Lent Meditations

Lent Meditation 5. 4th March 2021              

 

2Cor.1,3-4

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Let us not suppose that Paul is here speaking about the experience of suffering and hardship as a “misfortune”, as though he was saying, ‘I’m sorry you have to suffer; but consider what might come from it, consider the following strategy…’, as though he held that the normal and better state of things for a Christian was to be free from any need to receive God’s comfort or if there is need for it that it should come in terms of “good fortune”. No, he is speaking about the very meaning of the Christian life and faith. Because that meaning is ‘service’, and the rendering of comfort is at the heart of Christian service. [ see Job who says to the friends who won’t comfort him: “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.”(6,14)]

The comfort which we are called to render to “those in any trouble” is “the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” It is not from a position of strength, or of eyeing up ‘good fortune’, that we can know how to comfort, but from weakness, from exposure to suffering, from places of need for God’s comfort. Paul puts it strikingly later in the same epistle: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12,9-10
These are extraordinary words and thoughts, hardly acceptable to our modern individualism for which the goal that everything must serve is personal fortune and well-being. This, however, cannot be reconciled with the Christian faith which tells us that God brought his saving power into play through a wounded healer. The attempt to do so empties faith of its strength to comfort and disables its call to serve.
Only if and as we receive God’s comfort will they who need comfort find in us people who can give comfort.

In weakness, then, and suffering, is delivered and experienced the comfort of God, not in order to make us more fortunate (in a worldly sense) but so as to equip faith with the strength, the wisdom, the compassion to comfort, that is, to equip faith with the will to serve.
But where is this comfort experienced except in the Son of God on the cross, Christ, the grace of God, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk.10,45) “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2Cor.1,5)

 

Lent Meditation 4. 2nd March 2021      

 

 

1Pt.2,20-25

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

In a pivotal encounter between Peter, the disciple, and Jesus Christ, the matter arose whether the Saviour should avoid the path of suffering and be spared that experience. Absolutely he should, Peter declared. And this he did not just for Jesus’s sake, but for his own, as he supposed, rightly, that if Jesus chose this path this would set an example for the disciples also.
Jesus’ answer to Peter is unequivocal: If Jesus spared himself the suffering before him, if he chose a different path, then Satan would win and salvation fall; it would be man’s, but it would not be God’s way. (Mt.16,21-23) From this it would appear that suffering is an integral part of the way of salvation. It is the suffering servant of God who redeems (Is.53!).

In his epistle Peter reminds the church of its calling to live redemptively, which it can only do by a faith which is willing to suffer, is willing to obey God in weakness as Jesus did.
Redemptive suffering is not (generally) the kind of suffering that cannot be avoided but the kind which can. It is the kind of suffering that can only be avoided at the cost of discipleship, that is, at the cost of living redemptively. Christian suffering is the result of being in a state of weakness brought about by trusting in God and obeying him.
Christian suffering cannot, therefore, be avoided but through avoiding to trust and/or obey. As the examples from Jesus’ path which Peter uses show, trusting in God and obeying him is done in weakness. He who trusts and obeys is weak against the strength of the evil, the unrighteousness, the injustice and wrongdoing which he resists for the sake of God who alone is good. This weakness is true resistance. But it is also redemptive as it carries the seed of faith, hope and love, even the strength of grace.

Christian willingness to suffer is never the intention to justify evil, but to resist it as trust in God and obedience to his will enable faith to do. May God give grace and a willing heart to suffer for Jesus’ sake as and when the situation demands that we do.

 

Lent Meditation 3 25th February 2021

Jam.1,2-4;13-14

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face many kinds of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. …
When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”
          

We shouldn’t need reminding, but in our weakness do: Faith in the true and living God is a most powerful thing. Within the trinity of ‘Faith, Hope, and Love’ faith is the all-conquering force to which belongs God’s victory. Faith gives to those who have it the power to be victorious over the world, over death, hell and sin. To faith alone belong possibilities that are beyond the reach of mortals.  “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”’ (Mt.17,20) Or Mk.9,23: “’If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes!’”
Faith being such a great and exceedingly precious thing, tasked in our world with the job to make possible the otherwise impossible, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it must undergo testing. Indeed, it is, with things that need to be fit for purpose, usually only rigorous testing that shows what’s really there and brings what is really there to the fore. Many kinds of trials, therefore, must be experienced by those who believe.
The intention of these trials in themselves is to make the believer unsure of their faith and lead into doubt, to create a pathway for a person’s evil desires to entice and drag them away from faith. Yet, seemingly in the face of their destructive intention, James teaches that we should consider such trials “pure joy”. Why? Because the uncertainty and doubt with regard to faith that is produced by the onslaught of trials presents the opportunity to persevere.

Perseverance, as always when it is in a matter of truth, of something valid and good, leads to a strengthening, it brings to the fore what’s really there.

But what is the perseverance of faith? Let us not think that it is foremost about an emotion or about a sense of personal belief, that “I believe”. In the biblical sense, faith rests not in something I do, but on God’s promise and word.
I believe to the extent that I trust in the promise and word of God; and I trust in the promise of God to the extent that I listen to his word – even Christ Jesus! – and let it alone be true (Rom.3,4). Perseverance, then, is with regard to the promise of God, it is a defiant “Yet I hold to his word! As it says, so it shall be.”

It is for this reason that Luther rightly taught us to see trials as a great teacher, teaching us to pay ever closer attention to God’s promises, which are all ‘Yes in Christ Jesus’ (“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” – 2Cor.1,20).  For, to the extent and in the manner we do, to that extent and in that manner we shall learn what’s really there.

Yes, “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

 

Lent Meditation 2. Tuesday 22nd February 2021

Is.58,1-12

In these verses we are being made aware that a relationship exists, a connection or correspondence, between a practice of using another for one’s own end and a faith which does the same with regard to God. As the will acts towards the other person, so it acts in the matter of faith, towards God. As I must have my own way here, so I must have my own way there. As my will is disposed in one case, so in the other.

And God’s Word lays bare the toxicity of such religion (manifest here in the exercise of fasting) – a religion (a faith!) at the heart of which is the will and desire to have God at one’s disposal, to make faith count by way of serving one’s own needs and ends: What, after all, is God good for, and faith, if not for me to have the way I will, for us to have the way we will?

In reasoning with his people God points out that a faith which is ruled by the will to have him at one’s disposal (carrying on in religions and non-religious ways and habits of the heart and mind) is soil not for the growth of good but of evil. What ought to result in starving evil of oxygen and cutting off its blood supply, becomes a means of its prevailing.

Let us reflect on this and search ourselves. In the light of God’s Word the sins of the heart are uncovered. Let them be for confessing, not for keeping. Faith proper is not mastery over God, but is service of the true and living God (1Thess.1,9), is expressing itself through love (Gal.5,6), is the freedom to put oneself at the disposal of the other in love and truth.

Let us reflect on Scripture’s proclamation that Christ is the way, that he suffered for our freedom, and that true fasting has the form which appears in Christ’s word Mt.25,34-40:

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you have me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

 

Lent Meditation 1  Wednesday 17th February 2021

                                                                

Mt.6,1-6

The liturgical season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, gives us the opportunity to reflect on the fact that the path of the Christian faith lies in the shadow of the cross and the light of the resurrection (in this order!). The fact that Jesus announced to his disciples on 3 separate occasions that he, because he had to (!), would suffer and be rejected “by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law”, would be killed and after 3 days rise again, is certainly defining in some way for the journey of faith.
In fact, Jesus made this clear when immediately after the first prediction of his death he said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mk.8,34f.)
Hopefully our Lent reflections can manage not to get bogged down fruitlessly in trying to examine and search ourselves by way of looking into a mirror reflecting to us only what we are, but to look as through a “glass darkly” onto what is real and worth losing one’s life for so as to save it.

Our first text is from the Sermon on the Mount, Mt.6,1-6. Jesus surrounded by his disciples is teaching them. Perhaps this ought to be the first step in our reflection – to be mindful not to just let Jesus have his say in a general sort of way but to let him speak to us and find us listening to him and hearing what he says. For it is those who hear and pay attention to what they hear who are also those who will receive. For such – hearing as disciples hear – may God give grace to us all. Mt.6,1-6:

‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’

By way of our faith, we are to consider that Jesus demands of us a better righteousness – one that is better than that owned and practised by hypocrites. (I don’t, unfortunately, lack people who must readily agree with this demand of me!) Jesus does not demand religion and he does not demand religious appearances, but real-life righteousness working through selfless and cheerful giving rooted, as it alone is, in a faith which entrusts God with both one’s needs and rewards. Let us reflect on the following:

  1. This righteousness that is demanded is the only one that counts before God: It is one that does not seek to appear to others or be obvious to them, but seeks to be real, aiming to please God alone. I only appear to be righteous when I give or pray or fast when while doing so I want or seek approval from others for it, be this inside or outside of the church. To the extent that I seek and relish self -approval, I have no further reward to expect beyond feeling good about myself. Will righteousness here flourish? Can it?
  2. Let us reflect on the fact that, given what Jesus here demands, I needn’t worry about any transactional value of my giving, praying and fasting – I mustn’t even have it in mind -, to do so would cheapen and devalue it. I can trust God for any reward and thus be ready for costly love and the denial of ‘self’.
  3. Let us reflect on the call to repentance in the light of the word of the cross which proclaims that Christ “has become for us … our righteousness…” (1Cor.1,30), and the prayer “Lord, give us what you demand and demand what you will. Amen”