Lent is not about chocolate

Lent 5 – 2015

John 12:22-30

Marian Free

In the name of God who raises the dead to new life, and who raises us from our daily deaths to newness of life. Amen.

Some time in recent weeks, I was shown a column in The Courier Mail. It was written by a young man who was making comments about Lent that demonstrated that he not only did his misunderstand the purpose of Lent, but that he had completely missed the point. I don’t have a copy of the article to hand, but as I remember the writer was pointing out how foolish, even meaningless, it was to give up things for Lent. He urged readers to go out and indulge themselves and to ask themselves what made them feel better – going without or indulging?

The article was a stark reminder that a sad reality of today’s world is that the Christian faith has been transmitted in such a way that the faith and its practices are not only misunderstood, but are also, at times, a source of ridicule. I am not precious about my faith and I have no problem with people making fun of it, or of us, when that humour is properly informed. What does disturb me is that sometimes humour slides into misinformed derision. One only has to listen to some of the radio stations favoured by our youth to hear that misconceptions about, and negative attitudes towards, Christianity abound. Worse still, it appears that for a large number of people, such misconceptions are a result of their experiences of the church and its teaching.

This means that if the faith is misunderstood, if a whole generation does not understand what we are on about, and if there are many people in the world who do not respect the Christian faith, then the fault, broadly speaking, lies with us. I would contend that for decades, if not centuries we have failed to share the good news, reducing it to rules and regulations that can deaden rather than enliven. The season of Lent is a good example. There are people who give up something for Lent who then spent the whole of Lent either complaining or boasting about it? Such people give the impression that the discipline of Lent is something that has been imposed rather than freely chosen or implied that it is a burden rather than a form of liberation.

The problem with this is that Lent is NOT about self-abnegation or self-mortification, it is not – I repeat, not- about being miserable or imposed upon. Rather Lent, like all forms of spiritual practice, is a God-given opportunity to grow, to examine our lives, to stop and see whether there are areas in which we can improve, ways in which we can better live out our Christian vocation. If we chose to give up something for Lent it is to facilitate, not hinder, our spiritual development.

Traditionally Anglicans have given up a luxury item for Lent, something that is enjoyable but not essential – chocolate or wine. We might like chocolate or a glass or two of wine, but neither are absolutely necessary to our well-being. Ideally over the course of Lent we learn that we don’t need whatever it is that we have given up, that our lives are not determined by it and that we can live happily and well without it.

It could be argued that chocolate and wine are easy to give up. Other things, those that have the potential to stunt our spiritual growth are much harder to let go of. Such things can be material, emotional or even psychological. They will be different according to the individual. For example, in the gospels, the thing that was holding back the rich young man was his possessions, for the man who wanted to follow Jesus it was his desire to farewell his family and for the man who had been sick for thirty eight years it was his inability to give up his self-identity as someone who was sick.

Through each of these examples, Jesus challenges each of us to consider what it is that is constraining us, what it is that is preventing us from reaching spiritual maturity. So for example, it is possible that some of us are overly concerned with financial security, or that we are in the grip of unhealthy relationships or that we are allowing a long-standing grudge to define who we are in relation to God and to others. These and many other things prevent us from developing fully as human beings and they certainly prevent us from realizing our divine natures.

In today’s gospel Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The language of love and hate is strong to be sure but Jesus uses it to underline his point. We can be so focused the things of this world that we lose the opportunity to be engaged with the world to come. We can be so obsessed with material things that we do not pay enough attention to spiritual things. We can be so wrapped up with the trivia of the everyday that we overlook the bigger picture of a full and happy life.

Jesus says that those who love their life will lose it. He is claiming that those who are bound up with their own issues are not really living. Those who hate their life he says will keep it for eternal life. Jesus is pointing out that those who are dissatisfied with the chains that hold them back, will allow themselves to be changed, transformed and set free to grow. This is the promise – that if we die to ourselves, especially those parts of ourselves that hold us to worldly values and ideals – we will be raised to newness of life – again, and again and again.

What is extraordinary is that iff we have the courage to let go of the things that bind us, we will discover that we lose nothing and gain everything.

When we allow ourselves to be liberated from concerns about wealth, liberated from false sense of responsibility to other and liberated from the emotional baggage that ties us down we are free to grow and to life life to the full. To live as God has always intended us to live – free and happy and content. To live a life that not only gives us everything, but demonstrates to the world how much we have as a consequence of faith. Unless a seed dies …. unless we allow God to change and transform us, the world will never see the privilege and joy that it is to have and to live out our faith.

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One Response to “Lent is not about chocolate”

  1. swallowsrest Says:

    Or, if only we all had the right responses at our finger tips.

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