Sunday, 21 February 2016

Discipleship and the Cross, 2nd Sunday of Lent

Lk 9:28-36
Recently I came home to find that someone had put a leaflet through my front door advertising a slimming program. At first I wondered if someone has chosen me specifically. Had someone noticed that my size 15.5” neck shirts have become significantly tight this past half-year? Has someone overheard me mumbling to myself about whether I need to “upgrade” from a 32 to a 34 inch waist trouser? I don't know, but the leaflet was there, all alone, waiting for me.

Diets, as many of us know, are easy to start but harder to stick to. People often start with good and clear intentions, but often after just a week it's all gone!
We’re now just over a week into Lent, and I want to make the very obvious comparison between Lent and such diets. We have finished the first week; we are now in the SECOND Sunday of Lent. Possibly some of us have failed to stick to our resolutions, maybe some of us are wavering. What we need now is a VISION of something to keep us going, or to re-start us on the path.
And, in fact, this is what the Church always offers us on this 2nd Sunday of Lent: we are given the Gospel account of the Lord Jesus transfigured in glory, we are shown His transfigured human flesh on the mountaintop, a vision of what OUR transfigured flesh will look like if we follow Him through the carrying of the Cross to the glory of the Resurrection.

Now, the dieting leaflet that was put through my door similarly had a vision of transfigured human flesh. As is typical, the dieting leaflet had a photo of someone whose body looked absolutely perfect, with words to the effect of, “YOU can look like THIS, in just 40 days on this diet”. Great promises. High expectations.
A 40 day diet... or 40 days of Lent.
Let me point out some similarities and some differences.

Both offer a vision of transfigured human flesh.
Both make a promise.
Both have a trainer: your diet coach, or, the Lord Jesus.
Both involve self-denial and typically abstaining from the pleasure of food.
Both involve suffering: “The Cross” is intrinsic to any form of training and discipleship.
You can't be an athlete unless you undergo the suffering of the gym. You can't be a disciple unless you undergo training. You can't be a follower of the Lord Jesus, He said, you cannot be His disciple unless you take up your cross daily and follow Him (Lk 9:23).

Having noted similarities between Lent and a diet, let me also note that there are very significant differences:
The Lord Jesus has PROVED the truth of His promise, by His many miracles, and in particular, by His rising from the dead,
Whereas far too many diets seem to lack such proof.
In addition, as our training coach, the Lord Jesus ACCOMPANIES us in our suffering much more deeply than a diet instructor. A diet instructor might also be someone who diets, as he or she might tell you to. But the Lord Jesus suffers not along side us, but WITHIN us, and He strengthens us with His grace. When He tells us that to be His disciple we must “take up our cross and follow Him”(c.f. Lk 9:23), we only ever call our sufferings a “cross” because of their UNION with the Lord Jesus –a union that is spiritual and internal, not just an external example.

A final difference, however, and a difference that is crucial, is that these two practices are aimed at two every different goals. Dieting is aimed at the health of the body, which is a good thing, but a passing thing, not the thing of highest importance. In contrast, the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent are aimed at the good of the soul. And, even saying this is only partly true: they are NOT aimed at “the good of our soul” in the manner of some self-help improvement course. RATHER, they are aimed at UNION with the Lord Jesus.

Let me close by reminding you of the notion of “discipleship” that I've been talking about (see here and here), and that our parish reading group will soon be meeting and reading about:
I’ve preached twice recently about discipleship, and my point to you today is that you cannot be a disciple of Jesus, you cannot be trained and formed by Him in His way of life, unless you undergo the training of the suffering of the Cross –this is something we must choose to take up daily if we would be taught by Him, trained by Him, formed by Him.
In today's account of the transfiguration we are offered a vision of transfigured human flesh to show us the goal, to inspire us to keep going. But in addition to the recalling the goal, let us also recall that the WAY to get there, the discipleship of the Cross, is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord.

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