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Ash Wednesday 2016
Last night, if you were at the Shrove Tuesday pancakes you would have heard me read a summary of what Pope Francis has called the Roman Catholics of the world to do this Lent. Rather than giving something up, like chocolate, alcohol, or even electronic devices, which is a modern trend, Pope Francis calls us to a fast from indifference. It won’t surprise you to know that this is exactly what the prophet Isaiah called his people to in about 600 BC. We haven’t really changed all that much as human beings. Isaiah rebukes the people for a fast that they make to serve their own ends- they are people who want God to do something for them so they fast to attempt to make it happen. What Isaiah calls them to is a fast that affects how they live in this world for others, which is just what Pope Francis said. We need to be people whose attitude at a most basic level is one of service for others. By all means give up chocolate, but please, please donate the money you save to a good cause, rather than popping it in your pocket to spend on something you desire. We need to be people who choose every day to share our bread with the hungry, as Isaiah calls us to.
We often feel overwhelmed by the need we see in the world, even in our little corner of it and it is much easier to be indifferent than to act. Action is always costly even if it is only in terms of energy. And yet all the things in Isaiah’s list of behaviours are active verbs. They all cost us something. And some of them are very costly but there is a promise to us of reward. Isaiah says that the Lord will guide us continually and satisfy our needs and we will be like a watered garden. Isn’t that a beautiful image? A watered garden is a productive place, feeding others, but it is also, and very importantly a place of beauty and peace a place of refreshment for the soul of others. I would love to be found a watered garden for others, wouldn’t you?
And the beginning place for all of this is true repentance. For each of us there are things to be repented of- sins of commission- things we have done to others, words we have said, and for those things we do need to repent. But there are also the things we have not done, and this is what Isaiah is talking about, this is what Pope Francis is talking about, we need to repent of the things we have not done, because we don’t care enough, or perhaps because we are frightened. Fear is a very strong motivator for human beings, and sometimes our fear is very valuable as it prevents us from getting hurt. On the other side of the coin we all know people whose fear stops them from doing things that would be good for them, or taking risks that would open up a whole new world. Fear is often at the bottom of gut reactions to things, and also hidden at the bottom of quite reasoned responses. If the idea of giving up indifference for Lent immediately spells unease for you, you could ask yourself, what it is that you fear and the answer might surprise you. One of the things we fear is that we will be taken advantage of, and that often stops us from acts of compassion for others. Let us repent of that today. Another thing produces fear is a sense of scarcity- if I give away to others, I won’t have enough. Let us repent of that fear, saying to one another “My God shall supply all my needs according to his excellent greatness”. And perhaps the greatest fear of all, which is the fear of derision, or lack of love- “if I make a mistake I will lose people’s respect and love. If I love and am not loved in return, it will break my heart.” Put this fear aside and repent, because our God is love and loves us regardless of what we do or don’t do, whether we make good choices or bad. We will always be loved even if we fail, so we need not fear failure. Our God even loves us if we don’t repent of the ways in which we fail to be the people we are called to be, people of compassion who speak words of grace, who do acts of kindness and generosity for those around us. But because of the great love that is on offer to us, because we might become well watered gardens for those around, let us repent of indifference and become people of love, doing God’s will in our world.