Sunday, March 21, 2010

Our only certain good and great purpose on earth

1 Corinthian 10.12-13, Luke 12.6-9

Lent - the forty days, not including Sundays - before Easter was a very special time in Sandal and Wakefield for many centuries before our time. People just ate vegetables, fruit and bread - though whether they only drank water I'm not so sure because water wasn't always safe to drink, and people knew that.

My daughter's on a mainly vegetable diet, at the moment. She can't eat bread, because she can't eat yeast, but she can eat potatoes and rice - which hadn't been introduced to Europe yet in the Middle Ages. But she says she's still very hungry - despite piling mounds of vegetables on her plate at every meal. My son-in-law has lost 4lb in six days. So I guess fasting during Lent may have been a bit of an endurance test.

I was talking to the Cubs the other day, and we reminded ourselves that Muslims still take fasting very seriously, although Christians are more likely just to give something one or two things up for Lent, not to fast properly any more. What is fasting all about? It's about reminding ourselves what really matters. We don't need all the rich food we normally eat, in fact it may not even be good for us. And we don't need all the other comforts and luxuries that we depend on. After all, we don't need very much at all.

Church leaders have called on people to give up their mobile phones, ipods and Blackberries for Lent as a very up-to-date way of reminding ourselves that we can do without a lot of the things we take for granted. After all, people in Africa have to manage with a great many less things than we have, and yet they still get by.

The point of giving up these things is to stop ourselves from being distracted, or tempted as St Paul put it, by things that don't really matter so that we can free ourselves to ask the really important question, which is, 'What use is my life? What difference do I make?' That was the question which the landowner asked about the fig tree. He wanted to dig it up because it wasn't any use, whereas the gardener wanted to give it one last chance.

Someone once said, "I read in the Bible that Jesus went about doing good. And I ask myself, 'How come I only manage to go about?'" And Martin Luther King, the civil rights campaigner, said, 'The biggest problem in the world is not the wicked people, it's all the good people who keep silent.'

And Michael Foot, who died this week, said once, '
We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions...or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth.' And that, I think, is what Lent is supposed to remind us.

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