Tuesday, 19 February 2013

7th Day of Lent - God's Word

Words are powerful. As James writes, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing." (James 3:9-10). Words can be good and kind and build others up; or they can be hurtful and damaging and ruin lives.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said not to babble or use lots of words. God knows what we need, before we ask Him (Matthew 6:7-15). The Lord's Prayer is concise, simple, to the point. We honour God and call Him 'Father'; we ask for His will to be done; we request forgiveness and our needs to be met, and to be taught to forgive; and we beg to be protected from evil and temptation.
 God's Word is more powerful than any of ours. When God speaks, His words will achieve His purpose, no matter what attempts to get in the way. "It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11). As we've seen over the past few days, God speaks for the poor, the oppressed and the broken. He calls us to do the same. We have a choice to follow God's Word, and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, or we can leave that mission to someone else. Either way, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18). Isn't it better that we choose to join God and use our words to promote social justice?
How will you use your words to build up the oppressed and broken today?

Sunday, 17 February 2013

5th Day of Lent - Freedom

But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. (Deuteronomy 26:6-10)

How wonderful freedom is, and how easily we take it for granted. Each morning I can decide what to do with my day. I can take my daughter out for a walk, or we can read stories, or build a tower of blocks and knock them down. We could even do all three! There is no one, but her, telling me what to do or where to go. But how often do I thank God for my freedom? How often do I thank Him that I was born into a loving family in a country where I am free to be educated, to be paid for my work, to speak as I think?

It is only when our freedoms are curtailed that we begin to recognise the wonders of freedom. When our beliefs are mocked, when our religion is used as a reason to fire us, when we cannot speak our thoughts for fear of being sued. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

4th Day of Lent - Sabbath Delight

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday...
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
    For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 58:9-14)

The Sabbath is here inextricably linked to social justice. Our fasting is pleasing to God if we do away with oppression; our Sabbath is pleasing to God if we use it to put the needs of others before our own. Here in Isaiah, God tells His people, "Don’t use my holy day for personal advantage." (Isaiah 58:13, The Message)

Friday, 15 February 2013

3rd Day of Lent - Loose the Chains of Injustice

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? 
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? 
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

Why do we fast during Lent? Our priest said, the other day, that fasting helps us to remember what Jesus gave up for us: He gave up Heaven, power and glory, and then He gave up His relationship with God the Father and He gave up His life. Puts our fasting from chocolate/TV/Facebook/caffeine/(insert other pleasure here) into perspective, doesn't it. Fasting during Lent also helps us to identify with Jesus' 40 day fast in the desert after His baptism. Jesus' fast was part of His preparation to do God's work, and similarly our fasting should enable us to get closer to God in order that we can do the work He has planned for us. Fasting also affirms our dependence on God and upon each other. We can do nothing alone, and, as John Donne wrote, "No man is an island, Entire of itself."

Thursday, 14 February 2013

2nd Day of Lent - Choose Life

The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Luke 9:22)

As we journey through Lent, we are preparing to remember and celebrate Jesus' death and His resurrection. Jesus gave up His place in Heaven to live on earth like us and He died so that we could enter Heaven with Him. But His return to life 3 days after His execution was His victory over death.

Victory over death. Death is wrong. It's a result of our departure from the perfect creation. It is meant to make us angry, sad, grief-stricken. So why is it that we now live in a culture where death is campaigned for? We can kill babies in the womb, merely because they are inconvenient; we can kill babies up to birth for being disabled, or even for having a cleft lip; we want to kill criminals, rather than spending time and energy rehabilitating them; we call for euthanasia. Where did we start to go wrong? When did we decide that death was so simple and life of so little worth? Jesus died to give us life.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday

By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
 and to dust you will return. 
(Genesis 3:19)

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. We have entered a period of fasting, pentitence, reflection and preparation, as we approach the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Today we are marked with ashes as a sign of penance and as a reminder that we were created by and for God, and not the other way around.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Shrove Tuesday

Pancake Day goes by many names: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival.

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent, a period of fasting, begins. Fasting used to be much more severe than it is now. During the Middle Ages, people fasted from meat, dairy and eggs, as these were thought to be the foods that gave the most pleasure. They also abstained from festivities and from sex! So, in preparation for the desert time ahead, the people celebrated and partied and ate. Many of the foods eaten on this day were rich, sweet delicacies, earning it the name 'Fat Tuesday' or 'Mardi Gras'. Its other name is Shrove Tuesday. The common belief is that shrove comes from the old English word 'shrive', meaning 'confess' as people were expected to attend confession and receive absolution before entering the season of Lent.

Pancakes were useful for using up the milk and eggs in the house before the Lenten fast. We continue the tradition today with Pancake Day. Ah, Pancake Day. I love pancakes. I love them covered in lemon and sugar, or maple syrup, or chocolate sauce. I even like savoury pancakes. You have to be a pretty special foodstuff to get your own day of celebration.

Just as the Christians of the Middle Ages rid their homes of the foods they would be unable to eat for the next six weeks and confessed their sins, we ought to rid our lives of those thoughts and habits that do not befit Christians. You might not visit a priest to make your confession, but we can all bow our heads before God and tell Him we are sorry for the things we have done wrong. And as the Christians of old fasted through the weeks of Lent to identify with Jesus' fast in the desert and to bring them closer to God, we can pick areas in our lives that need to be cleaned out to enable us to walk more closely with our Heavenly Father.

When I was at school, everyone seemed to give up chocolate for Lent, with varying degrees of success. It's still a popular fast today. My dad, however, encouraged us to take something up instead; to start doing something that would help another or bring us into a better relationship with God. One year I washed up after dinner every night. Another year I determined to focus more on reading my Bible.

This year I feel called towards justice. God calls us to "Act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with Him."(Micah 6:8). I intend to spend Lent reading more of my Bible, praying more and writing letters to my MP and others regarding issues where I can speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves.

What will you be doing this Lenten season?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

More Than A Pillow

At the weekend we bought B her first pillow. It's a flat little thing, with a cute pillowcase covered in a bizarre mix of animals: lions, fish, hippos and alligators. And yes, it's from Ikea, of course. She loves it, and will lay her head on it and make little snoring noises, though she is yet to fall asleep by herself on it. I'm watching her now, in the wee hours of the morning, as she sleeps so soundly, secure in the sense that I am close by, her snuffles matching those of her father lying on my other side.