Archive for February, 2015

“Paying Attention” (Sermon, February 25th)

Both readings were consulted for this sermon. They can be found here and here.


This year for Lent I decided to try something entirely new. I am on a mirror fast – limiting the amount of time I spend looking at myself in the mirror.mirror fast

My previous fasts have mostly been centered around food. I’ve given up alcohol, chocolate, potato chips, soda pop, and tea, and I’ve done two Lents as a vegetarian.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the most difficult parts of these fasts were not going without the items. I didn’t miss them the way I expected to. It was more difficult avoiding people who would offer them to me.

Part of my problem was that I have always had this kind of relationship with food. I “should” avoid these foods, so Lent was a convenient excuse to hold myself to that standard.

That is really not what Lent is supposed to be about.

Lent is not a diet program. It’s not a chance to “be good.” “Being good” used in reference to food is actually a rather unhealthy way to think of things, when you consider it. Is it really a moral failing to succumb to flavours that we are evolutionarily programmed to adore?

I have heard a suggested alternative that makes far better sense to me: “paying attention.” That alternative was not used in a Lenten context, but it really highlights the correct themes.

We don’t do fasts in Lent to “be good.” We do them to “pay attention.”

To what are we meant to pay attention?

Back to the mirror fast.

I look at myself in the mirror a lot. Basically any time I see a reflective surface – not just mirrors but windows and mirrored walls – I look at myself. The kicker is: I don’t think I do it because I’m vain. It’s not that I look because I like what I see. Most of the time I really don’t. Instead, I look and I judge. I feel a small stab of happiness if the angle is flattering, or if my hair looks just so. I feel a larger stab of embarrassment and irritation if the angle is unflattering.

The self-chatter is so constant that it’s not even fully formed words. It’s just feelings: awkwardness or relief.

And I have come to rely on these feelings to give shape to my day. I have come to accept a certain level of bondage, in exchange for feelings of security.

Today, Jesus tells the crowds, which are increasing around him, that they are an evil generation. They ask for a sign, but no sign shall be given except the sign of Jonah.

What is the sign of Jonah? For Luke, the sign is Jonah’s proclamation: Nineveh will be overthrown in forty days. But this is not good news, and we’re supposed to be paying attention: listening for good news. Is it good news for destruction to rain down upon those we despise, even upon those who are cruel and wicked? No! The whole point of the story of Jonah is that no-one should take such delight. Jonah’s desire to see such destruction is thwarted by a God who is quite annoyingly forgiving! The proclamation of destruction – as God surely knew – was actually the sign of redemption for Nineveh.

So too is Jesus’ proclamation. Just before this story, Jesus is casting out demons, and an argument breaks out about the source of his power to do so, and some suggest that this power is demonic.

Jesus retorts that this is nonsensical. They’re not paying attention.

The message so far has been one of liberation – freedom from the insecurity of our daily lives, the conviction that we haven’t done enough to earn God’s love or trust, my personal quiet insistence that I trade the currency of looking just so for a sense of being “okay” in the eyes of God when this kind of ridiculously encompassing liberation has nothing to do with how we look or act but how we handle our beautiful blessed brokenness.

It may seem strange for us to hear liberation when we think of Lent – but this is exactly what Lent is about. Our fasting is freeing ourselves from insecurity and bondage to prepare ourselves for the message of redemption, a message “greater than Jonah” – even greater than the unqualified forgiveness of a city long thought to be unredeemable.

But let us not speak fully of this message yet – we still have many weeks of prayer and paying attention ahead. Instead, let us tend to the seed that was planted last week on Ash Wednesday. Let us bury it in rich earth, the earth of our mortality, the earth into which God breathed sacred life, the only earth that God has any interest in redeeming, because God’s a little crazy like that.

Thank God for the frustratingly open arms of the God of Jonah.

Thank God for the earth-shattering message of the God of liberation.