Monday, March 14, 2011
The idea that life with the God of creation is somehow better understood by eating less chocolate seems to me absurd. There, I've said it. Strike me down. File me with "Rob Bell".
So - do I ignore Lent? Do I think the seasons of the Church's year are no more than a bit of alternative colourwash in the clerical calendar?
Far from it.
I simply want to remember that righteousness is never primarily about the stuff we do, but always at heart about the relationships we embrace. Are we right with God? Right with those around us? This is the heart of righteousness - right relationships. And seldom does the quantity of chocolate consumed materially affect these.
Lent is a "back to basics" season - not for "giving things up" but for "stripping things away" in order to reveal what is really true.
Is my life with God for real or for show? Does my life begin to match my words? Am I still seeking him with all my heart? And yes, it may take some doing to reveal these truths - some peeling back the layers. OK.
Jesus goes into the desert and fasts for 40 days & nights. He is hungry. No wonder - I'm hungry when I've fasted for 40 minutes. And the first question that gets thrown at him is all about righteousness. Relationship. The core of life.
"If you are the Son of God, come on, use a bit of that power for yourself and let's see this stone become bread. Where's the harm? You're worth it."
A different wilderness, a different time. Stones, loneliness, hunger, fear. Voices crying out in doubt and complaint. And God speaks to feed his children. Day by day over decades, though the children waver and wander in their life with God, God never falters and every morning provides manna to sustain the people he loves.
But this man isn't just one of the children. He is the Son. The Royal Son, the King, the one whom the Psalmist says will always use his power to deliver the needy, to protect the weak, to rescue them from violence and oppression. And he knows who he is, and the Father he can trust, and the people he will serve and love.
"Nice try," he replies. "But I've been here, what - nearly two months? Do you know the story of the people who were watched over for nearly two generations? They were tested, humbled - and fed day by day to learn that we don't live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."
Stripped of family, friends, crowds, support, everything comfortable and familiar, Jesus was who he was. He has no need of that "if". He knows God loves him. He is in the right place with him. And he knows his role is to use his power for others, not himself. He is in the right place with us. There, in the private place, where no-one can see.
Of course, there is one other occasion he gets that "If you are the Son of God" thing thrown at him. Nailed to two planks of wood, with criminals likewise skewered either side of him, a crowd beying for his blood and priests and soldiers taunting him, again a voice calls out - "If you are the Son of God..." and again, it mocks him, pushing him to use that power for his own benefit, "Come down from the cross!"
Lent is a time to strip life back. To find out who we really are. If possible to do it in the private place. Because one day we may be sorely tried in the most public of arenas, and if we haven't learned to be someone who loves God and who loves the people he loves when there is no cost, we won't stand much of a chance passing the test on that far harder day.
So. I'm eating my chocolate. And keeping up with friends on facebook. Tomorrow night I'll be at the pub quiz. And I am also praying that this year I might be a better person than last year, and next year a better person than this - that at my core I might be someone right with God and right with those around me, loving, serving, and learning to be a bit more like Jesus.
The surface is what it is, and I'll enjoy it as much as the next bloke; but strip it away, and who am I at my core? That's the question of Lent.