3rd Sunday Before Lent 2023
Today our thoughts turn from Epiphany toward the coming season of Lent. During those 40 days of travelling with God through the metaphorical wilderness, we will try as best we can to listen to God’s call to change, to reflect on His will, and to seek a closer walk with Him.
Our first reading this morning from Isaiah sets the out clearly the problem before us. Most who genuinely seek God do so through what they know, and for us that is so often the familiar world of the religious practice that we know and follow. So we will attempt to be better at following the things we know well, however Isaiah plainly states that the problem isn’t there but elsewhere. Religion from a human perspective tends to be mostly about how we see God and how we interpret what we think God wants. Isaiah makes plain it is not, it is about how faith, how our religious life affects life in the here and now. he says:
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists., and
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Only for Isaiah when we do the work of God in the world will we find the correct way of serving God. Whereas we think God calls us to be in churches, Isiah points out that God’s heart is with those who are living lives in need of grace, of love and compassion. It is as much about the incarnating of the will of God, as the ritual correctness of how we seek to follow God. It is a hard lesson, for all we do here isn’t enough, it is about a change in us that in turn changes the world through changing the lives of others.
St Paul writing to the Corinthians urges them to accept that it will not wisdom, human knowledge or intelligence that will discern the mind of God, but the reliance first and foremost on opening ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit. He says:
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?
In a real sense Paul is saying we are not called to be better at what we know, but to try hard to open ourselves to things we do not know, to let the Spirit guide us to do the will of God, made manifest in the world with all its needs and messiness. As he says, this isn’t easy, for “ None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In Christ’s incarnation, fulfilment of the law and ministry we are being called not to be better at things we know, but to explore the things we have never associated perhaps with God’s work. Otherwise Jesus would surely have been a teacher and preacher not in the world, in the villages and sea shores, the public squares and to the ordinary person, but would have remained within the Temple, the synagogue, and the gathering so of the religious elite of his day. He wouldn’t have risked explaining God’s meaning through acts of healing, compassion, mercy and generosity, rather he would have stuck firmly to the laws and rules as they had for ages been understood. But he didn’t.
And St Matthew warns us of the importance of keeping our edge, our saltiness, that magical and life-giving quality which turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. The simplest thing salt that changes everything. Be seen, be visible, be that essential ingredient that changes the whole. Not that this means everything in the past will be lost or forgotten, far from it, it will be understood afresh as never before. So often Jesus was re-explaining to so-called experts the true meaning of things they in one sense knew well, but in reality had failed to properly grasp. They knew the law, they couldn’t live it, they knew the rules, but not what they were for, they were wonderfully learned, and yet in complete ignorance. I have been struck recently by a little meme on social media where a cartoon of Jesus has him telling a group of followers ‘ the problem is you use scripture to define what love is, I use love to explain what scripture means’. It seem to me to get to the heart of much that keeps us from getting closer to God’s intent. We like rules and traditions, we like things to remain the same, and call them God like when often they are human convenience. Lent is a time to open our hearts and minds to what is saying, and who is the focus of his gravest concern.
Well Lent is meant to be a challenge, and I think I have outline a little of why, all I know is that God, as revealed in the prophets and scriptures never despises those who think outside the box, put the poorest, most oppressed and needy before all else. It is going to be quite the journey as always – thanks be to God