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Manifesto for Lent

This is a shorter version of my Ash Wednesday sermon from this week at TRINITY but it’s basically a manifesto for Lent 2020.

Isaiah 58: 6-9

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

As we begin Lent, as we reflect and repent, we do so by standing before the Lord, recognising our own weakness, our own need of a Saviour, our own brokenness and sin and saying – God I am nothing without you, that one day I will just return to the earth… 

Traditionally Lent is a time of fasting – as a sign of drawing closer to God. That in that thing being given up, we replace it with prayer, with time with God.

Now of course many of us these days go in for different forms of fasting, giving up chocolate or social media being obvious choices, and whatever you choose or don’t choose is up to you, but I want to commend Lent to you as an opportunity. Not to boast of the thing you are depriving yourself of, not to use it as an excuse to do something you’d like to do anyway – I mean you can give up social media or coffee whenever you like, you don’t have to do it now – no the opportunity is in growing in our relationship with Jesus. So give up chocolate if you want – but more importantly make extra time for God in its place.

And we will each have different things we may choose to focus on, we are all broken in different ways, our individual relationships with God will differ, but in many ways I feel that God is calling us to a sense of more corporate fasting and repentance – looking at the wider issues, the wider world and the brokenness we see there.

Throughout the Old Testament we see the stories of the people – the Israelites – having a relationship with God and then getting distracted by some thing or other, falling away from God, and low and behold their world becomes more chaotic and broken and then – the Lord says to them, it’s ok I love you, repent and come back to me and it will all be ok…. 

And they do and for a time things are good… until the next thing comes along and they are all like ‘ooohh shiny thing over here’ and they are distracted from God, and the cycle begins again… 

In many ways it feels like our world is in a season like that, where so many have turned away from the Lord. And as a result we live in a world where we worship false Gods, and make our own idols. 

A world where we are becoming more selfish, more focussed on our own needs and not of our neighbour. 

Where we savage God’s creation at the cost of those who will come after us, at the cost of the most needy.

A world where it’s so hard to trust our leaders.

A world where even loving God is used as a political weapon.

What is our part in all this? How can we repent together and turn back to the Lord?

In Isaiah 58 we see God challenging the people on their way of fasting, suggesting it is serving their own interests…

And then God says, as we heard in our reading:

Isaiah 58: 6-9

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

What a manifesto?!

So how can we make that kind of fasting and repentance a reality this Lent? 

This is time for self-reflection but not selfish reflection. For God’s glory, not for ours.

I saw tweeted this morning: Last year I gave up coffee for Lent and became 100% less like Jesus.

I know it was a joke but it perfectly illustrates how often we do these things without actually putting God in the equation or without thinking of others. 

Many of us give up social media for Lent, finding it too much of a distraction or a time waster. Well, you might be interested to know that the charity ‘disability and Jesus’ says this:

Many of our disabled followers live lives of segregation, isolation and loneliness. For many, conversations they have on twitter may be the only contact they have that day.

Instead they suggest – make a commitment to be more present with those in need online, share stories, conversations or prayers with them – perhaps join them in their online daily prayer community or their online Sunday service.

I love that – it’s repentance in recognising something that needs to change, and in a way that totally fits with God’s description of fasting in Isaiah but also offering a prayerful focus – a corporate way to do this together.

Or you do want to give up chocolate? Don’t give it up, instead buy fair trade only – losing the bonds of injustice.

Let’s look wider than ourselves this lent.

We want to grow in our individual relationships with Jesus but we are not alone, we are together in this – the church is us, all of us. and corporately we have power – in repentence, in prayer, in our actions.

When we corporately repent we are looking wider than ourselves – at the bigger issues, but also looking at our part in them.

Our theme for our lent is the care for creation initiative, focussing on God’s  creation and climate change – so we might think:

In our world, are our leaders doing enough about climate change? 

We can’t solve it on our own, but we can pray about it, recognise our part in it and we can support charities that are doing things, we can change our own actions.

Or we could ask, of the hungry and homeless (v7)

Is there enough support for those living on our streets, many with mental health conditions or addictions? No – and we can’t support them all by ourselves but again, we can recognise our part – we can choose not to ignore them, we can support those doing the work locally, we can use our time and talents however we can… and in that seek to see Jesus in the most vulnerable.

When the church and Christian leaders make mistakes, behave in a way that is ungodly, what can we do?

We can believe those who have been hurt, we can seek justice for them, we can be supportive but

We can also recognise that we too have a part to play in building the church in preparing the bride of Christ. We can seek to be more loving, more welcoming, more inclusive, sharing what we have…

And then

God says in Isaiah – after this description of fasting – after we have sought to undo injustice and oppression, after we have sought to share and to love, THEN…

 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;

THEN your vindication shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, 
Here I am.

Do we want to grow in our relationship with God? – repent of our apathy, repent of our ignoring the wider issues, repent of our own unkindness or selfishness … Then we will see the Lord.

When we wear ash today we do so now not in sackcloth and sprinkled all over. But we do so in the sign of the cross because we know that our forgiveness, our need of help, our need of love, of a saviour –  is met in Jesus Christ.

In Isaiah 61 a bit later we read the prophecy that he has given us:

a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

We don’t seek to repent, in order to wallow in misery or shame or brokenness, we do so because we know that Jesus shows us that things can be different, Jesus shows us a way to live in this world, a way that seeks to bring justice, and freedom and equality and unconditional love. 

We do so because we know we fall short of that in ourselves and in the way the world is. We do so because we know we need help to be people who live like Jesus shows us,

 we need help to see freedom and love reign in our world.

So this Lent, I encourage you to take this opportunity, to turn again towards Jesus, to fast, reflect and repent for yourself and for the world. 

As we turn again to the Lord and are welcomed with loving and open arms saying ‘Here I am’, let us do the same for the world around us that God’s light might break forth like the dawn, bringing healing, justice, freedom and love to this broken and hurting world.


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