Teach me to Die

March 1, 2020

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Preached by Canon Andy Trenier, using Romans 5.12-19 and Matthew 4.1-11 at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 1st March 2020, the First Sunday of Lent.

Teach me to live, that I may dread

the grave as little as my bed.

Teach me to die, that so I may

rise glorious at the judgment day.

 

They don’t write hymns like that any more.

 

I know many think it would be better if we didn’t talk about such things as death, sin, judgment and resurrection, let alone celebrate them in song.

I BEG TO DIFFER!

 

I think that those word written by Thomas Ken…just over there

Just over 300 years ago

Still ring very true today.

 

 

Why do some people think that these themes-

The themes of our readings- sin , judgment, temptation, deliverance-

will turn people off?

Maybe they think that they’ve become embarrassing to the modern mind?

(but that has been the case for a hundred years or more)

Perhaps they HAVE been misunderstood and misused? Probably.

 

Does all that give us the perfect excuse to drop what is

-though central- a difficult part of our faith? I say- NO!

 

I would ask- what could be more relevant now, than these twin pleas:

 

Teach me to live…

(leading inevitably, certainly in the Christian faith, onto…)

 

Teach me to die…..

 

The old Christian truth is that these twin prayers should be a comfort

and a constant companion in our faith.

Especially in Lent.

 

They re=present, in a concentrated form, the shape of our faith

as told in our two readings today…

and mirrored throughout scripture:

 

            I am crucified with Christ therefore I no longer live

 

                        If anyone will follow me let him take up his cross

 

                                    Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth…

 

                                                For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

 

 

 

 

Only 150 years ago Thomas Hardy- himself much discontented in his faith-

had Bishop Ken’s exact words spoken to his discontented mirror image-

Jude the Obscure

by an imagined gentle-voiced prelate

The strange comfort of them lulled him to an easy restful sleep.

 

But, of course, a hundred years have passed since Hardy

And it doesn’t do to point high-handedly to a piety

alien to much of our experience.

 

Inspired by Hardy’s struggles – his friend in later life

, the great Chrstian philosopher Austin Farrer

(Also a friend to Lewis, Tolkein, and Sayers- )

who once wisely noted that

 

Religion is more like a response to a friend than obedience to an expert

 

Perhaps he had in mind that aged prelate who whispered to Jude

 

Or maybe Hardy’s Tess of the Durbervilles

when she asked similarly:

“Don’t for God’s sake speak to me as saint to sinner,

but as you yourself to me myself – poor me!”

 

And that is what Bishop Kens words are to us:

A model of how to ask God for help.

It is a concentrated version of what is being presented in our two readings, the point of which is worth clarifying perhaps.

 

The OT lesson clearly juxtaposes the Gospel.

 

Adam sins by giving in.

 

Jesus wins by holding out.

 

But the object lesson- the advice- is not simply to be more like Jesus and less like Adam. That would hardly be very profound.

 

The lesson is that we need to realise- admit- that we ARE like Adam and Eve.

We can’t help it.

 

The juxtaposition is not an object lesson in how to behave better in Lent.

It is a description of the hole we find ourselves in

And what it took to get us out.

 

The advice is that before we can accept the Christ who is UNLIKE us

we need to accept that we ONE with Adam and Eve in their failing

And, with the psalmist- ask for HELP.

 

 

 

 

 

Or perhaps you don’t need help? The idea reminds me of a rather more modern poem:

 

I was shocked, confused, bewildered // As I entered Heaven’s door,

Not by the beauty of it all,   //  Nor the lights or its decor.

 

But it was the people in Heaven// Who made me sputter and gasp–

The thieves, the liars, the sinners,// The alcoholics and the trash.

 

I nudged Jesus, ‘What’s going on? // I ‘d like to hear Your take.

How’d all these sinners get up here?// There must be some mistake.

 

‘And why’s everyone so quiet,// So somber – give me a clue.’

 

‘Hush, child,’ He said, ‘they’re still in shock.

No one thought they’d be seeing you.’

 

Friends- here is this mornings friendly advice:

 

Seeing ourselves clearly is a prerequisite for holy living

 

Because only when we see ourselves as we really are

Will we be willing to let OURSELVES die and God live in us.

 

————–

 

 

Personally I can’t imagine advice that is more enduring.

 

Perhaps though- you still think that this idea that we need help because we are in a hole- is still regressive and out of date?

 

Certainly if you head down to Waterstones in Winchester you will see

That religion has a only teency space, psychology a bit more…

Self-help has an entire section of several shelves…

 

Most of it coughs up the old lie is that you can attain happiness

on your own by simply getting better at being yourself.

 

Apart from its alarming similarity to the temptations offered to Christ

the trouble- we find- is that such a view

makes no space for failure, regret, anxiety, depression, cancer, death.

 

And therefore, by extension does make possible

forgiveness or grace or beauty or love.

 

Thankfully the trend is actually reversing in recent years

and popular psychology is rediscovering religious practice.

 

Much of those shelves now sell Meditation. Midnfulness. Thankfulness.

And yes- even repentance:

 

Perhaps its an idea whose time has come.

 

The Sports Pscyhologist- Steve Peter’s

 

(who is best knownfor his work with British Cycling-)

has written about this in the now famous- Chimp Paradox.

Robert Hogan has done the same in The Dark Side.

Brenne Brown’s Ted Talk-

the Power of Vulnerability- was a six million hit internet wonder.

 

Women are haunted by “Do it all, do it perfectly and never look as if you’re working very hard” –a disastrous set-up.  SHE SAYS

((For men it’s “Don’t be perceived as weak”.’))

 

“But there comes a time” she says

when we just get tired of those Ps – proving, pleasing, perfecting, performing

and we’ve got to TURN AND ASK for help”

 

Brown openly says that none of that is new- and she’s right- it isn’t

 

Christians have been saying as much for years.

 

On my shelves- the classic checklist for self-knowledge

is the seven deadly sins and their accompanying virtues.

The original and best. Much imitated. Often parodied

Never bested.

 

 

 

For lust-   chastity…..                     unless you don’t lust?

Anyone?….

 

For gluttony-     temperance…   (look around!)

For greed –   charity

 

Think now- forget the cartoons- what do we hold back, hoard, guard jealously?                  What stops us from loving recklessly and freely?

 

For sloth-     diligence.   (not very fasionable…)

 

For wrath- forgiveness

For envy – kindness (how countercultural is that?)

For pride-   the root- humility- the gate.

 

And all of that requires character. And character habit.

And habit order and order discipline.

And any of the above really needs a rule of life…of some kind….

 

Perhaps then I should remind you to look at the Diocesan Rule of Life- online-

Make one for yourself this Lent

and come along on the 21st March to Evensong

when the Bishop is leading us in affirming this ancient Benedictine practice.

 

 

But that’s a sermon for another day.

 

For now- what I want do this morning as we enter Lent-

is simply pass on this straightforward (if somewhat old and unfashionable) Christian advice:

 

The Christian solution to pain and entrapment is freedom and joy.

 

Joy through repentance-

 

Freedom through death to self.

 

 

So listen- if you really want to live more deeply

If you are ready to go beyond your experience

 

then- as Austin Farrer suggested- take some advice from a friend-

not a little experienced in matters of sin…

 

Embrace your Lent and pray with me:

 

Teach me- God- to live, that I may dread

the grave as little as my bed.

 

Teach me to die,… :) …that so I may

rise glorious at the judgment day.

 

AMEN