February 21, 2021
Categorised in: Sermons
John Smith was the only Protestant in a large Catholic village.
And on the first Friday of Lent,
While all of his neighbors were eating cold tuna fish for supper
John always left his window open
as he cooked up a nice juicy sirloin steak.
Every Friday it was the same until the fellas in the village couldn’t take it anymore. They decided something had to be done about John.
Led by Fr Patrick they decided to go and convert John
And sort the problem once and for all.
The villagers seized poor John, took him to church,
And Fr Patrtick sprinkled some water over him, saying,
“You were born a Protestant, you were raised a Protestantt,
But now, my child, you are a Catholic.”
The whole village was so relieved,
now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved.
It would all be different next year.
And sure as eggs is eggs.
The next year’s Lenten season rolled around.
And The first Friday of Lent came, a
nd just at supper time, when the neighbors were sitting down to their cold fish supper,
there came- once again- the wafting smell of steak cooking on under the grill…
The people could not believe their noses! What was going on?
I thought we fixed this last year.
They called each other up and decided to meet with Fr Patrick
over at John’s cottage to see what was what.
The group arrived just in time to see John standing over his cooker
with a small cup of water
sprinkling some water over his steak
“You were born a cow, you were raised a cow,
and now you are a fish.”
Just like John’s neighbours and telling bad irish jokes
It is our yearly habit at Lent to double back….
To revisit this story:
to see what has changed in us
…and what has not…
I don’t know about you but I sometimes find that annual return to Lent a bit discouraging because- like protestant John- I never seem to have changed
quite as much as I – or other people- would have liked.
And this year- when every day seems like Groundhog Day
there is an expectation in the air, in the news, that things might change-
life might be different on the other side of Easter…
Building back a better new normal…..
Is that really likely though?
I am realist and I ask myself- and you
What evidence there is for such a hope?
I don’t know. Cows don’t turn into fish very often,
And bad things to good- even less so.
And yet- …… there it is.
An inescapable, tantalising prospect that it JUST MIGHT BE True.
For Christians- however sober our expectations of life are-
We are commanded to ‘always HOPE’.
The presence of God in the world-
and the real activity of the HOLY SPIRIT in and beyond the Church
provide us with inescapably GOOD reason to do so.
TO HOPE for a BETTER NEW NORMAL.
IN the lessons we find this cycle of despair and hope writ large:
First- the revisiting of our oldest story-
that primal tale of our efforts ending in disappointment and shame
And Second- the re-telling of that foundation story in light of Gods Grace.
First- the familiar old story- that is not about how the world was made
But what the world is LIKE.
And the second- a new end and a twist in the plot
That says God loves the world too much
To leave it as it was.
That second lesson with all its deliberate parallels
reminds us that no matter how much we may feel
that melancholic sense of being here before- especially now-
and no matter the foreboding sense
of the difficulty of overcoming personal weakness
of seemingly impossible task of rebuilding and reshaping the church
of the- off the scale- task of building back a better world.
there is GOOD REASON to think all this is possible.
The Free Gift in the second lesson
is not like the Trespass in the first.
The salvific act is not like the one man’s sin
They may be opposites in the story
but they are not equals in their effect.
The second story- whilst mirroring the first-
Changes the possible outcomes completely
A new end is made possible for the world.
An escape from Ground Hog Day is granted.
And an invitation to put our hand confidently in the hand of God
and move forward with hope and determination is made.
First go around- the Irish poet Mihaul O Sheel writes-
it seemed enough, to succumb to the telling,
wonder how a plot would unfold
A one-way journey towards whatever outcome.
But is a story richer the second time its told?
And beginnings subtler seen in light of an end?
The answer for the Christian is YES.
Things are different now- this time around-
because we know we have GOOD REASON FOR HOPE.
We know the ending… and because that End is, for us, determinative:
we can experience Lent- and lockdown, and life in liberty
through the eyes of Easter.
That is why this Lent doesn’t need to be GROUNDHOG DAY
Instead it can be for us a JOYFUL and HOPEFUL RENEWAL
Because the risen Christ is not JUST at the END of this road
simply because that is where we first recognise him.
Christ is ALREADY HERE WITH US/
PRESENT TO US/
BOTH BEFORE AND AHEAD OF US/
It doesn’t make the challenges in us, in the church, in the world,
much less daunting , but it makes them WORTH taking on
with an optimism that- without God- would be entirely unwarranted
For the villagers in my story. For Fr Patrick, for John, and for you and I St Pauls words should be our watch words this LENT in particular:
if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is already here.