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Thought for the week - 18 February 2024

As we stand, possibly on the brink of war it is useful to remind ourselves that war is the ultimate arrogance, thinking that by violence we can overcome violence. True enough, our impaired humanity has to rely sometimes on force to counter the force practised by evil men. That is why civilised communities have police whose ultimate deterrent is force, but which is employed according to a law which is based on mutual benefit, but force is in no way a solution; it signals the breakdown of humanity. Sooner or later the broken pieces have to be mended if we are not to founder into total inhumanity, and in that foundering, in that rupture, we find ourselves at the start of Lent, a time which has elements of foundering and rupture within it. In this context, it is worth remembering that the sabbath is made for us, not us for the sabbath – so let’s not obsess about what we may or may not have given up or taken on for Lent. As I do every year, I would like to say that for some people, it is always Lent, for some, Lent cannot come soon enough and that a pork chop will not make you a bad person any more than a piece of haddock will make you a good person – take up, leave behind or put away whatever helps you to grow in love this Lent. If we go through Lent thinking ‘I wish I could have a milkshake’ then we infantilise ourselves and we trivialise our faith.

For us to accept it or faith, the Bible must present to us, urgently, a recognisable picture of what our lives are like, by showing us what the problems are, how to deal with them and what happens if we make the wrong decisions. The Bible shows what life is like just as much as it shows what life should be like, It has been accepted as the reference book for Christianity because it best shows, not only what life should be like, but also what life is like, which is why it is so arresting to our senses. In the scriptural battle to keep order and chaos separate, we are shown what happens if chaos overtakes us, as well as what happens if we live in God’s perfect order – war or peace, humanity or inhumanity, love or hate, things are as simple as that and if Lent gives us one gift, it is the gift of perceiving this more clearly. We see war and chaos in the desert and the battle with the Devil, we see hate in the mob shouting for the death of Christ, and we see peace and humanity as the gifts of discipleship and we see love raising Lazarus and offering itself on the Cross.

Today we hear the creation narrative, how God brought order to chaos, how the formless, watery dark, chaotic matter of earth became a regulated place of day and night, or water and land, light and darkness. In that creation of a place for us to live and our rejection of it is the promise of the Word made Flesh and the new covenant – but not until the chaos came back, in the waters of the flood, a product of the chaos of sin. I don’t mean sin like not liking someone sometimes, but sin like a deliberate decision to reject the light and turn to the darkness where the devil calls us, suggesting that we are the only one who matters, enabling the greed of financiers, the subjugation of the poor, the raising up of the rich and the march to war, all of which brings back universal chaos and darkness.

God saved Noah, but this was not a new beginning, God did not start from scratch, he did not separate the waters again, but simply turned off the tap and we no longer had the same relationship with the earth which we had previously, we were not created anew, but He simply worked with the survivors to create the hope that things will turn out better this time. This Lent, lets give flesh to that hope. Eating a pork chop will not stop this happening, and eating fish will not make it happen. We are called to change ourselves, not to temporarily adopt a faddy diet. We are not making a fresh start, nor a new beginning, and we can’t because we are the same people. Whatever we do, we take ourselves with us and I find that the whole concept of fresh starts is wrong. In the Gospel we hear how John was baptising people in the River Jordan, trying to put some order back into their chaotic lives. Jesus joined them but having got some kind of order into his life from that, chaos soon returned when he was driven by the Spirit into the desert, that place of chaos where mankind doesn’t have control. Jesus emerges from this experience of life in all its chaotic complexity ready to proclaim the Good News – we are not trying to avoid the Devil, but to show that our faith is stronger than the devil is, and that the world is once again falling into chaos but our God reigns and we have a lot of work to do. At the danger of being an old hack, this has nothing to do with pork chops and haddock. The choice is between order and chaos, light and darkness, God and the Devil, salvation and damnation, not lamb leg or halibut.

None of this will be easy and let us be honest and accept that we know we are going to fail, and God knows we are going to fail, yet the good news is that it doesn’t matter anymore than what we eat. So long as we keep trying as hard as we can, to always choose justice over oppression, to seek peace over war, to prefer light to darkness, to bind up the broken hearted and welcome the stranger in our land – then we shall come to Easter not as a new people, but as a people who have chosen to be who we were created to be, God’s chosen race, a holy nation, a people set apart to proclaim the mighty deeds of God in the desert, in the city and in our lives. If people know us for our love, rather than our diets, that is all that matters.


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