Ash Wednesday 2020 ~ Stop/Start Lent
Recently I changed my car, and it has one of those clever systems such that when the car stops at traffic lights, the engine cuts out, saving fuel and creating no emissions. It’s a small thing, but if lots of vehicles do it then it will make some small difference to environmental pollution no doubt. Perhaps you know how these systems work: there is a battery, which charges as you drive along, and the stored charge is able to hold the car in a sort of limbo, enabling the engine to cut out, be held in readiness and switched on again when the accelerator is lightly touched. This battery is actually charged when the brake is applied or when the car is free-wheeling. I learnt all this because when I got the car, which is five years old, I soon discovered that this eco stop start function was not working at all. At traffic lights and so on, the engine kept running, not only wasting fuel but pumping our gases, no doubt. So, being under warranty I have had the battery changed today, at no cost. Which is a relief. So now it works fine, cutting to silence whenever the car is not moving. And what’s interesting about these batteries is that they charge, not when one is driving along, but when one is slowing down, or stopping. Bombing along the motorway does not charge the car, but gently rolling, or applying the brake does. Hold that thought.
A few years ago I came up with the 7 R’s of Lent. The first three are Regret, Repentance and Resolution. Regret is what makes us sigh. Repentance is what makes us cry. Resolution is what makes us try.
And to regret, repentance and resolution can be added recognition, reconciliation, renewal and resurrection. These 7 Rs became the basis of my Lent book last year, entitled ‘At Home in Lent’. I’m sure you read it. If you didn’t – why didn’t you read it? See me afterwards…This year we are reading Bishop David Walker’s book, You are Mine and that looks to be excellent. Do come on Monday evenings to the Vicarage for the Lent Course if you would like to discuss it: copies are at the back of church.
Reading of course is another R found in Lent. But it’s not the R I want to add to Lent, actually. This year I want to add another R, inspired by my new stop start battery. It is recharge.
Lent is a time for recharging our batteries - recharging our spiritual batteries. And perhaps, like the stop start battery in a car, yours has stopped working too. Perhaps when you get to a point of pause, your engine keeps running. You know it ought to stop and go quiet, but it just doesn’t. Spiritually, physically, emotionally, psychologically perhaps, we just don’t stop. And if that is the case, the battery never gets charged, and can even need repairing or replacing. There’s two more Rs. Perhaps in Lent we also need repairing, if not actually replacing! As Psalm 51 puts it:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me”.
We may need a repair or even a replacement in order to recharge.
Lent is a time to apply the brakes, to slow down, take stock, reflect (aha -another R!). Time to drive through life not only at a different speed, but in a different way. Braking, coasting, not with our foot constantly on the accelerator. We live in a society that would encourage us to whizz through life at full tilt, constantly accelerating, or at least setting the cruise control at some high speed. You can’t accelerate through Lent, or cruise through it. Lent is for braking, and by braking, to thereby slow down and recharge.
Lent is all about braking… Breaking. And you might wonder how I am spelling that. To brake is to slow down. Tick – yes, do that: Brake and recharge.
But Lent is also about being broken. About recognising our brokenness. (There’s that R again). Recognising that we are broken sinners in need of redemption, restoration, rejuvenation, rescue, repair, renewal, recharging, or even replacement. (and now I have lost count of how many R’s!). David, writing Psalm 51 knew this. He wrote:
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
As we receive ash on our foreheads and are reminded that we are dust and that to dust we shall return, (O look another R!). – as we do that we remember that we are sinners, broken by sin, the sins of others, the sin of ourselves, the sins of the world, sins of what we have done and of what we have failed to. Personally, yes, and globally – the sins of the world, yes, but the sins of what we are doing to the world and what we have not done for our world. Sins of commission and of omission as they are properly called. There is more to it that having an auto cut out on the car. Far more.
So we are broken, everything is broken. But it’s not the end of the world. For God knows this, and it is not our brokenness that is as important, as dangerous or as significant as is our recognition of our brokenness. For, “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise.”
For, and here’s the final R in a countless chain, God is real. All these Rs are real, they matter and they count. Try to remember then (oh dear, there’s another!). Here we go, her are all those Rs in a random string:
Regret, repentance, resolution, recognition, reconciliation, renewal resurrection, repair, reflect, replace, redemption, restoration, rejuvenation, rescue, return, remember and the real stop/start one: recharge.
May our Lent involve all of these things, so that our souls may be repaired, our spirits recharged and our hearts renewed. Amen.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 26/02/2020