Lent 1C, 2010
A Liturgy is also available
IN PRAISE OF A ‘SELF AFFIRMING’ LENT...
Wednesday 16 February 1983.
That date is still etched into my memory.
Dylis and I had not long moved into a new parish.
Indeed we had only been there two months.
But on the following day,
the Melbourne Sun newspaper described Wednesday 16 February 1983
in 4" headline lettering - ASH WEDNESDAY.
And so it was.
Wednesday 16 February 1983 was indeed Ash Wednesday:
the first day of Lent in the church's calendar.
But the headline was for another event.
On that day a huge and vicious bush fire
swept through the Western District of Victoria and into South Australia.
It killed thousands of head of stock,
destroyed acres and acres of feed,
demolished houses and sheds and cars,
and claimed several lives.
The newspaper correctly called it ASH WEDNESDAY.
But the ash brought despair
Last Wednesday, 17 February, was Ash Wednesday 2010.
The first day in Lent.
And at our Ash Wednesday service we too had ash.
Ash from burnt palm leaves and eucalyptus branches.
Ash which symbolically invited us to come back to earth.
To wonder at the gift of life,
with the earth, the shared body of our existence.
And which reminded us of our humanity.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent when we reflect on
the wilderness experience of the one we call Jesus of Nazara.
Indeed this story of Jesus’ testing ordeal in the desert, is legendary.
However, scholars - at least the ones who influence me -
claim this story comes from one of the early traditions
of the Jesus movement, which the storytellers,
including Luke, adopts.
Rather than being an eyewitness, historical account.
Traditionally, Lent has been the season of abstinence or self denial.
A time of doing without.
A time of fasting.
Well, that's the way according to much of our broad church tradition.
And it appears to have been a strong motivation over the centuries.
But I'm not so sure about that any more.
That we might rekindle our faith
and be blessed during this period of Lent...
Yes, certainly that.
But I’m not so sure about the ‘abstinence’ or ‘self denial’ bit.
I would hope Lent might become a time of
a doing more, rather than
a doing without.
A time of self discovery and self affirmation,
as well as a time to claim our connectedness with the whole of the cosmos,
rather than a time of self denial.
Let me offer a personal observation.
If you have ever gone on a walk with a bird watcher,
perhaps you will know what I am alluding to.
Their sense of sight and of hearing seems so acute.
Yet it is acute amid the very ordinary...
sticks, shrubs, grass, trees.
What appears to be a jumble of sticks and noises and flashes of colour,
to a trained bird watcher can be a wren, a parrot or a wattle bird.
Walking with a bird watcher
you discover how much there is to be noticed.
And your walks in the park or paddock become so much richer.
The ordinary is seen.
What was there all along, is noticed.
Just because something is there
does not mean we automatically see it and understand it.
Sometimes perception takes practice.
So my suggestion is for Lent to become 'forty days'
when we can uncover and discover once again
our own worthfulness,
our own potential
our own connectedness to the earth and the universe.
Self discovery and connectedness rather than self denial and isolation.
Lent, seen as a life affirming discovery rather than life denying,
says we are not judged by our past,
but by the way in which we relate to our past.
But even a gentle review of our own lives
will uncover moments when we have been faced with decision making.
Decisions which have shown our neglect of an inner life.
Decisions which have required us to shed emotional garbage.
Sometimes these decisions can be called a 'crisis'.
Other times the word used may be 'testing'.
All of them are about how we respond,
or our ‘being’ in the world.
And in Jesus’ case it was to break the culture of violence
characterised by a ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality.
So this Lent, let us dare to accept the invitation
of a self affirming 'forty days'.
As I was writing this sermon, I pulled out a book
I remembered I had reviewed over the past three years.
The book was called Heroes and Villains, and the author
introduces us to a range of film, television and comic book heroes and villains.
These words again caught my eye from his ‘Conclusion’:
“We are human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses of our species. Occasionally we reach the heights of heroic self-sacrifice and at other times we sink down into villainous self-serving. Being aware of the extremes to which we can be drawn is, in my view, one of the most important pieces of self-knowledge we will ever possess” (Alsford 2006:140).
As Luke’s Jesus of Nazara gained an important piece of self-knowledge,
we too can face the wilderness experiences of life,
often not in any special or heroic way, but simply
as we choose to get up in the morning
“and go out into the world to encounter what it has to offer” (Alsford 2006:138).
And in the process, notice the presentness of Creativity - God, right here.
In the ordinary.
In the everyday.
Alsford, M. 2006. Heroes and Villains. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.