Sunday, 15 March 2009

Lenten detox

Sunday 15th March 2009

Readings: Exodus 20 v 1-17
Psalm 19

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Today, in our Scripture reading, we find ourselves back, wandering in the wilderness with Moses and the Israelites.
We’d left them behind for a few weeks to journey into the unknown with Abraham but, today, we’re back with them.
And, it seems, they haven’t got very far at all.
Still wandering.
Still grumpy.
Still getting into all sorts of bother.
So, as has become his wont, Moses goes off to consult with God.
By the time Moses had dragged himself up the mountain, he wasn't feeling so good and he'd had plenty of time to think on the way up. So he says to God: God - Its about time you helped me out. My life has been pretty rough - a mum who floated me on the river as a baby, a stint in the palace, trying not to get found out, bushes that burst into flames around me, all those plagues in Egypt, dodging the Red Sea and now I'm responsible for all these grouchy folk - my head is splitting... And God said - Here, take these two tablets, that should help.

I wonder if they did.
Those two tablets, containing the 10 commandments.
Did they have the impact that God intended?
If we read on in Scripture, we learn that, sadly they didn’t.
More intervention from God was required.
In fact, God had to send Jesus, before we even began to get the message.

As Rubenis says:

"The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. By following a straight line one can walk from Egypt to Israel in a few days.
Why did it take Moses forty years? Because his was not a path from one point to another, but from one way of thinking to another."

J. Rubenis

Moving from one way of thinking to another.
That would take considerably longer than a week.
It took the Israelites 40 years.
I wonder how long it would take us?
To get from one way of thinking to another?
I suspect it might be even longer than forty years.
We’re not known in the church for changing our way of thinking.

But that is precisely what God requires of us who profess to be followers.
We are required, not to be people who merely observe rules but people who think differently and, by so doing, live and love differently too.

As you are, I’m sure, well aware by now, I’m not much given to “giving up” things for Lent.
My rationale is that it is a time when we might do much more to nurture faith, for ourselves and for others.
However I am persuaded that Lent is a good time – or a good excuse to detox faith wise.
It never does any harm for us to look and see the things that we’ve taken on that make practicing our faith a burden and a responsibility rather than a response to love.
When we think of our church membership, for instance, do we see it as something that weighs us down.
Or do we see church membership as a privelege, something that’s a joy to be able to claim?

Lots of behavioural and demographic studies conducted recently tend to show that folk don’t join organizations in the way they used to.
If folk feel attracted to something, they may well attach themselves to a particular group that they find attractive but, often, the follow on commitment does not materialize.
Folk are, quite simply, happy to belong.
And that calls for more flexibility on the part of organizations to be welcoming and to foster that sense of belonging without imposing a whole set of conditions of membership.
In the church, we can only offer that hospitality of belonging if we ourselves are comfortable about our place and our obligation.
If membership has become, for us, a duty to be fulfilled or a list of dos and donts to which we subscribe, then there’s not going to be much to attract others.

The ten commandments, a list of laws, weren’t diluted by Jesus when he showed us how to live.
But they were summed up in Jesus command – to love God, love our neighbour AND love ourselves.
Being attractive to others is not about dumbing down but about loving up.

So how would we go about loving up our faith today?
What do we see in it that might attract others?
And where is the clutter that we’ve built up over time that could do with a spring clean?
In what areas do we need to detox?
How do we move from one way of thinking to another without it taking us 40 years to get there?
What if we start right here where we are this morning?
With our worship?
What decluttering needs to take place here to allow us to see God?
What obscures our view, stops us getting too close to the God we come to worship?

Is it the folk we share the pew with?
Are we irritated by the music – or the prayers, or the noise of the children?
Or is our mind too full of worry or hurt to allow us to experience the love of God in this place?
Lent is a good time to detox.
To lay down some of those burdens, to clamber over some of those barriers that stop us getting close to God.

Moving from one way of thinking to another.
Love God, love our neighbour, love ourselves.
What are the things that stop us doing that.
What are the things that stop us putting God first?
Are we juggling too much?
Are our diaries too full?
Are our emotions so stretched that we can’t handle any more relationship issues?
Or have we just lost track of how far from God we really are?
When we have a notion to detox.
When we’re conscious of how cluttered our life of faith has become.
And when the clutter keeps us away from God.
Its not simply a case of taking a couple of tablets.
Its not about following rules and regulations.
Its about changing our way of thinking.
Changing our way of loving.
If practising faith is not attractive to us then how can we possibly hope to attract others?

Ovid, an ancient poet, tells of a gifted young sculptor of Cyprus named Pygmalion. Pygmalion despised women and resolved never to marry. Ironically, he set about with hammer and chisel to produce the statue of a woman in order to display it as a mockery. For many days, and frequently well into the night, he chiseled. A form began to emerge which arrested him. The blows from the hammer became softer now. Finesse and devotion occupied his every movement. Beneath his skillful fingers, the figure became more and more beautiful, until at last, no further improvement could be made. Such grace, such beauty had she; so lifelike, was she, she must have a name, a name by which he could address her. Galatea would be her name and she must have a robe, and gifts, and flowers. Pygmalion had fallen desperately in love with a lifeless piece of marble. He would not pretend. He spoke to her, held her hands in his, and reached out in his heart to the very thing he had created. Such was his continuing, all-giving love that, according to Ovid, Pygmalion literally loved the lifeless form of Galatea into a living being.

God loved and loves each of us into being.
We were not made and then abandoned, left to our own devices.
God continues to love us and care for our well being.
And the commandments given to Moses were not given as a burden for God’s beloved creation but were lovingly revealed so that we might live in love.
Summed up in loving God and loving our neighbour.

Lent is not a burden when we must prove ourselves “proper” Christians by enduring some hardship.
But it is a good time perhaps to look closely at the loving command that God has given us and examine how well we are living that out – in our worship time together and in our daily lives apart.
And it’s a time to ask: do we make faith at all attractive for others?

Love God, love your neighbour, love yourself.
That’s a tall enough order to fill without being miserable about it.
Let’s aim, this Lent, for a change in our way of thinking.
A change that will make obeying the commands not a burden but a joyful way of life – for us and for those around us.
For the glory of God.

1 comment:

The Vicar of Hogsmeade said...

I love the Rubenis quote and the progression from "From one way of thinking to another" to "God loves us into being." For some, realizing God's love is, in fact, a progression from one way of thinking to another. Thanks for posting this sermon