What is Lent about?

Last Sunday I preached from the Bishops pastoral letter to the diocese which can be found here

I topped and tailed it and tried to encourage people to assess their own lives, like the diocese is doing this Lent, and to think about how we can be the people of God. Below is an extended reflection on the gospel reading from St Luke and what Lent means.

What is Lent about?

I’m starting to get a little tired of being asked what I’ve given up for Lent. I don’t remember being asked so much last year, the idea of giving something up for the sake of it does not make sense. If we take our example from Jesus for these 40 days of Lent then we need to think more deeply about what and why we are doing during this season.

Jesus did not enter the wilderness on a whim. The word used in the gospel is tempt, but the scriptural word also means test. When something is tested it is either found acceptable or unacceptable, up to the job or not. If we think back to the scriptures we find many references to being tested with refiners fire, making something pure, getting rid of all the nasties and impurities, and making something fit for purpose. And for me this is what Lent is about, making us pure, taking us back to who we truly are.

This is also what I think about the temptations Satan put towards Jesus, each of them would have been less than his true self.

We know that Jesus can do great things with food, just look at the feeding of the 5000, or the feeding of the 4000, and we know that he could have turned the stone into bread, but to do so would have been only for his own benefit. It would have been a purely selfish act and when we value ourselves above everyone else, true temptation arises.

It’s so easy to fall into this trap, thinking that it is all about ourselves, that is what our society encourages. We are privileged consumers, focused on our own wants and desires. And for most of us in the UK we have a free choice in most things. We are brought up and conditioned to believe that we are the most important, it’s all about me, because I’m worth it!

Jesus reminds us that there are more important things. We do not live by bread alone, there are more important things then the desires of the flesh, and temptation of the body, there are more important things then gratifying our own desires, then the self. We live in communities, we share our lives with others, and we need to be reminded that it is not about me, it is about us, all of us.

So Jesus stayed true to himself but next Satan tempts him with power, a temptation that trips so many up in the modern world. Jesus is offered the easy route, all gain by ruling the world, and no pain, except that he would be enthralled to Satan and become very much less then himself.

Jesus comes back stating that all worship belongs to God and anything else is meaningless and worthless. In worship we state our priorities, that God comes first. Jesus will later show all people how Gods will and power is made perfect in weakness, especially on the cross. Strength in weakness is something Satan can’t understand, but we know how God works.

Finally Jesus is told to put God to the test, to make God prove his love. “Jump! God’s angels will catch you, if you are the son of God”

Now this is a temptation that we are all guilty of from time to time, testing God. Despite all the evidence, we find it hard to believe that we are loved and worthy of the salvation offered to us. We doubt the offering on the cross, once for all, and struggle with the grace from our God, who loves us so much, he shared our life and death in human form. Satan wants Jesus to put God to the test, to prove that there is nothing God won’t do. Once again, because we are worth it!

Except that Jesus is the proof of Gods love. And we do not need to test God because he has already proven his love and care for us by the sacrifice of the cross. If Jesus were to accept this temptation, he would becoming less then his true self. Jesus is the proof, not the needy recipient.

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”

In declaring this commandment, Jesus is sending Satan a message as well, do not tempt God, do not tempt God in human form, Christ.

Temptations appear attractive, and often lead us to believe that good will come out of them, but actually they put us on the road to nowhere, and they take us away from our true selves. Each of these temptations tries to take Jesus away from his true nature. And it is the same for us, when we are tempted, we are moving away from our true self.

Temptations show us our flaws and our weaknesses, and Lent is a time when we are invited to assess our lives, the whole of our lives, and consider who we are, and who God has called us to be. It’s much more then just giving up chocolate!!! We all have parts of our life that we acknowledge are unhealthy and not worthy of us, and Lent is a time when we enter our own wilderness, and face our temptations head on, of seeing the worst parts of us in the clear light of day. It’s a time of change, a time of growth, a time of reconnecting with God and his vision for us. Lent is a time of focus, and prayer, a time to strip away those luxuries we rely on and those masks we hide behind, and return to depending on God.

Lent is about coming back to who we really are.

Who are you?

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The Church and Online Media 2

Just an update from my post last month. The first day of this course unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the snow. We therefore have the first course coming up this Saturday. I was disappointed (of course) but I have acquired new books and resources since then, and I’ve been able to have some good conversations with those interested, but confused by social media, and so now I think I have a better understanding of what some of the ghoulies which surround this topic for some of the older generations. Its a different way of thinking, which I think is going to be difficult to get across to some people, but I enjoy a challenge. The bottom line from my point of view is that if the church stand any chance of reaching the younger generations we need to keep up (if we can’t be ahead) of the language and means of communication. The church was so quick to acknowledge the great opportunity and advantage that came with the printing press, but we have been so slow with digital communication. So I am determined to bang this drum and bring people along side with me bring the church into the 21st century and to use the tools readably available for the spreading of the gospel to our current and future generations, for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of Christ.

Oh, and as a p.s. an extra date has been added so there will be a course on the 2nd March.

Bangor Lent Course

This year, like other years gone by, Bangor Diocese has commissioned a Lent course to be used throughout the diocese based on our common theme for the year. This year we look towards our future. There is great change happening in our churches, and if you’ve missed it I don’t think you have been looking hard enough. Our society had changed so much in the last decades, and so we must too if we are going to be able to stand beside people and help lead them in their journey with God.

Its been a few years in the making, but this year Bangor has produced a document containing our Vision Statement. (A copy of the leaflet can be found on the website http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/bangor/files/documents/visionDocument.pdf) In it can be found the hopes and aspirations for our ‘learning church’ and our lent course is based around these topics and the broad headings for these are our calling, our character, and our commission.

Two topics a week for the six weeks until Easter.

This course offers us, and those outside our diocese a chance to think and reflect about where we have come from, where we are now, and where we need to be in the future. And I am delighted that this year our course will be available on line and will be tweeted each day of Lent. I hope that through these ways of sharing our vision, others will be inspired in their own places.

We do not always know the effect that our ministry and mission has on people, we can only hope that we plant a seed and give it enough water to grow in good soil.

It is my prayer that people will find inspiration from our vision.

Follow our diocesan vision either on:

Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Bangor546?group_id=0)

Twitter (https://twitter.com/EsgobaethBangor)

or in the full course (http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/bangor/english/)

God Bless you this Lent!

A Prayer For Use When Interacting On Social Media

A Prayer For Use When Interacting On Social Media

We praise you, Father, for giving us language, computers, and the internet,
so that we can communicate with one another.

We are sorry, Lord Jesus, for when we have thought, spoken or typed in anger,
rather than out of love for you and love for others.

May your Spirit cause the words of our mouths, the meditation of our hearts,
and the messages of our keyboards to be ever pleasing in your sight. Amen.

Taken from: http://together4ward.wordpress.com/social-media-ethics/

Disturbed into action

Today we celebrated Candlemas in many of our churches, well… The Presentation of Christ. There was no blessing of candles, but there was celebration for the end of this Christmas/ epiphany season. I am also quite grateful to be able to take down my decorations. However much I love them, they do look a little sorry at this stage of the year.

I took two services this morning, a standard Eucharist, and a family service. For the standard service I looked at the song of Simeon, how familiar it is in the evensong service and how lovely and reassuring evensong can be, especially in places like cathedrals where usually there is no participation required from the individuals in the congregation.

I posted on twitter the other day: “@sjj_poppy: We can turn worship into an escape from the world, Simeon and Anna were in the temple not to escape, but seeking God’s presence in the world”

I was thinking especially about some of the congregations we take care of, for how many of them has church become an escape? Escape from the world and all it’s troubles. We create (or try to create) for ourselves a world that appears constant and unchanging, where the old ways are the only way of doing things. John Betjeman creates this image in his poem which starts ‘Across the wet November night’.

But it’s true that these characters who live and work within the temple at Jerusalem were not there to escape the world, but to seek God’s presence in the world.

Is our worship meant to be only a reassuring retreat from the world? Is it not meant to disturb us?

If we read and reconnect with our liturgies and scriptures, we do not find a comfortable escape. We find a place that challenge us. We find a calling from God which cannot be ignored. When we are confronted with the awesomeness and wonder of God and when we consider the reality of God, are we not drawn and called to action and to actively seek out our God? Not sit back and escape these realities?

Confronting God is not always comforting experience, for Simeon he knew what this meant, hence his words to Mary “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Our image of the meek and mild Jesus does not match our knowledge of the disturbing force can be. For Simeon and Anna their disturbance was also met with joy. For others they are met with the reality of themselves.

We know the affect that Jesus has in our lives. Look at the early church in the acts of the apostles, not much comfort and retreating from the world going on there!!! These activities, and the motivation of the people came from their encounters, and experience of Jesus. They allowed themselves to be disturbed into action and their lives were never the same again.

We are called to be people of The Way, a pilgrim people, not holding onto the past, not apart from the world, but moving on and through the world.

I told my congregation that if we are not disturbed, then the church will die and if we are not moved by our encounters with God then our churches will become monuments to a past ages which our future generations will fail to understand.

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation”. Luke 2:29-30

May we be one day be blessed with Simeon’s peace, with his knowledge that he has done all that the Lord has required. May we not miss out on our opportunities to know that there is more to life then the here and now.

The Body of Christ???

I don’t know if this happens to many other priests. But occasionally after preaching, I have a line or two from the sermon I preach follow me for the week afterwards. This has been on if those weeks.

Last week we heard one of Paul’s great sections from his first letter to the Corinthians, the unity and diversity in the body. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12. I started my sermon by talking about baptism, because it had been a hot topic over the previous weeks, and there was a baptism within the benefice also, I spoke about the joy the church should feel when accepting a new member of the body of Christ “in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

I continued by exploring what that body looked like, the body of the church was similar to our own physical bodies, they are made up of different parts, but each part of them equally necessary. And it’s true, we need all our different members if we are to be the fully functioning body of Christ.

Now, it is this next part that has been haunting me.

I’m not sure that the church (both locally or internationally) behaves as if really believe this.

Do we as a church believe that each member of church is equally as important? Because we certainly don’t behave like we do a lot of the time. Between self deprecation and judgement on others, where is that belief that we are all and important part of the one body?

“There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1Corinthians 12:25)

But do we? Do we have equal concern for each other?

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of believing and behaving as if one member is more important then the other, or one member is more useful then others. I wish I had a £1 for every time I heard someone say that they are not good enough, clever enough, enough enough to do things within the church and within their own lives. Did God not give us the gifts which make us enough? Did a god not give us what we need to be enough in is eyes?

I wish I were more like…….. they are so……………….

“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:29-30)

As a church, I don’t think we do behave as if each member is of equal importance to the body, there are times and places where members do claim superiority over other members. I take some comfort that the church in Corinth fell into this trap also, which is why I am grateful for Paul’s words. We know Paul’s answer to the question he poses in verses 29 and 30.

We need to work harder in accepting all, and the variety of gifts that they bring. We need to work harder in seeing people for who God has made them. We need to work harder in seeing everyone’s role in the body.

If we are to continue Christ’s mission in the world, we need to start acting a little more like his body. Together with our brothers and sisters, both close at hand and far away, we are the Body of Christ. We are called to live that identity, and to engage in the mission that comes with it….

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12.

…..not later, when we’ve got our act together, or when it’s more convenient, when our health is better or we have more time on our hands. Not later but TODAY.