Lent Meditations

GOOD FRIDAY

Is.53 / Jn.18,1 – 19,42

From then on Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar,’ When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement. It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
‘Here is your king,’ Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
(Jn.19,12-16)

Dear friends

Hints are often lost on people who don’t pay attention or who are not searching for the meaning of things. But for those who do, hints are essential. Where they are it is unwise to overlook them. But to pick them up leads to a successful conclusion.
Knowing our capacity and need to understand and grasp why Jesus died, God gave us hints – carefully prepared and revealed in history, they are laid down in Scripture. John (as well as the other gospel writers) highlights many of these hints as he recounts the trial and death of Jesus, because it is this event that these hints refer to. They help us understand what story is being told here: Not a story of a wrongful death, of a martyr dying for his cause, not a story of a judicial error or even of courage and love as an example to follow, but the story of obedience and sacrifice, the story of redemption.
One hint that John highlights is in the timing of Jesus’s trial and death – that it happened on the day of Preparation of the Passover. The most important feast in the Jewish calendar, celebrated annually, when the people remembered God’s mighty rescue of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to bring them to the promised land and the freedom of worshipping Him in truth and obedience, as His own people. Symbolically re-enacting the night of Israel’s deliverance by preparing to eat lamb in remembrance of the lamb that was sacrificed, the blood of which saved the people of Israel from the judgment that fell on Egypt, setting them free, the Jewish people remembered, as it were, their own place as God’s people in the promise of his deliverance from slavery and bondage to the freedom of being truly His.
Now, the hint that is the timing of Jesus’ trial and death is that it points to the fact that he is the true sacrificial lamb: That he is the offering that atones for sin, who bears God’s judgment on sin as the stand-in who is himself sinless and perfect in obedience for all who are not, whose blood cleanses from all unrighteousness and who tastes death so that his people might taste life.
Of this John the Baptist spoke at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he pointed to him saying, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’(Jn.1,29)
While the Jewish leadership worried about moving things along quickly so as not to interfere with the festivities, they were in truth preparing the sacrifice that brought to all who received it peace, deliverance from all sins, deliverance from death, freedom from fear and the enslavement to the powers of darkness and evil. While they thought they were getting rid of a nuisance, of a threat to their authority, they were in truth installing the King of God and his kingdom. While they thought the cross showed he was punished by God, he was in truth “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Is.53,5)

Dear friends, that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb who brought us all deliverance from death and from all our sins is clear from the way he reoriented the Passover meal with his disciples. Lamb and bitter herbs became bread and wine, the symbols to which he attached the words, ‘This is my body which is broken for you’ and ‘This is my blood which is shed for you’. It is a palpable way for us to remember that what Jesus did on the cross, he did for us; and not just to remember it but receive it – real forgiveness of real sins through his blood and real life through his real death. AMEN

 

Lent Meditation 12  31st March 2021 (Holy Week)                                                                                                                

Mk.14,27-31

“ ‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’
‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘today – yes, tonight – before the cock crows you yourself will disown me three times.’ But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same.”

The problem is not, G K Chesterton once remarked commenting on the state of Christianity, that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.
The disciples, on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion, are soon to realise the difficulty of following the Lord, of carrying out his teachings and obeying his word – in other words, of being Christians. Indeed, they will fail, even before things get going. All of them – non-starters. ‘You will all fall away, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’”
With a view like this, what could the disciples do in response but protest? If Jesus is right and they all fall away when the going gets tough, as they know it will, then all will come to an end. Of all that they went through together, of all the teaching they received and the bond they forged and of the future they were promised, nothing would remain but memories and the sour taste of defeat and lost hopes. “If we fall away, would we not just be like the seed in the master’s parable, the one that fell on rocky places, people who don’t last when ‘persecution comes because of the word’?” And so they protest. What else could they do? What else could they envisage that would avoid the catastrophe of failure?

As it turned out, they were defeated, they did fail! And with them many who likewise make the experience of being defeated on the way of following Christ by their own sinfulness and weakness.
But was it the end? It was the end only in as far as it made for a new beginning. But it was an end that had to be.
Quite possibly the disciples didn’t hear the words of utter grace that Jesus spoke, or if they did, they didn’t make enough of them (as is often the case still today!): ‘But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ Do we hear what Jesus is saying? He means to tell this bunch that will not hold on to him that he will hold on to them! The point is grace: Jesus holds on to us even when we don’t hold on to him! Through his death and resurrection Jesus means to make an end of their (and our!) bondage to sin and fear (anything that gives them over to death and separates them from God) and to be for them and in them through the Spirit the presence of God and of His rule.

Praise be to God for his grace. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.” (Ps.118,1)

 

Lent Meditation 11 25th March 2021                                 

                                                                                                         

1Jn.4,7-12

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loves us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Love is the fruit of knowing God. What does not lead to love that does not come from God. The veracity of any profession to know God is established on the practice and evidence of love. No one who does not love can possibly know God. For God is love.
Human wisdom is at its most foolish and futile where it seeks to comprehend God apart from love or love apart from the knowledge of God. For only love knows God.
Love as the fruit of the knowledge of God grows out of the knowledge that God is love, the knowledge of who God is. That knowledge, since no one has ever seen God, is Christ Jesus and comes through him. ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known’ (Jn.1,18).  That Christ is the way by which the Father was made known means that we must know Him as love overflowing towards the lost, the needy, the crooked, the loveless etc., towards the Father-less, in mercy and grace, kindness and forgiveness. What we see Christ do, we see the Father’s love do.
On the cross, on which the Son of God died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and in his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven, the love -greater than which there is none - was made known in such a way that by faith we come to live in Christ and he in us through the Spirit of God.
This event that is Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension leading to the sending of the Spirit to all who believe, is God giving knowledge of Himself – that He is love! – by coming to live in us.
‘Since God so loved us’, and how much he has is a thing always to be experienced in the forgiveness of our sins and the fellowship of the body of Christ, ‘we also ought to love one another.’ As Christ has:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

 

Lent Meditation 10. 23rd March 2021                                                                                            

Gal.6,2

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.”

The only thing that counts,’ says Paul earlier in this letter, ‘is faith expressing itself through love.’ The same thing is here described as ‘fulfilling the law of Christ’.
The purpose of being a Christian is not this that I may gain the life that I seek, but that I fulfil the law of Christ, that this law should be fulfilled through me. Jesus says: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt.7,21-23) That is, all the great things I have done in the name of Jesus shall not count at all if the one thing that does count, does not – fulfilling the law of Christ.
The means to the end that is this purpose of fulfilling the law of Christ is freedom. It is not by law (the “you have to”) that one comes to fulfil this law, but – paradoxically! – through freedom from the law (the “your sins are forgiven”). ‘It is for freedom,’ says Paul, ‘that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ The ‘slavery’ Paul here talks about is to sin and to fear and is brought about through failure to keep the law. Sin enslaves, says Jesus (Jn.8,34), and this removes from us the ability to fulfil the law.
It is therefore essential that we remain in the freedom that Christ’s grace through the forgiveness of our sins opens up and safeguards for us, and that we learn to be at home in this freedom – that we are free from slavery to the law of sin even as it still retains a foothold in us, free from having to fear and worry for ourselves, free from condemnation, free to live for him who has given his life for us.
Only in the freedom we have in Christ can we ‘be slave of all’ (Mk.10,44) and fulfil the law of Christ. Outside or apart from this freedom the law of Christ must be a burden. In the freedom, for which Christ has set us free, the burden of the other (and the burden that is the other!) becomes freedom’s way to prove itself. Read Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan Lk.10,25-37, that is, of a man who is free. And let us not seek by law what must come by repentance and faith.

Lent Meditation 9 18th March 2021

                                                                                                                   

Gal.2,20

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Do we wish we could say this too – that we have been crucified with Christ? Are these words that we know we ought to be able to say, and want to, but feel we can’t because they sound untrue to us? Do they speak to us as of a victory in a battle in which for us defeat seems the only reality? Do we think, ‘If only it were true for me’?
If we do, it cannot be for any other reason than that we see in us something we want to be made an end of, namely the rule and lordship of our ‘self’, and that we desire the rise and beginning of a different ‘me’, one that might live for God (v.19).
What the cross of Jesus Christ is designed to make an end of, is me, my identity as one who does not live for God but for self, is that I who live for myself can say – with some hope and relish!  - I no longer live.
Is not the longing to live for God, if at all present, married to a profound sadness over the continued way in which I live for myself and show by my pursuits and avoidances that governance over my life has not gone from me to God? Such sadness needs to be taken in faith to the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. For he died so that with him through faith I may die, that is, no longer live, and he may live in me. Only when I have been crucified with Christ can I say I no longer live. There is so much ‘me’ that no longer ought to rule, and so much of Christ’s Lordship that I need to rule in its place instead! What brings self-rule to an end and Christ-rule in its place is always and only grace, through the forgiveness of sins and Christ’s life for us.

So the life that we are now living in the body is to be lived by faith in Jesus Christ (trusting him), so that what he has done be done in me, and who he is he be in me.

 

Lent Meditation 8 17th March 2021

1Cor.1,18-25

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

If we breathe the wisdom of the world, we will assume that we are capable of bringing about that which God wills, to reach the goal of knowing God. Not that we think our power and wisdom unlimited, but given the right tools we can, and must, go to work successfully and achieve the right result.
To this, the world’s confidence in the strength and right-ness of its own wisdom, corresponds on the one hand the demand for signs (Jews) as God’s way to do his bit, and on the other hand the search for more findings, better understanding, more knowledge (Greeks). This belief in our capacity to bring about what God wills is necessarily twinned with the belief that God’s power and wisdom must (or: naturally does) fall in with such wisdom, that is, that it will bring about what the world wills (since in its wisdom it knows what that is that God wills…!).

But if the message of the cross, the preaching of Christ crucified – which is the proclamation that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification – is God’s power and wisdom to save all who believe, to bring people to a knowledge of Himself and renew them in Christ’s image, then the world’s wisdom with its demand for signs and its search for knowledge is declared foolish. Indeed, then it is shown for what it truly is: pretending to bring about what it did not, nor can – know God.
That Christ is God’s power and wisdom, rather than according to the world’s mind and wish the power of miracles and its own wisdom, makes our salvation a matter of grace, and safeguards it as such.
Human strength and wisdom mark their presence and influence in our hearts and minds a) as pride, when we add to the grace of Christ in his death and resurrection for us something we need to do and believe we are doing, and b) as despair, when we believe that the lack of power and wisdom do bring about conformity with God’s will in our lies is the sign of a graceless state.

When God’s power and wisdom take from us our own power and wisdom – which neither miracles nor the strength of our own wisdom will do, but Christ crucified in those who are being saved! – we become nothing. For, what can no power and no wisdom bring about? But here, made nothing, grace comes into its own – Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

Lent Meditation 7 10th March 2021

Col.3,1-3

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. “

Jesus’ death and resurrection must both be understood to be for us. Jesus died for us and he rose for us. We must therefore consider what it was that cost Jesus his life. Manifest in those that took it, it was sin and alienation from God. It was “for us” precisely in this sense. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” (2Cor.5,21), “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” (Gal.3,13)
Christ could not have died for us by accident or from old age, but only in the way that meant he would die our death – on the cross. And the death he died was that of the sinner, of man alienated and separated from God, of man rejecting God’s claim and love.
Through his death, because it happened on the cross by the one who had no sin and gave his life “as a ransom” (Mk.10,45), the sinner was given his own death, but such as to be death to sin and to alienation from God. “When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mt.27,50-51)
In his resurrection Jesus received life; and the life he received, which was not subject to sin nor death nor alienation, he received for us. “I live; and you shall live also.” (Jn.14,19) Who, what and where Jesus now is, that he is for us. This totally and utterly revolutionizes who, what and where we are. With Christ our life is now in God, both hidden and to be revealed. Through Christ’s death we have died, through Christ’s resurrection we have been raised.
The hiddenness of who, what and where we are through Christ calls us to express this – our identity! – in ways that show our death to sin, our reconciliation to God and one another, our willingness to carry each other’s burdens, our being alive to the truth that we do not belong to death and that God is faithful to his covenant of grace in Jesus Christ.
Through Christ our life is in God, in him our identity new and other than it is in ourselves. Going by the identity we seek in ourselves we will set our minds on earthly things (strongly and zealously so, with all the God- and self-alienating repercussions and perversions this must entail). Going by the identity we have in Christ (dead to sin and alive to God) and the life which through Christ is in God, we will seek to match this new and other – our real! – identity with new expressions, not seeking “earthly things” but setting our “minds on things above.”

 For this we must always seek the efficient cause in him who died and rose for us, even Jesus Christ.

 

Lent Meditation 6. 9th March 2021                                               

 

 

Lk.14,26-27

Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

This is somewhat illustrated by Jesus’ call of the twelve disciples. They all left their “places” (father, work, home) in order to follow him. Their calling was for Jesus to come first. Most, if not all, who received healing by Jesus’ ministry and were commended for their faith were sent back to their families and communities, and the same was true of the many who followed him in order to hear his teaching. But not so the disciples. Peter was not exaggerating when he pointed out to Jesus that they had left everything in order to follow him.
It is not unimportant to notice that there were 2 sets of brothers – Peter and Andrew, and John and James – among the disciples, and all of them were commanded to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ It is obvious that the above was not to be understood to make it a mark of discipleship to hate (in the modern sense of the word) one’s nearest and dearest.
But what it does mean is that we cannot follow Jesus unless he comes first in our lives, that faith in Jesus Christ, which must seek to follow him, is impeded, and indeed brought to fall, by that which does come first in our lives when that is not God revealed in Jesus Christ. The use of the strong and startling word “hate” in the statement is perhaps an indication of how difficult it is to say ‘no’ to a demand (by one’s spouse, child, parent – obvious and justified?) to come first and assign Jesus Christ second place, but how necessary. The greatest demand to come first is that of our own life, and that too, supremely, needs to be hated.

Only the cross will teach us to set aside the demand of our life to come first and let Jesus do so. That is why it’s there and why we must carry it. Where we follow we will see new and healed relationships. Did not Jesus from the cross say to his mother and to his disciple John, “‘Woman, here is your son’, and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’”? (Jn.19,26)

Then we love best when we seek for Jesus to come first – in our own life and in that of our loved ones.

 

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”