‘Make the main thing the main thing”. A friend ran a project within a well-known national charity. One day he came to church pleased, for his project had won an award. I had not heard of the award before but, when he told me about it, I thought “What a great idea”.
The award went to the charitable work with the closest connection between what they said they would do and what they actually did. No high-falutin promises, no piled-up jargon, but down-to-earth delivery.
Now, before you say it, I know the Christian Church could do with a dose of that. The faith communities do often use high-sounding words. I believe that it is good to have aspirations. The crying need is to allow those aspirations to be examined and tested. From where – or rather from whom – do our aspirations come? Do we live by our aspirations? Are our words and our life closely connected?
When my work was in the Middle East, a bishop who headed a monastery in Lebanon invited me to lunch. “It is one of our special fast days, you understand.” When I saw the table, I realised that, sure enough, there was no red meat – which is totally fine by me. However, there was just about everything else which Lebanese cuisine could provide – and that is good cuisine. In the dining room we fasted without meat, but did not leave hungry.
Going without something at meal or snack times is many people’s idea of Lent. The Christian Church is in that season now. If we take the red meat, or the sugar, or the biscuits, or the chocolate, or the wine, off the table have we done it?
Many people have no idea of Lent at all. The church’s seasons and festivals are not generally understood, so let me say what is at the heart of these 40 days of prayer leading up to Holy Week and Easter.
Christians are watching Jesus Christ. Before he did his public teaching and healing, he had 40 days in the desert east of Jerusalem.
He faced searching questions about his identity, his mission and his power. Then later, when the crowds were demanding his attention, or the authorities were getting uptight about his popularity, he was able to “make the main thing the main thing.”
One thing he said: “I have come that they may have life in all its fullness.”
This was no dour message of self-whipping misery. However, his desert time did make his focus clear, even when he knew what it would cost him. He tried to tell his close followers about that cost, but they did not see it – at least at the time.
It is life-giving to give some special time and attention to what lies at the heart. So in Lent, with Jesus’ experience as the inspiration, Christians make extra space for listening to God.
Realising that we can spend a lot of time with clutter – in the mind and heart not just the messy living room – we try to clear the ground and see again the main thing.
One challenge I am facing is about giving time, energy and commitment to open up “fullness of life” for those who find the way barred. In the Church, when we think about this, we hear the words Jesus spoke: “Seek the kingdom of God”.
The Jewish prophet Isaiah challenged the people of his day about what God said about fasting. “Is not this the fast I require – to loose the bonds of injustice”? I am going to need to give up some clutter and make space for God if I am going to hear that challenge and then live by it.