Sunday, 18 February 2018

A Clear View

 At that time Jesus came from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the place where John was. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  When Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove.  A voice came from heaven and said: “You are my Son and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”
 Then the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert alone.  He was in the desert 40 days and was there with the wild animals. While he was in the desert, he was tempted by Satan. Then angels came and took care of Jesus. (Mark 1:9-15)

What I am about to describe is illegal. Please don't do this.

Everyone has done this.

You're on a long journey and you're driving along quite happily and you discover that there's just a bit of dirt on your windscreen - just a bit, not like the scene in "Back to the Future" where Biff drives into the manure cart. And you try and wash it off and you discover there's no washer left in the wash bottle in the car. And the wipers just spread the dirt around a bit but not - you know - too much. So you're still driving happily but you have got a bit of a grubby windscreen. Which is annoying.

The correct thing at this point is to stop at a handy services, petrol station or supermarket and fill the wash bottle up. Then drive on, happy in the knowledge that you can see through the windscreen. That is the right thing to do. It's the legal thing to do. I would be failing in my duty of care were I not to point out that this is the legal and safe thing to do.

Some people at this point might drive on.

And there's a bit more dirt around on the roads, or they've been gritting and the other cars are kicking it all around a bit. And now you can't actually see out the screen much anymore. But you can see one little clean spot. And it's only 120 miles to Halifax. So you peer through the clean spot and crack on.

This is illegal. Please don't do this.

You really need to stop. And clean the screen. Because otherwise you might miss the thing up in front that you need to avoid. You might even, while peeking through the little clean bit in the screen, miss the fact you should have turned off at Junction 26.

Lent is a recognition that we can get a bit busy - a bit distracted - our view can get a bit obscured.

(Be aware this video has a rude word. You can guess which one.)

We get into the stuff in our life. We look too much at small stuff. We let worries and little niggles - or even good things - get in the way of seeing the important things. We need to stop. Clean off the windscreen. Get a proper view of life.

Jesus was coming out from his baptism. And he would have been full of adrenaline. Excited - flushed with the revelation that his Father had made about his nature. Easy in those circumstances to just plough on and start preaching, you'd have thought.

Instead Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. And there he was tempted by Satan. We know what the temptations were from the other Gospels: the desire for power; to make life easy for himself; to do the spectacular stunts instead of the work that his Father had sent him for. He had to get it straight in his mind - he wasn't on this earth to be a conquering warrior. He was here to be a suffering servant.

That's where Lent comes from for us. It's not about joking around about the fact you've not had a bar of chocolate for 4 weeks. It's that in looking to be simple - in giving up some everyday things that we don't need but quite like - we can keep reminding ourselves that there are more important things. The point of Lent isn't that we learn to live without Ferrero Rocher. It's that we give ourselves the space to make things clear.

There's a trap in project management. Some people don't understand what project managers are for. They, after all, don't produce anything. I've never understood what they achieve by their existence in organisations. What do they do? And yet, if you ever see a project that runs without any kind of person who's been given the job of checking progress - it tends to run into the sand. Project managers are the ones who, while chasing to ensure the small stuff happens, have the ability to stand back, look ahead, and see what the real objectives are all along. I think Lent's a bit like that.

But Lent is important because it also guards us against spiritualising our bad behaviours. A few weeks ago I was rude about the title of Eve Poole's book, Leadersmithing. And Eve was gracious enough to send me a copy to read. There's a lot of good insight in there - insight for business leaders but actually others as well. And quite a bit, surprisingly perhaps for a business-focused book, which is spiritual.

Eve points to a misuse of the idea of "kenosis". Kenosis in reference to Jesus is the idea of emptying - of giving up his divine rights. Charles Wesley said Jesus "emptied himself of all but love". So in the desert, the deceiver is trying to persuade Jesus to claim his divine rights - put on the full magic show. While Jesus is determinedly setting himself on the path of servanthood, of service, ultimately the path that leads to the cross. Of sacrifice.

But Eve points out that for many church leaders, that idea can become destructive. Because that sacrificial idea becomes a kind of pride. "I've been to seven meetings today and now I'll have to write my sermons in my day off" becomes, not a warning sign, but a badge of honour. Eve's writing for "leaders". I'd say that can be all of us. When Jesus's call to follow him somehow becomes the route to doormatdom. To being proud of our busy-ness, our tiredness, the fact that some how despite being in a whirl of activity, we've got nothing done. Or we've been in the office early and got out later than everyone else - been to a dozen 121s and team meetings and progress meetings - and yet the inbox is just a day longer. Yet that makes you feel good. Because aren't you dedicated?

Lent, like Sabbath, is a guard against that. A reminder that sometimes the most productive thing you can do is nothing.


After the devil left him, the angels cared for him. And Jesus left the clear air of the desert, and headed into world of humans again. He'd taken time out - faced the things that were important. He had a clear view.

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.


  1. What an effective illustration for today's gospel and the purpose of Lent. Effective for me because I've been there and done that illegal thing of cracking on with the journey in spite of a dirty windscreen. I've done it while driving as well as more generally in life.


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