28 February 2015: Lent 3
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Ven. Beverley Mason
Isaiah 55. 1-9; Luke 13. 1-9
I’d like to thank Fr Simon for inviting me to be with you today – and indeed for the hospitality you are all affording me in this splendid church!
We are now into the third week of Lent. Next week is Mothering Sunday, which will be followed by Passion and Palm Sunday and then we shall be into Holy Week. I wonder how your Lenten disciplines are going!
I’m reminded of two little boys who were fighting over a packet of biscuits in one of the large supermarkets. I stopped and asked, ‘What are you doing? Why are you fighting with each other?’ The eldest child said, ‘This is my brother. He’s given up biscuits for Lent and now he’s trying to put this packet of biscuits in the basket!’! ‘So you’re looking after your little brother?’ I asked. “Yes!” he said, in a rather superior way. “And what have you given up for Lent?” I asked. “Brussel Sprouts”, he said, with smug righteousness!
For those of you committed to giving something up, or taking something on – I wonder how’s it going? What are you learning about yourself? What are you learning of God? Because this is what a Lenten discipline is about, isn’t it!
Lent, as you know, is the penitential season! It’s the time in the church calendar, which brings us into the closest proximity of the Cross and of the dying and death of our Lord and our God. It’s the season when we acknowledge though in truth we cannot know how … or even why, God would enter into humanity and suffer and die upon the Cross – we can know theories, but that is exactly what they are! Yet, we know that somehow, through this extraordinary sacrifice of God, the world has changed, and indeed, is changing!
The event is cosmic yet, at its most micro, it is heart reaching and life changing for each of us.
The voice of the Church, throughout this season, calls us back to the heart of God …. You’ll hear the summons to ‘Repent’, Change your ways, turn back to God, get back on track (This is what it is to ‘repent’).
I wonder if you have you’ve ever had that experience of catching somebody’s sideways glance and in that moment sensing a sort of ‘exposure’, as though your undisclosed thoughts are suddenly in the public arena? It can feel very uncomfortable. Characteristically, what generally happens is either we looks away to avoid the person’s eye, or we find ourselves offering explanations or excuses! Have you experienced this? Maybe somebody has caught your glance and you’ve sensed their discomfort!
I wonder what happens when we’re glimpsed at by God!
Have you ever had a sense of being glimpsed by God?
When was it?
Where were you?
What were you doing?
How did you feel?
St Peter catches the glance of Jesus at that moment when he betrays Him – and Peter can’t bear to look at himself! He hides his face, he breaks down and he cries! In 3-weeks we shall be reminded of this! And it’s only at the resurrection, when Jesus draws Peter back into and under his gaze, so that Peter can HEAR the look of love, that Peter can remain under the gaze and from that place know healing and restoration and life!
As Christians we don’t always show our best colours, do we! The other day I was having lunch with my PA and on the table behind me were two Christians. Their conversation was audible, indeed the challenge was not to overhear! Throughout the entire lunch they had their knives out and indeed into their respective vicars and various others -in fact, not many were spared by them! It was very sad!
At the end of lunch, I was so tempted to introduce myself as their new archdeacon!
This is the kind of thing we need to be giving up for Lent! Not the biscuits or the Brussell Sprouts! My friends, we assassinate one another with our words and actions – don’t we!
Lent is a spiritual health check for each of us!
Perhaps the most effective Lenten & Holy Week discipline we can be engaged in – and it’s not too late for any of us to take up, is to set aside some time, maybe 30-minutes (that isn’t a lot to offer God, when you consider the time God has gifted to you) and in that time, just open yourself to the presence and the glance of God. Don’t conceal anything … don’t beat yourself up about anything … just simply allow yourself to be present to the God who is present to you. You may choose to sit inside the church building, or before the Blessed Sacrament, or under the gaze of the Crucifix; or before an icon, or some words of Scripture – you may choose to be outside meeting God in the beauty of his creation … under the glorious canopy of the sky. Wherever you choose – simply allow yourself to be gazed upon by God!
One of the most harrowing Biblical texts is when God speaks of turning his face from his people. By contrast, the most beautiful Aaronic Blessing speaks of God causing his face to shine upon you.
In that 30-minutes, let God see you as you fully are – let Him cause His face to shine upon you.
There’s a lovely prayer that you might choose to pray, beforehand – I was given this by a wonderful Franciscan priest:
I am, because You are!
I believe in You, because You believe in me.
I am here and so You are here!
Teach me to rest in you!
It is in the presence and under the gaze, that we discover God’s grace – a word so hard to define, yet which speaks of encounter with God, of being known and understood and loved and cherished by God, even in spite of ourselves! Grace is a word that speaks of God’s unconditional love … so undeserved, it cannot be earned … yet it is known and felt and does something transformational within us … enlarging the heart to love and mercy and goodness and faith!
When we come under the gaze; we cannot go on gossiping and backbiting, and blaming and wounding and cheating and sticking the knives in ….
This is why Lent is a Holy season!
We are like the fig tree – each of us in the process of becoming!
Lent calls out to us, “What, in God’s name, are you becoming?!”