HOW FAR WILL YOU GO?

FAITH IN FOCUS: HOW FAR WILL YOU GO?

Imagine you felt you were called by God to do something that everyone else thought was stupid. Imagine you received God’s call to up sticks and move from your home, travelling to the middle of nowhere just to show how much faith you had. And imagine, when you got there, that God asked you to prove your faith by sacrificing one of your children.

Unbelievable? Yes, certainly in today’s climate. But that’s what happened to Abraham. Mercifully, God prevented him from killing Isaac once he realised that Abraham would do whatever was asked of him. This is one of the reasons we refer to Abraham as our ‘Father in Faith.

But before we think we have got away with it, we need to remember that during this Lent God will ask something of us that will give us an opportunity to show our faith. We won’t be asked to sacrifice our children but we will have six weeks in which we can show that we are prepared to grow in the faith we profess. How far will we go?

For Lent is not simply a time for giving up things or doing something extra. It’s a journey of renewal. There is no doubt that during Lent God will use the ordinary circumstances of our lives in order to reveal the depth of his concern for us and to seek our loving response. This will be different for each one of us. It might be the reminder that we really ought to devote more time to our prayer. It might be the nagging realisation that there is unfinished business with family members that we ought to set right once and for all. It might be that during Lent we will come to see the selfishness that has caught hold of us and take steps to remedy it.

We each know that we are capable of being much better people than we allow ourselves to be. God has given us a greatness that we are only too prepared to hide. And Lent is our annual season for renewing ourselves in spirit, for controlling those aspects of our character that make us less than loveable, and realising that although we live in this passing world there is another which will never end.

 

FIGHTING BACK

FAITH IN FOCUS: FIGHTING BACK

‘Spiritual warfare’ is not a very popular term because it tends to conjure up the image of Christians who are besieged by a hostile world and holed up in some sort of religious system which is a bastion against all progress and development. Sometimes it is the rallying call for off-balance people who want to ban all pleasure and find fault in the most innocent of things. The Church, of course, is not an organisation that is primarily against things. It’s in favour of life and goodness in all its forms. It’s something wholesome and positive.

Yet in today’s scriptures we cannot escape spiritual warfare. We find Noah’s ark battling the floodwaters of all that is evil, and we meet Jesus in the wilderness fighting off the temptations of the devil.

There is no doubting that evil exists in our world. There’s no need here to give a long catalogue of terrible things that happen day by day. We can all cite the examples. And even more speedily we can recall the various ways in which we ourselves co-operate with evil. For evil is not just something that other people get involved in. We are tempted each day to become part of it.

Far from being something terrible, like genocide or war, evil creeps up on us in the simplest and craftiest of disguises. It may be the gossip we chip in with that blackens someone’s character, the small act of dishonesty that weakens us for the next time, the festering coldness with which we treat members of our family or the prejudice we house for certain types of people. Evil starts as a small seed and is prepared to bide its time.

But it is never too late to fight back against sin and evil. God told Noah that although the world had turned from goodness and truth he would never allow evil to get the better of humanity. And Jesus himself, although he was really tempted at the roots, gave us the pattern to fight against temptation. God has made a covenant with us that ensures we can never be overcome against our will.

Lent is the period for taking stock of how we allow evil to take hold of us. And with God’s grace it’s the period for fighting back.

 

MAKING LEPERS

FAITH IN FOCUS: MAKING LEPERS 

Forget about the disease, the leprosy. It’s no longer the medical problem that it was in the times of Jesus, and it can be reasonably controlled by drugs. So it’s not so much what the disease does to people as what people do to those with the leprosy. For lepers are not allowed to take their full place in society.

We’re very good at making lepers. We somehow feel the need to have people that are outcasts, and if there aren’t too many of them around then we make our own lepers to satisfy the deep-down need to have people who are “worse” than us.

Criminals make very good lepers, particularly those convicted of crimes that are considered repulsive. Our nation needs at least two national criminal lepers before it can feel safe, preferably a man and a woman. So we have learnt to demonise child murderers, for example. If one of our national anti-heroes or heroines dies in prison then we replace them with another and we cry that they should rot in gaol. For we’re not like them; but we do need our lepers.

The press is very helpful when it comes to creating lepers and it has found a whole new class of people, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers; they fit the bill perfectly. We do of course admit that there are some genuine people among these, but we have learned to draw comfort from the fact that most of them are at best marginalised when they are allowed onto the edges of our society and are given jobs and a status that we wouldn’t care to have. We’re not allowed to call them lepers; but in reality we are allowed to treat them like lepers.

So we’ve no shortage of lepers: people of a different religion that we suspect are trying to change our culture, people we regard as being more likely to support acts of terrorism in our land, people whose sexual practices are different from ours, people whose way of life means that they travel around and live in caravans, people who are homeless, people who are on drugs. The list is endless.

Jesus can cure all the lepers in the world, but if we go on making more, just to satisfy our craving to be better than others, then it will all be quite counter-productive. Not to mention contrary to the gospel.

 

SIGN OF THINGS TO COME

FAITH IN FOCUS: SIGN OF THINGS TO COME

Life is but a breath and my eyes will never again see joy.’We can all sympathise with Job. He feels so downhearted that nothing seems worthwhile any more. And from time to time we can all end up asking what’s the point of life and whether it’s worth all the effort. We take our fair share of knocks and it’s easy to stay down rather than pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down.

That’s why the cures that Jesus worked came as such a bombshell to a people that had grown cynical about life. St Mark tells us that from the outset of his ministry Jesus attracted large crowds eager to see him perform cures on those who were sick.

Of course, Jesus was no doctor. But it was as if, for the crowd, these miracles validated his preaching claims. Anyone can preach, but someone who can back up their preaching with healing is surely worth listening to. And for Jesus these cures were not the be-all and end-all of his mission. They were signs of something else: the setting up of the kingdom of God.

From the start Jesus never claimed any credit for these miracles. He was up-front about where he got his power from: his Father. And it was his Father who had sent him to inaugurate a new way of life, a new style of living according to the values of the Kingdom which was about to come.

Two thousand years on, the Church continues this mission of proclaiming the kingdom to a world that is often as weary as Jesus’s listeners.

In the midst of war, scandal, opposition and sheer human frailty we keep in mind that we are not trying to compete with other agencies, with governments or lifestyle promoters. Our message is radically different from any other.

It says that God intends us to live in a way that puts others first, that thrives on self-sacrifice after the fashion of Christ and that has no time for the self-centred idealism of much of what advertisers and spin-doctors present us with today. For Christians are in the world but not of it. That’s because, warts and all, they are part of the kingdom of God. And as Jesus’s audience found out, despite the problems that each day might bring, the kingdom is very near.