Imagining our better selves

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Lent 1B
21 February 2021

Art by Julie Lonneman: https://www.julielonneman.com

[ video ]

Here we are early in the 40 days of Lent for 2021.

As usual we begin with the Gospel passage about the testing of Jesus.

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus goes out into the wilderness areas to spend 40 days in solitude and prayer. As Mark tells the story, the Spirit drove (expelled) Jesus from the Jordan Valley into the wilderness.

As we would expect, the Gospel of John has a totally different version of events and there is not a hint of Jesus withdrawing from public view. He just meets up with his first disciples and they get on with the work! (see John 1:29–51)

The story told by Mark was followed by Matthew and Luke. It casts Jesus in the role of a great hero who must first overcome various tests or trials before going on to achieve his mission. We know that hero story well from our fairy tales and legends.

It was also a common meme in the Old Testament:

Abraham’s 10 Tests | 10 Plagues for Egypt | 10 Tests in Wilderness | Ten Commandments

John tells a different kind of story about Jesus. He is not a hero sent on a mission, but the divine Son of the Father who descends from heaven to earth to reveal the truth, after which he will return to heaven. We know this story, as well, from our Superman comics and movies.

The earliest Christians used different kinds of stories about Jesus in order to communicate what he meant to them and how he might “make sense” to other people.

Mark, Matthew and Luke are writing for people familiar with the biblical ways of telling the story, while John is describing Jesus in ways that made sense to people embedded in Greek mystery religions.

We do not need to worry about these differences in storytelling. There is no need to try and explain them away or harmonise them into a mishmash with no contradictions.

Rather, we can these different ways of talking about Jesus as biblical permission to keep fashioning new stories about Jesus which make sense to us in the world we actually live in and to other people who share that world with us.

Whether or not Jesus actually spend 40 days “where the wild things are,” the story about him doing so has inspired many other Christians to do similar things as well as creating the idea of Lent itself.

So Lent is a time for imagination, rather than a set of rules to be observed.

Let me offer three lenses through which you might let your imagination run loose in the quest for new and better ways to be a follower of Jesus:

• Fasting
• Praying
• Giving

Fasting (Embracing)

We all know about Lent as a time to give up chocolate or red meat or wine or …

But what if we imagine Lent as a time to slow down: a time to embrace and hold close, rather than to give things up?

For sure we can give up busy-ness. 

We have had some practice with that this past year thanks to COVID, so perhaps we can claim that as a spiritual gift snatched out of the wreckage of a year that has seen 110 million people infected and almost 2.5 million deaths. Probably more.

Slowing down took us by surprise, but it had some positive benefits.

What if we choose to go slow between now and Easter?

We do not want to multiply expectations, but we can choose to cease particular activities or commence others.

By surrendering some of the busy-ness and some of the speediness, we may find time to be more attentive: to God, to each other, and to ourselves.

Praying (Mindfulness)

As we are more attentive, we shall naturally be more prayerful.

You might choose some spiritual exercises to help focus that prayerful outlook.

Maybe join our online Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer at least a couple of times each week? (The link is on the back page of our bulletin each week and I will include it in this week’s email news from the Cathedral.)

Maybe it is taking a walk outside to be away from our devices, out in nature and at home with God?

Maybe it is joining in the weekly reflections from ABM during Lent?

Maybe its learning to play a musical instrument?

Perhaps it is starting a journal to record questions and insights during these 40 days?

Giving (Engaging)

Lent is a time to allocate some funds which we would otherwise spend on ourselves and choose instead to make a special gift to some worthwhile project.

I encourage everyone to make a gift to ABM during these 40 days. 

We have envelopes available today, or you can set up a gift from your phone or computer. You may feel drawn to make a gift to some other charity. That is fine. God is at work in so many places, and the key thing is our decision to engage by giving away some funds we would otherwise have spent on ourselves.

You might decide to donate time and energy rather than cash. 

Time which might otherwise have been spent for your own enjoyment can become a powerful gift to help someone else. Maybe you will decide to join the Rural Fire Service. Or volunteer at the OpShop. Or help with weed control on Susan Island. 

There are a zillion ways to give and engage, but the trick is to be mindful and avoid getting so busy that we lose our sense of God’s presence.

Think of Lent as an invitation to use our imagination to become more like the person we really want to be:

• People who slow down and discard some of the pressures to be this or do that …

• People who are attentive to the still small voice …

• People who are engaged with God’s work in the world …

Then having spent the next six weeks in that important spiritual work, we shall celebrate Easter with immense joy and hope.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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