Thursday, 23 February 2012

John 8:1-11 Sermon for Ash Wednesday

As I get older, I am finding that life gets more and more hectic.  I feel as though there are more things demanding my time and attention, and that I have less and less time to do the things that I want to do and know I should be doing.  And I know it’s not going to get any easier as the years go by. 

As a child time seemed to creep by so slowly, but now that I’m older I’m desperately searching for the brake to try and slow things down a bit! 

I came across this little poem the other day called ‘What happened to time?’

When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept
When as a youth I dreamed and talked, time walked
When I became a full grown man, time ran
And later as I older grew, time flew
Soon I shall find while travelling one, time gone.

The Christian writer and speaker Rob Parson who works for the charity Care for the Family wrote the following:

You can run several agenda in life, but you cannot run them all at a hundred per cent without someone paying the price.  We have so many excuses.  The main one is that we convince ourselves that a slower day is coming.  We say to ourselves, ‘When the house is decorated, when I get my promotion, when I pass those exams – then I’ll have more time.’  We tell ourselves it’s okay because that slower day is getting nearer.  It’s as well that we realise, here and now, that the slower day is an illusion – it never comes.  Whatever our situation, we all have the potential to fill up our time.  That’s why we need to make time for things that we believe are important – and we need to make it now.

Making this time to slow down, to pause, to give ourselves that much needed time to refocus on what really matters, doesn’t just happen we need to work at it, to make it a priority. 

Ash Wednesday, and the start of this season of Lent invites us to resist the pressure of the passing moment, to pause and reflect, and to get rid of those things that so easily distract us, so we can examine what areas of our lives have became stale and to open ourselves to the gift which Christ longs to impart, newness of life, the gift of Resurrection life.

The gospel reading has an important lesson to teach us.  Jesus comes to the Temple very early in the morning, and the peace and quiet of the Temple is suddenly shattered as a group of religious leaders bring to Jesus, probably kicking and screaming, a woman who has just been “caught in the act of adultery.”  In the religious Law of the time, adultery was unfaithfulness on the part of a married woman. The Law was not concerned with affairs between husbands and unmarried women. 

And placing this women before Jesus, they say "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"  This question was a clever attempt to trap Jesus, if Jesus refused to uphold the stoning, it would confirm the authorities suspicions that Jesus was someone with no respect for the Law of Moses, someone who was undermining the traditions of the faith. But if on the other hand, Jesus’ compassion for the downtrodden and lawless was known, a hard line judgment would have discredited him in the eyes of the common people. 
What does Jesus do? He stoops and with his finger writes upon the ground.

It is easy to get on a treadmill of over consumption, overwork, to allow the busyness of life to overtake us, or to allow ourselves to be drawn into situations where we could say or do something we would later regret. 

Jesus detaches himself from the confrontation. He stoops down, and starts writing in the earth with his finger, rather than allowing himself to be drawn into an argument. 

The message here is not that we should opt out of confrontations which may be sometimes necessary, but that if we want to see clearly and engage profoundly there are times when we must stoop down and refrain. To disengage from the heat of the moment, in order to clarify the situation, and to connect and explore the real issues.

What does this mean for us, particularly bearing in mind what I said at the beginning of this talk about the busyness and demands of life?  Very often there is too much going on around us, we find our attention being pulled in so many different directions, and so we need to take time in which we can step back in order to reflect and reengage with what’s most important.  Lent gives us this opportunity.  Our Lenten fasting should not be some token abstinence from sweets but a conscious effort to stand back from all the hectic busyness of life, in order to stoop to clarify and reconnect.

If we wish to free ourselves from the hectic hype and pressure of the passing moment then Lent is a good opportunity to cut out some of those distractions.  For example, you may decide to cut down the amount of time you spend listening to the radio or sitting in front of the TV, and making more time to be still and quiet, using this time to focus again on God, to live more simply. 

God longs for us to enjoy the new life which bursts from the tomb, but with the hectic and busy lives we lead, a crust can form over the well spring at the heart of life where the Holy Spirit flows with inexhaustible vitality. Jesus’ life was marked by a rhythm of walking and talking with the crowds and then retreating to a desert place. In Lent we stoop down and detach in order to clarify and connect more profoundly with God, with what matters most in life, so that the well spring of the Holy Spirit can flow freely once again.   

I want to finish now, by reading a reworking of the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my pace setter…I shall not rush
He makes me stop for quiet intervals
He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity
He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here
His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in balance
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility
My cup of joyous energy overflows
Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours for I shall walk in the Pace of my Lord and dwell in his house for ever.

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