If you go into most bookshops today, the ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ section is larger any the section marked ‘Theology’ or ‘Religion’. People are attracted to a form of ‘spirituality’ which treats them like consumers. ‘Spirituality’ becomes another off-the-shelf product. The season of Lent show us a very different vision of the spiritual life – where we need to look outwards as well as inwards. We need Lent now more than ever, so that mind, body and spirit can be released from the self-indulgence of a consumerist, individualistic society. The ‘Good News’ of Lent is how much more we believe there is to life than this.
The Church of England offers special readings for the two Sundays before Lent begins. We can all use these to help us prepare for the season.
The readings for next Sunday (13th February) are John 1.1-14, Colossians 1.15-20, Psalm 104.26-37 and Proverbs 8.1,22-31
The Roman Catholic lectionary is different for the next two Sundays, and we have blogged on this in the previous post.
John 1.1-14 tells us that Jesus has humbled himself to enter our flesh, so that in our flesh we might be united to God. John writes that the disciples “have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father”. This glory is a foretaste of that which God wants us all to share.
It is tempting to think that we find the ‘glory of God’ by running away from ‘the world,’ as if Christian spirituality were about ‘other-worldliness’. But John 1 reminds us that it is into this world that God has entered. He has (in Eugene Peterson’s translation) ‘moved into the neighbourhood’.
This world is capable of showing forth the divine life, and the divine glory. Our calling as Christians is to work with God to make that vision a reality. As today’s Epistle (Colossians 1.15-20) puts it:
In [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible… all things have been created through him and for him….
God was pleased … through him to reconcile all things to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven , by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
John’s Gospel uses the term ‘the world’ in two very different ways. Sometimes it means ‘everything God has created’. As we read in Genesis 1, God looked at the world and saw it was ‘very good’. And s John 3.16 reminds us that ‘the world’ is something God still loves, even after its fall. Indeed, God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son for its salvation.
Sometimes John’s Gospel uses the term ‘the world’ rather differently. ‘The world’ sometimes means, not creation in general, but creation in rebellion against God. In this sense, the disciples are not of ‘the world’ – and Jesus says he ‘overcome the world’ (John 16.33).
So we are called to be ‘in the world’ – called to be in the creation God has made and sent his Son to save, called to be ‘good news for the poor’, challenging injustice and calling for a right use of wealth and power. But we are not called to be ‘of the world.’ The values we are loyal to as Christians are often in conflict with those which dominate the wider culture.
Jesus’ glory is revealed from a manger and cross, not a palace or an earthly throne. This reminds us that Christian discipleship involves a challenge to the values of our broken world. In Lent, we are called to remove the idols of money and power from the thrones they have in our hearts and in our society. In Lent, we remember that money and power are to be placed at the service of Christ, and of his Kingdom of justice and of peace.