Thanks, But No Thanks
Words for the First Sunday of Lent – 21 February 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mark 1v12)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Teresa of Avila, a 16th Century Spanish noble woman turned Mother Superior and founder of several Carmelite convents, was a spiritual giant. That however did not prevent her from having to face the challenges of everyday life and realising that just because you were doing the work of God, did not mean you were immune from the trials and tribulations we all endure. This incident from her life shows her response to them:
As St. Teresa made her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm, she slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her Maker, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few!”
I somehow suspect that Jesus, after having heard the Father saying, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,’ followed by the ‘Spirit ‘immediately [driving] him out into the wilderness,’ may have experienced similar emotions! One moment you are God’s gift to the world and the next you have to face the Devil, and that without food, for forty days. If I were Jesus I think I might have checked the Terms & Conditions of the Incarnation more closely before choosing to be born in Bethlehem!
What kind of Sonship and Belovedness is this that expects the price of adoption and acceptance to be temptation, trial, and tribulation? And that even before he has begun to raise a storm amongst the authorities of the day by healing the sick, raising the dead, and proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s Favour! If when God is pleased with him he is in a toe to toe fight with the Devil what will be the consequence of him beginning his real task?
We are most blessed because we stand on the other side of Lent, which we always see through Easter eyes. We know that the cross is followed by resurrection, trial by triumph, death by life, but that still doesn’t make the journey homeward any easier.
Occasionally when the going gets tough I want to, with Teresa of Avila, rail at God. I can hear my own ranting and ravings within me, ‘You promised that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, yet all I know is failure, rejection and opposition.’ The saddest part of which often being that most of the pain fellow pilgrims tell me about comes not from the Devil but from other Christians. And in my darkest most hurting moments when God turns to me and says, ‘You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased,’ I am sorely tempted to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’
But then I look at my Beloved and I see how much he loved and cared and poured himself out for me and wonder how I dare give less than he gave to make a pathway, even those who torment us, to return home. RS Thomas’ poem ‘The Coming’ describes his determination, ‘who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross,’ (Hebrews 12v2) to come amongst us and save us;
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
Let me go there…
This is the essence of Lent. To go where you know it will hurt in the hope that your pain will heal the hurt of others. To put ourselves out so that others may find the way more easily. To allow ourselves to be the last in line so that those who have had little may feast from the bounty of Our Beloved.
I have never believed that pain for its own sake ever does any good. The words of a parent from a previous generation saying to the child they are beating, ‘Son, this will hurt me more than it hurts you,’ have always rung hollow. I still weep for the times I beat our own boys in the hope that it would help them grow to become better men. By the grace of God they have grown to become good Christian men but that is not because I beat them. I hope that it is somehow because Lesley-Anne and I tried to show them how to persevere through pain, to speak for those who have no voice of their own, to seek the light in dark places, and to choose life rather than death.
Life is not an easy journey and we will meet many temptations and trials along the way. The Church gives us this season of Lent to help toughen our souls for the tasks that lie ahead of us; and in this time of global pandemic we will yet face many trials. We must try to not waste this space of forty days. It is God’s gymnasium in which we are able to prepare for the challenges ahead in the sure knowledge that Christ, ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12v2) stands with us, calls us forward, holds out his nail-scarred hands, smiles lovingly, and says, ‘Follow me’.
[This blog ‘Thanks, But No Thanks’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]