Sunday, March 17, 2013
Lenten Attitudes: 4 Attitudes to God
Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Passion Sunday 2013.
The duvet – friend or foe? Most of us would agree that it is certainly one of life’s irritations to know that you have to get up, when you are warm and snug in bed after a good sleep in the midst of a cold, dark winter. While Jack Frost is prancing around your bedroom early on a January morning, your valiant duvet takes up your battle, protecting your toes from the nip of Jack’s icy fingers. Yet, as the day’s work calls, you know that you have to fling aside your defender and enter the chilled atmosphere of the winter bedroom.
The reason why it is an irritation is quite obvious. You are torn between your duties and claiming back just a few more minutes under the duvet. You know what you ought to do, but summoning up the strength to throw off the bedclothes is very hard, especially as it is so comfortable and warm there. It is a place where we run to when we are upset or sad or demoralised, because of its comforting nature. Even the psalmist speaks of the comfort of his bed when confronted with sadness: ” I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim ; I water my couch with my tears.” The bedclothes have soaked up tears for millennia.
Ultimately, we must leave the embrace of our feather-filled protector and enter into the reality of the cold world outside.
Just how easy do you find that?
There used to be an advert for “duvet days” which depicted folk wandering about, all bulky and wrapped from head to toe in their sheets, protected from the sharp corners of the world. It sounds like a terribly good idea. Why not do such a thing? Yet, imagine the impracticality of living life wrapped in a duvet. Imagine trying to drive a car while covered completely in bubble wrap, or doing gymnastics in thirteen layers of woolly jumpers.
There is, of course, a bigger danger, that in our sleepy state we miss what is real. If our desire to be protected gets too indulged then we lose sight of what problems need to be fixed. We would not want to live our lives in a state of sleepiness and numbness from pain, would we?
Pain exists for a reason and none of us live can life pain-free. We all naturally try to avoid it but somewhere along the line, because of our human frailty, pain and sorrow are inevitable in every human life. We try to protect ourselves, our children and our loved ones, but to no avail. God gave us nerves so that we might be aware when things really are wrong. The ancient disease of leprosy is so awful due to the injuries people sustain because they cannot feel pain.
Look how happy the lepers are when they are healed by Our Lord. They are given the gift of pain again! They are able to re-join society and in some sense be real people. Despite their lack of physical pain, they have suffered from being cast out of acceptable society and shunned, unloved and unwanted. They have been treated as half-human because of their disease. Theirs was a different pain from the physical, and Our Lord recognises that as much as He recognises the suffering of paraplegics, of the blind and the lame, and the pain of losing someone.
Pain lets us know when attention is needed. Sometimes it’s right to take a headache pill, but the Anadin packet tells us that, if symptoms persist, consult a doctor. If we prefer to be numb, to remain under Life’s duvet, then we are not able to know when we are in grave danger.
All too often we prefer to ignore the pricking of our conscience when we have sinned. The World’s position is to say that sin does not exist, full stop! The World says that there is nothing to be ashamed of. The World says, “come back to bed and stop worrying.” But the World is not God, and that is the point.
God is real. He is here in the real world. He is here in the real pain of animals and people just as much as He is in the joys and ecstasies of others. He is in the sorrows as well as the joys and that is how we really experience life. The World promises us a sugar-filled life which is pain free. Not only does it not deliver a pain free life, but our laziness makes us fat and unable to move.
Laziness is the sin that prompts us to live life from under the duvet. It is a failure to trust completely in God. It is a failure to engage with Him in reality and can lead us into worshipping a false god of our own construction. Associated with this is the eighth deadly sin which is only known by its Latin name – acedia. Acedia is the sin of giving up on God, a refusal to be happy, a wallowing in self-pity. This is the soaking-wet duvet of someone who refuses to believe God when He promises Eternal happiness. It is most associated with monks and nuns who find their prayer lives so dry and empty that they give up and fail to persevere.
It is easy for us to get discouraged by our sins; they do hurt God and they do hurt us. But this is what Lent has been about. It is our chance to change our attitudes to our property, to ourselves, to others and to God Himself. We are not to run from life in fear of sin, nor to give in to despair because we have sinned and thus give up. He that shall endure to the end shall be saved. If we take away only one lesson from Lent this year, let it be the lesson that we have to keep our Faith alive by dropping the duvet and walking in the cold light of reality, trusting in the active presence of God in our lives.
Let us persevere in prayer. Let us persevere in reading and thinking and talking about God and living a life ruled by Him, trusting in Him to make Life’s agony worth bearing and Life’s joys point to His kindness to us. How has Our Lenten discipline prepared us for this?