New creation

This is a sermon for Easter day.  It reflects on the resurrection in light of the creation narrative in the beginning chapters of Genesis.

In the beginning, a spark.  A word.  Light in the darkness, and speech in the silence.

Life.

It’s a day to celebrate beginnings, and new beginnings; creation, and re-creation, because these are very deeply connected realities.

If you were here on Friday, as we remembered Christ’s death, I talked about how this death – the death of God himself, willingly chosen for our sake – could absorb the catastrophic potential, and break the cycle, of all human destructiveness and evil.

And that’s good; wonderful; liberating.  But in itself it’s not enough.

What I mean is, you can’t just come along and remove from human lives and human hearts all the power of destruction and corruption, and thinks that solves the problem; because what you’d be left with would be only partial and incomplete.  Sin is so very much a part of our nature, so deeply embedded in our minds and hearts, that it can’t be removed while still leaving us whole.  It certainly wouldn’t be humanity as it was meant to be.

Think of it like this; you can pull all of the weeds out of an overgrown garden bed, but there’s a lot more to growing a lush and beautiful garden of fruits and flowers than that.  You also have to pay attention to what you plant and how you cultivate it.

Or, to make another analogy, it’s like when a building is burning. It’s one thing to put out the fire, it’s another thing to restore the safety, functionality and beauty of the building.

What we need is not just a kind of forensic removal of sin, but to be created afresh; remade; “born again,” as Jesus so memorably put it.

So this explains why resurrection is so important.  It’s not just that Jesus’ death dealt with our sin – although it did – but that his resurrection shows us that a fully restored humanity is possible, and what that looks like.  With Jesus’ death we see our destructive fires put out; but it’s with resurrection that we see ourselves remade.  In the resurrection of Jesus we see our own future and hope.

If Good Friday was about recognising that we are not what we should be, then Easter day is about God showing us what we should – and can – be.

Now I need to be careful not to speak about this as if everything is already resolved, because you and I both know that it isn’t.  We live in a time of already-but-not-yet; Christ has already made it possible, but we haven’t yet reached the point where everything is fulfilled.

But while we’re not there yet, the resurrection shows us where we’re going.  It shows us God’s freedom to be at work in the world, bringing life.  It’s the same power and love which first created light in the darkness; which first created life in whatever primordial soup; which can bring life back to a dead body in a tomb.

The point for today is that even for all of us who have never literally encountered Jesus in the flesh, the work of God in Jesus can be real and make a difference.  Because the resurrection shows us that it doesn’t matter what our life circumstances are, God has an open door into them, to bring light and life, to re-create and to make everything new (and better).

This is why our first reading (at the vigil) this morning was the story of creation; because it shows us the pattern for what is happening, mysterious, unseen, in the tomb.  As life is restored, God the creator is still at work.

And this is why, for centuries, Eastern Christians have often pictured the resurrection not just in terms of Jesus rising from the tomb, but as Jesus breaking down the doors of a prison; the prison which held Adam and Eve and all humanity up until that point; but the prison which holds each of us, too.

Whether that prison is a sense of worthlessness because of the way you’ve been treated, or whether it’s one of crippling anxiety, or whether it’s one of chasing wealth or status in the world’s terms (something that keeps you caught up on the hamster wheel of corporate striving); whatever that is for you and for me, the resurrection shows us that even in that place, God has the freedom and the power to break in and create  something new.

And so every place is has changed, at least in its potential.  Not just Jesus but the whole cosmos is made new, as God’s freedom and power are made real for us.  That’s what resurrection means, in all its glory.  There is new light, new life, new hope.  That God continues to create, bringing light to darkness and order to chaos.

And, crucially, bringing love and joy to human relationships.  In the light of the resurrection, as we experience something of God’s re-creation of ourselves and our realities, we are inspired and equipped to live as God would have us live.  To do what Jesus does and speak as Jesus speaks; to God, to one another, and to the world.

So here we are.  In the beginning; the new beginning, where we can encounter God very intimately and personally as our creator, the one who brings fresh possibilities and hope into every moment.  That’s something to hold onto, as we go home and to whatever the rest of the day and the week and the year hold for you.

Christ is risen!  Alleluia!

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Breaking the cycle

This is a sermon for Good Friday.  The Scripture it references is John 18 and 19.

In one sense, what we remember today, in Jesus’ suffering and death, is not very remarkable.  Humans have been brutal to one another – in all sorts of inventive ways, and on a scale the mind reels at imagining – for as far back as we have any sense of our history.

But we also have a deeper memory, or a deeper dream, of a humanity that wasn’t supposed to be like this.  That was created for peace and mutually loving relationships and delight.  Yet somehow that purpose for our existence is consistently thwarted, despite the best efforts of good people.

There is a deep gulf of suffering between where we are, in terms of the reality of human society and culture, and where we should be, if we look at human potential.  When we talk about sin, this reality of willingly inflicted suffering, of our best impulses gone askew, of selfishness or cowardice in the face of challenging circumstances; this is what we mean; a reality in which all of us have learned, before we’re old enough to even realise we’re learning, all the dysfunctional habits of those who’ve trod the way before us.

The remarkable, the extraordinary claim we make about Jesus’ death, then, isn’t in the scale of his suffering; it’s in the claim that somehow, this man can break the cycle.  This death can break the cycle.

On the face of it, it’s an outrageous claim.  To pile the weight and momentum of every instance of human evil and inhumanity on this one person; this one moment in history; and say that we can see all of its meaning summed up in his beaten, broken body.  That we can see all of its poison absorbed into his pain.  That somehow, from this point on, we can start over, without any baggage, and recover something of our original innocence, because this happened a long time ago, somewhere most of us have never been.

The only reason we can make that claim is because of who Jesus is.  Not just a human; not even a good or a wise or a heroic one; but God.  We believe that the one who created everything that exists, and sustains it in every moment of its existence, put himself at the mercy of its brokenness.

Of course God can break the cycle.  If God is big enough to have created everything in the first place, then God is big enough to hold its dysfunction without being broken by it.  Only God can create possibilities for new goodness out of our tangled mess.  Only God can offer the opportunity to set our relationships back in order.  We couldn’t do it for ourselves, but in this moment we see God’s ultimate intervention, to say, “I’m bigger than your evil, your sin, your brokenness, your trauma.  I can hold all of it, and set it to rights, and we can start again.”  God isn’t bound by our limitations but can, with complete freedom, open up new possibilities.

It’s that freedom, that mastery over all that exists, that we’ll come back to celebrate to the full on Sunday.

But today we’re here.  At the moment the cycle is broken.

So when we come to the foot of the cross, we can come confidently.  We can come carrying our hurts and shames and griefs, ready to hand them over.  Because here, the power that inflicted those wounds is stopped in its tracks, and here, we can find new beginnings.

The cycle is broken.  It is finished.  And we may come.

Defiant love

This is a sermon for Maundy Thursday.  The Scripture it refers to is John 13.

Darkness is falling and time is running out, in tonight’s gospel reading.  I wonder if we can see Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples as one last, radical gesture of defiance before evil has its way.  One last bold statement to the disciples that what is about to overcome Jesus and take his life does not – need not, cannot, even – define them, but that their identity springs from truth and love that is older and deeper and stronger than the darkness.  That comes from the very nature of God, who enjoyed mutual love between the Father and the Son and the Spirit before anything else even existed.

It’s as if he’s trying to imprint it on their senses; remember this.  This is what love feels like, in bone and muscle and skin.  In the pouring of water and the wiping of towels.  In the vulnerable intimacy of one human being’s hands on another.  In care and attentiveness.  In disregard for social norms; a source of embarrassment and discomfort, in the moment.

This is how Jesus shows them who God is, and shows them who they are to be to one another.  They don’t get it yet, but later, looking  back, they will understand.  It’s the same love for people – lost, hurting, alienated – that put Jesus on his knees to wash feet, as will put him on the cross to give hope.

This is the good news proclaimed, not in words – telling us that Jesus is the messiah, or the bread of life, or the light of the world – but in actions; showing us what it means to be the messiah; showing us what sustains the life of the community; showing us how, together, our love can withstand the darkness.

What was going through Jesus’ mind as he washed Judas’ feet?  Was this one last, silent plea for Judas to see the bigger picture, catch Jesus’ vision of the reign of God?  Or an attempt to give Judas something to look back on, afterwards, and remember that there still might be hope?  Did Judas shrink back, was he impatient, did he see the significance of what was happening?

We can only imagine.  If John knew, he wasn’t telling.

But as we imagine our way into the story, it opens up questions for us about how we live as Christians.  Today, offering to wash someone’s feet is culturally awkward and doesn’t have the same sort of context as it did.  But how do we proclaim good news in our actions?  How do we show, by what we do, the truth and love that is older and stronger and deeper than the darkness so many people find themselves inhabiting?

How do we sustain the life of a community of believers?  Today it is, possibly, harder than ever.  We no longer have the kind of village life most Christians would have had for most of history; where everyone knew everyone (and their business!), and where the people who were in a pew together on Sunday did life together – work and play, joys and sorrows – the six other days of the week, too.  We live further apart, and our daily lives might barely touch at all.  How do we make the most of the time we have together?  Is Sunday morning enough to be community in a meaningful sense; and if it isn’t, what else is possible and sustainable?

How do we bring light into darkness?  Do we lay ourselves open to the places of darkness in our wider community?  Do we know what people struggle with?  Do we find ways to listen to the voices of those who are broken and without hope?

The answers aren’t obvious, and they take a fair degree of creativity on our part.  But let’s take this gospel reading as an invitation to be creative in how we love one another.

It’s not as if this is something we have to invent for ourselves, or come up with out of our own cleverness or power.  This love existed in God before there was any human being to receive it; now we just need to be here, to know that love in our own lives, and to let it overflow as we share it with others.

What we’re about to do now, in the washing of your feet, is a symbol and a reminder of things which are so much bigger than we are.  Of who God is, and what God wants to share with us; has always wanted to share with us.  The question is what, then, we make of it.

A tearful entry

This is a sermon for Palm Sunday.  The readings it reflects on are Luke 19:28-44 and Luke 22:14-23:56.

Palm branches, hosannas, and a triumphal entry.  This is familiar ground, isn’t it?

Except that it’s not quite the way we just heard Luke tell the story.

There are no palms, as Luke tells it. The people following Jesus neither carry nor throw down palms along the way. They spread their cloaks on the road, but Luke’s gospel account is the only one that does not mention palms or branches.

There are no hosannas. Yes, the people praise God with a loud voice, but Luke’s gospel account is the only one that does not mention the hosannas.

Luke does not describe the triumphal entry in the way that we are used to. Rather, Luke’s gospel is the only one in which Jesus sees the city and weeps.  What Luke describes might be more accurately called the tearful entry.

The tears and weeping, however, do not end at the city gates of Jerusalem. They flow through Luke’s account of the entry narrative as well as the passion narrative. Luke records three episodes of weeping in today’s two gospel readings.

First, “As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” That city was Jerusalem, but it’s not about only a particular city. It’s about all of human evil. It’s about our ignorance of “the things that make for peace” and blindness to “the time of [our] visitation from God.” So yes, it is Jerusalem but it’s also a thousand other places of violence today. It’s about prejudice against the immigrant, promotion of income inequality, and the destructiveness of fear and hate based politics. It’s about our refusal to love our enemy and sometimes even our neighbour. Jesus sees it all and he weeps.

The second time, Luke records Peter weeping. He denies Jesus three times, the cock crows and, Luke tells us, Peter “went out and wept bitterly”. He has seen the reality of his life. He has not only denied Jesus, he has also denied himself.  They are tears of disorientation; confessing that his life is not what he wants it to be and that he is not who he wants to be. Tears of lostness, and alienation.  Peter does not know yet that through his tears lies his way home.

The final episode of weeping that Luke records is as Jesus is carrying his cross. Among the crowd following Jesus were some woman beating their breasts and wailing for Jesus. Jesus turned to these women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for you children”. Jesus isn’t speaking to just a group of women. Through them he is speaking to the entire city and to us. The kind of weeping he implores is not about self-pity or selfishness. Rather, it is weeping that recognizes and names our situation and assumes responsibility for it.

Paying attention to a tearful entry into Holy Week means we must first see and name the reality of our lives and world. We cannot turn away from the experiences and sources of our tears. This is our Holy Week work and it is difficult and painful work.

Jesus’ heart was pierced when he saw the city. Peter’s heart was pierced when the cock crowed. The women’s hearts were pierced first at the recognition of Jesus’ situation and then at the recognition of their own situation.  Our hearts, also, must be laid open and vulnerable to being pierced.

The facts or circumstances may be different but the tears are shared.

“As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” Whatever your tears and weeping have been about, they can be for you, an entry into Holy Week.  An entry into the darkness, an entry into confronting death, and an entry into light and life and hope.

Luke presents us with a tearful entry into Jerusalem, so let’s be attentive to what that might offer each of us this week.

The best is yet to come

This is a sermon for the fifth Sunday in Lent.  The Scripture it refers to is Philippians 3:3-14.

When I was about 16, I was pretty unhappy.  In hindsight, I probably had undiagnosed depression (it was diagnosed years later); but what I knew at the time was that I felt pretty worthless.  Not smart enough, not pretty enough, and definitely not sporty enough to have any area where I felt I had value as a person.

That was a difficult time, because when you’re 16, you don’t have the life experience or perspective to know that how you feel right now isn’t how things are going to be forever.  But I have a distinct memory of sitting on the beach one evening and deciding that I didn’t have to be worth something right now; as long as I could see that I was working on improving myself, that was good enough.  It was good enough to be on the way, rather than having already arrived at a destination marked “fabulous.”

And while that didn’t fix my depression – or my low assessment of myself – I think that was a turning point in how I learned to live with those things.  It was about openness to the future, rather than being defined by the past, or even the present.  I think in terms of today’s educational buzzwords they’d talk about me having developed a “growth mindset.”

And in a way, in today’s epistle reading, Paul is also encouraging the development of a growth mindset.  He draws a careful contrast between the things from his past – or his people’s past – which might be seen to define him; and the things held in trust for his future.

Here’s what I mean.  He describes what he has been; an Israelite, a Torah-keeper, a Hebrew-speaker, a pharisee, a zealot.  And he doesn’t say that any of those things are, in themselves, bad or wrong.  But then he contrasts that with gaining Christ and being found in Christ, knowing Christ’s power and resurrection and becoming like Christ and – finally – sharing in the resurrection from the dead.  These are the attributes he holds up as preferable, as being a much more sound basis for his identity, life purpose and so on.

But the thing to notice about this is that these are not things which he yet possesses (or at least, which he does not yet possess to the full) when he writes.  His sense of what’s important in his life has shifted from past accomplishments to future promises.

You might remember that a few weeks ago I preached on another passage from this letter and explained that it is a “letter of consolation;” that Paul through this letter is arguing that the Philippians need a change of attitude and to become more joyful.  This part of the letter is one plank in that argument; he’s telling them that if they’re unhappy with where they’re at now, they can rejoice in knowing that this isn’t how it’s going to be forever.  God’s got better things in store.  The best is yet to come.

I wonder if sometimes, our churches need to make a similar mental shift?

Where do we root our sense of identity?  Is it in what we have been?  Are the things which are important to us here that we are church members, Anglicans, progressive catholics, take up particular ways to serve, and so on?  Note that I’m not saying any of those things are bad or wrong.  But are they the point, or are they markers on the way to what it’s really all about; being Christ’s body, experiencing Christ’s power, being oriented to the reign of God and making that real and known in the world around us?

What I’m asking is where we focus our attention, and how we choose the priorities for our energy and efforts.

It seems to me that all too often, churches get caught up in focussing on the wrong things; pour their time and energy and money (and, let’s face it, angst) into parts of their life which will never make one shred of difference in mission.  (I think, for example, of one parish I was in where epic battle raged for months over the question of how to serve morning tea).   But this is fruitless, just as focussing on keeping Torah or speaking in Hebrew would have distracted Paul from any effective ministry in the Greco-Roman cities to which he travelled.  And what we see from the letter to the Philippians is that’s a problem not just because it makes us ineffective Christians (although that’s bad), and not just because it tends to lead to conflict (also bad), but because it robs us of our joy.

When our sense of identity, our sense of purpose, and our priorities all align with a clear, Scriptural understanding of what God is doing in the world, and what the end result of all of that is going to be… that’s when we find the true joy of being Christians.

It does take work.  It means actually knowing the Scriptures well enough to have a very clear sense of what the reign of God is all about.  It might sound obvious, but we can’t know what it means to be found in Christ, unless we really know Christ.

It also means, not just knowing Christ, but having the ability to translate what we know about Christ, in the abstract, to recognise and participate in what Christ is doing in the world, in real and concrete ways.  It means that if, for example, we talk about “justice,” we have a very clear sense of what justice means in the playground and the workplace and on the street.  What it means in terms of policies for institutions, and priorities for individuals.  How a sense of justice might inform our interactions with everyone from our local politicians to the folks seeking emergency relief at the vicarage door.  And not only justice, but hope and faith and peace and all the fruits of the Spirit.

Because when we have that clear in our own heads, we can make our way through the world, confident that we are being who we are meant to be; more than that, growing into who God calls us to be!   And that we are participating in bringing the future God intends into being.

And that’s where we draw our joy from.  Anything else that we do, without doing that, is going to be a drain and a distraction, rather than a wellspring of joy and of life.

The good news for us here is that this is something already begun, in which we can continue to grow, and which will find its fulfilment.  The future is open, and taking Paul’s growth mindset to it, we can more and more be part of the reign of God as it grows.  We are not only the sum of what we have been or are right now; God has so much more, and so much that is better, for us to press into.

Paul told the Philippians that “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  What will straining forward to what lies ahead look like, for you, this week?

Joy and delight

This reflection was given at the daily Eucharist in the chapel of an Anglican convent.  The Scripture it references is Isaiah 65:17-21.

So often, when we think of God as maker of heaven and earth, we think as if we’re making a historical statement; everything around us, seen and unseen, got here because God created the primordial stuff and got it all started.

And that’s true, of course, but the reading from Isaiah today encourages us to see that there’s much more to God as creator than just a question of origins.

You see, here God says that “I am creating” and “I am about to create;” creation isn’t an action completed in the past but an ongoing process in which God is highly involved.

And that matters, because we’re part of that process of creation too.  We – the Church, the community of God’s people – are one locus for that creative work.  We are constantly being made and remade, and formed and re-formed, as the Spirit calls people into the Church and then gets to work in our hearts and lives.

Lent is a season of very consciously and deliberately attempting to cooperate with that process of being re-created; of overcoming the sinful habits – of thought, speech or action – which have had us in their grip for too long.  It can, however, seem a bit negative; a time for taking a dim view of humanity and focussing on our weaknesses, rather than celebrating our strengths.

But Isaiah reminds us today that it’s not meant to be a grim focus.  We are, he tells us, being re-created as a joy and a delight.  That God will rejoice and delight in his people of the new creation.

The Church belongs to the new creation; it is – or should be – the sign that shows the society around us what good things are held in store for them.  And we each, individually, belong to the new creation, and work with God to make that real and concrete in our own sphere of influence.

You – each of you personally, and this community collectively – are part of the new creation; and God’s attitude towards you is joy and delight as that unfolds in your lives together.

So don’t be discouraged by the things that are hard, or defeated by what seems impossible.  Know that God’s eye rests here in joy, and God’s ear hears your prayers with delight in who you are; and who you will become.

Patterns and habits

This is a sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent.  The Scripture it refers to is Psalm 32.

A habit is something you can do without thinking; which is why most of us have so many of them.

Not my witty observation, I’m afraid; but nonetheless very true.  Modern life is complex, with all sorts of information coming at us, and us needing to make a high number of decisions quickly and at short notice; the more we can cut down on the mental overload by having habits and routines, the more most of us find that helpful and even, to a degree, liberating.  (Like, for example, the corporate executives who have multiple versions of the same outfit, so they never have to think about what to wear).

Forming habits – habits of behaviour, of speech, of thought – is part of how we human beings cope with life, and that is not, in itself, a bad thing.

But anyone who’s ever made a new year’s resolution knows how hard it is to change bad habits, or even to establish new good ones.  What carries us along very comfortably once it’s established, is not nearly so easy when we’re trying to make it part of the pattern of life.

This is just as true even of our sinful habits.

So what I want to talk about a bit this morning is the psalm, but not so much the text of the psalm as the way Christians in the west, in particular, have tended to use this psalm; and that is, as a circuit breaker for sinful habits.

You see, what happens all too often for us goes a bit like this; we recognise that we have a habit of doing something wrong.  Maybe we focus too much on money; or maybe we ignore our spouse in favour of our own entertainment; or maybe we are prone to nasty outbursts when we’re upset; or whatever, it doesn’t really matter what the sinful habit is.  But we recognise it, and we realise that it’s bad for us and our relationships, and we want to do better.  We might even ask God to forgive us and be assured that God does, in fact, forgive us all the things we struggle with.

So far, so good.  But wanting to do better, by itself, seldom makes much difference.  Even solemnly committing to do better only gets us so far.  Most of us find, within a humbling space of time, that we are, in fact, back in the grip of our bad habit.  Because the patterns of thought and behaviour, the neural connections in the brain that feed that habit, are so well-established that they happen without us even having to consciously decide that they should.

In order to change our habits, those patterns need to be disrupted in some way.  Something removed or something new brought in.  This is – in case you hadn’t realised – exactly what Lent is designed to do.  By fasting, by doing things differently in prayer and study, and so on, the aim is to scramble the pattern enough, to disrupt the sinful habits enough, to break them by Easter.

And one thing many Christians, over the millennia of the church, have done with that sort of purpose is pray today’s psalm.  Look how, over its twelve verses, it takes you on a bit of a sight-seeing tour of the sin cycle; the person does something wrong (we don’t know what, but in a way it doesn’t matter; because we can all fill in the blanks with our own pet sins, then!), they suffer the consequences; they seek and are given forgiveness, and they receive from God support, protection, instruction and wisdom; and ultimately come out into a place of renewal and joy.

And the support, protection, instruction and direction from God are really important; because they’re the bits that change things enough to break the habit.  (Even the suffering is helpful that way, because it disturbs our comfort enough to motivate change; but over and above that, the psalm describes God providing resources and resilience enough to allow the person to really change; to embrace new habits and let go of old ones).

So this psalm – along with some others, including the one we looked at in Bible study last week – would often be prayed by people needing exactly that kind of change.  Whether it was in the very early church, and this would be done publicly after being excommunicated; or whether it was in the medieval church and done privately as individual penance after confession; or whether it was in the reformation era and done as a kind of personal pious devotion, this psalm has been seen by Christians for centuries as both a guide to repentance, and as a useful resource in the process of changing hearts and minds.

So – where does that leave us?

Let’s start here.  All of us sin.  All of us fail in love for God and for those around us, habitually.

Those habits of sin are unlikely to change just because we recognise them for what they are (although that’s a necessary first step), or even because we know God forgives us for them (though that’s important, too).  Habits change over time, over a process of disrupting the thought and behaviour patterns of the habit and replacing them with new ones.

And while God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are at work in us, too, usually they don’t operate in a way that’s separate from everything else going on in our heads.

Praying this psalm might not be just the ticket for everyone in that kind of process of sinful habit-disruption; but the fact that using it that way has been so persistent in Christian history gives us some pointers for what to look for in our own process.

Where am I suffering?  How does that suffering relate in any way to my own choices?  (Note: not all suffering is the consequence of our own personal sin!)  Should I pay attention and let it help me recognise where I need to change?

Have I been honest with God about my own sin and my need to change?  Do I need to set aside some time for that kind of prayer?

Do I really believe that God forgives me?  Do I hesitate, believing I don’t deserve forgiveness?  What would help me to be assured that God’s loving care for me has not been withdrawn?

What do I need to put in place to disrupt this habit?  Some people work well with accountability partners; others physically change their surroundings, others change their daily or weekly routine; the mention of instruction and direction in the psalm suggest to me that it’s not just about stopping the old thing but about allowing positive input into something new, as well.  But this is a very individual thing, and I can’t tell all of you – from the pulpit – what support or resources you need!  (As an aside, this is why private confession can sometimes be helpful; because it does allow for that personally tailored guidance, counsel and encouragement). But it’s worth reflecting on; we know – because the psalm tells us – that God offers us support, protection and guidance in our time of need.  So what do we need, knowing that God is ready and willing and waiting to give it to us; what would we ask God for?  (And on that note, do let me encourage you to visit the prayer station set up in the oratory; because it’s there for exactly that kind of prayer request that God would help us grow).

And finally, where’s the joy?  I might be a work in progress, but there’s plenty to celebrate, in God’s goodness in getting me to this point, and in the goodness I can trust is still to come.  What do I have to celebrate?  How might I actually allow myself to enjoy that?

That last part isn’t an afterthought, by the way.  Allowing ourselves to give thanks and celebrate – rather than always being focussed on what is bad and wrong – also helps sustain us on the way.  It’s why we have fasts and feasts; the feasts encourage us during the tough times.

Looked at that way, it’s a very robust process, this business of penitence.  Let’s take it seriously, so that we can live up to being God’s people who, in the words of the psalm, are true of heart.