Sunday, 2 March 2014

Striving First and Willing the One Thing: a Short Homily Leading into a Holy Lent

With reference to Is 49:8–16a; 1 Cor 4:1–5; Mt 6:24–34; the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Jesus is The One upon the palms of whose hands your names are inscribed (Is 49.16). So is mine. The inscription was made by a hammered nail. It is in Jesus you and I are kept (Is 49.8), fed (Is 49.9), sheltered, led and guided by streams of water (Is 49.10), comforted (Is 49.13) and not forgotten (Is 49.15). Jesus makes all that even clearer in this morning’s gospel: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” (Mt 6.25) Your heavenly Father, hasn’t forgotten you, don’t worry. (Mt 6.31, 34) He knows that you need all these things. (Mt 6.32) Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6.33)

Strive—make great efforts to achieve or attain, struggle or fight vigorously. First—coming before all else in time and order. I must decide where I’m going to direct my effort before all else in time and order. So do you. We must strive first for, to will the one thing. One thing, not two. For Jesus also said, (Mt 6:24) “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” In other words, you can’t serve God and strive for own life and what you eat and drink and wear at the same time.

Søren Kierkegaard wrote about it in a prayer: "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing"
What is all our striving?

If we do not know you?
You, the One who is one thing
and who is all.
So may you give

To the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing

To the heart, sincerity to receive this and this only

To the will, purity that wills only one thing

In prosperity, may you grant perseverance to will one thing

Amid distraction, collectedness to will one thing 

In suffering, patience to will one thing.
You that gives both the beginning and the completion

May you early, at the dawn of the day,

Give to the young the resolution to will one thing 

As the day wanes, may you give to the old 

A renewed remembrance of that first resolution

That the first may be like the last

And the last like the first

In possession of a life that has willed only one thing,

To know God.
And to know God is to know Jesus Christ, his only Son, and him crucified, with all our names inscribed on the palms of his hands.

On Wednesday begins the season of Lent, (BAS, p282) I invite you therefore, in the name of the LORD, to strive—make great efforts to achieve and attain, to struggle or fight vigorously to build up and bring in the kingdom of God in this parish and in your own life—by making a real effort to serve Jesus first—before all else in the time and order of your life—by observing a holy Lent through self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, by reading and meditating on the word God.

These are all good, practical, trustworthy, time-honoured ways to will the one thing; to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness by; getting real and examining ourselves in the light of Jesus and his teaching.

Paul obviously thought self examination and penitence is a healthy discipline. “I am not aware of anything against myself,” he wrote, “but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Cor 4:4) Same for us.

Lenten, or any other, fasting is for making more time and space to pray. The daily office; morning, midday, evening and night prayer are excellent ways to pray, with systematic opportunities to read and meditate on Scripture built right in.

A holy Lent, well observed, will also help me to be more generous with my almsgiving—my voluntary contributions to help the poor.

Lenten willing the one thing and disciplined striving first reminds me of and draws me closer to the loving heart of The One who inscribed my name on his palm (Is 49.16), keeps me (Is 49.8), feeds me (Is 49.9), shelters, leads and guides me by streams of water (Is 49.10), comforts me (Is 49.13), knows all that I need (Mt 6.32) and will never forget me (Is 49.15), or you. He does it all through Jesus.