Lent is a time to be selfish. And the problem we have is that we don’t really know how to be selfish. Selfishness just doesn’t come all that easily to us. We are not good at it!
In the spirit of election year I’d like to take a straw poll: Hands up those of you who are really selfish — See! — we are not good at it.
Each of the readings today speaks of blessing, and glory, and grace —and life — life promised to Abram, life given as gift through the gospel, and life shown to us in the transfigured body of Jesus. This Lent we are — each of us —promised the same blessing as Abram, we are — each of us — offered the same gift of life as the early disciples, and we are — each of us — being invited into the presence of the same glory as that seen by Peter, James, and John.
Three enormous offers of life … and we hear them as we’ve heard them so many times before, and hurry on past. Life, yeah, yeah, yeah … What is it that keeps us from grabbing this offer wholeheartedly? Do we not trust it? Do we think it too simple or too naïve? Is it that we don’t know what’s good for us? I think it’s simply that we are not selfish enough. You would think that if you were given a choice between something good and something bad you would choose the good. That would be simple selfishness — even laboratory rats can do that. But in human beings there is a mysterious streak of self-denial that runs through our nature so that given the choice between life and death we often settle for the easy familiarity of death rather to the risky pleasures of really living.
For example, I spend a lot of my time listening to people talk about their prayer. Let me give you a vignette — this is Carole talking: “there was a moment last week when I walked around the corner and saw the sky and my heart suddenly lifted and just for a second I thought ‘I’m alive and I like it.’ Stupid thought, I know but it seemed just then that God was smiling. I smiled back. Then the mood passed.” Where did it pass too? “Oh I found myself worrying again about the kids…”
Why doesn’t Carole stay with the moment of life? She enjoyed it. It lifted her heart. And then she went back to worrying. I’m sure its the same for us. Why don’t we stay with the life?
We find ourselves always in a mixture of life and death. Some things in us are thriving, are growing, are bearing fruit. Some things in us are drooping, are fading, are shrivelling up. And for some stupid reason we get mesmerised by the death and let the life skip by. We seem to think the death is more real than the life, more to be trusted, more fitting for humble people. But the words of the epistle go to the heart: “Jesus has robbed death of its power and has brought life.” It’s a matter of life and death. Lent is a time for life — if only we could grasp it and take it and hold on to it — if only we could be really selfish. Instead we find ourselves hanging onto death.
What is God doing in you this Lent? Is there something unlikely being blessed? Some gift being offered that just seems too risky to believe. Is there something that God is wanting to say to you, some way God is wanting to be for you, that seems unbelievable or too good to be true. Give yourselves permission — for a moment — to be selfish, to prefer life over death. Is there some deep desire being planted and nourished by God? Just for a moment, take it an hold it, and cherish it and gently set aside whatever gets in it’s way. What would life be like if life came to you this Lent?
Don’t let so-called realism blunt that. The readings today offer their life fully aware of the prospect of death.
It is Abram at seventy-five and childless who sets out on this ridiculous journey to new land, new family, and new life. Timothy knows only too well that the promise of life is made in the middle of the hardship that the gospel entails. And Jesus stands on a mountain top, glowing with glory, alive as no one had ever been before, precisely between prophesies of his death. The same Jesus who will at the end of his Lent go to his death and in it and through it find life for us all. “He has robbed death of its power and has brought life into clear light.”
On that mountain-top Jesus trusted life and trusted what God was doing for him. This Lent, our mission should we choose to accept it, is to learn to be as selfish as Jesus — to learn to trust life the way he did.