands. That’s another point of contact: Epiphany – Lent, and “Church” – “real world”. What are the ways the light of Christ is made free and unobscured in our lives. How do we take our faith and make it a welcome light in the wider community? Big questions, needing answers for each person, and each community at every time. Shall we start now?
Andrew Knight ‘11
We have a problem with reality. Some people don’t think it exists – the post-modern idea of “what is true for you” – but it still catches up with you. You may not believe you need to see your doctor, keep your job, or pay your bills, but . . .
Something of the same problem afflicts some Christians. “I always like to think . .” we say, forgetting that if it is not true, we are getting deeper into trouble. Our lives, and the faith that drives them, need to be well rooted in reality, and at the same time be aware of the different visions of the world around us which inform or delude our friends.
This might become an interesting and useful exercise for Lent (which starts on Ash Wednesday, 25 February, and continues until Easter Sunday, 12 April). We have become used to swapping the trivial “giving up” of sugar or whatever (originally a training discipline – and still useful if that is the sort of training you need) for something positive. Many people will read a “Lent book”, and join an ecumenical or other housegroup, both very helpful.
But if you want something to do at home or on your own, here are some ideas you could adapt:
watch a television programme you don’t usually watch, and when it ends, switch off the set and spend a few moments asking “What sort of world was shown here?” “Is that world real? Are the characters believable? How different is this from what I know?” “Would I fit in – and would I want to?” Then pray about it.
if you have contact with children, you could ask what they watch, and use that as an entry into their “world”.
go to the library, and read a book of a type you wouldn’t usually – perhaps non-fiction (a biography? a history? or a novel?). Ask the same sort of questions – “Is this real? Is the behaviour likely? If I were part of this. .” Again, pray about it.
take an hour to work out what you would do with a windfall of £50,000; or a sudden need to pay out £50,000
ask, prayerfully, who you are, and who you want to be
Andrew Knight ‘09