Bishop John's message at the beginning of Lent

First published on: 16th February 2024

Lent ad clerum

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The calendar dictates that we have hardly had time to pause for breath after the Christmas season and we find lent upon us. My prayer is that you have the opportunity to use Lent wisely for you and your worshipping community. The spiritual disciplines that we can properly observe during the Lenten season are for our benefit as we seek to grow as disciples of Christ.

For me lent is about focusing my heart and mind on the direction that God wants for me. Observing spiritual disciplines are a challenge in the modern world with the pressures of commercialism swirling around us. Ash Wednesday occurs on Valentine’s Day this year as we try to engage with a serious message at a time when the world seems focused elsewhere. These pressures are often strong enough to lure us into a spirituality that is consumerist, rather than a path of love.

In one sense, love is revealing to someone one’s beauty. I need someone else to help me discover my own beauty.  By receiving someone else's love, you discover yourself. By accepting God’s immeasurable love, we discover ourselves fully. Can we, in this Lenten season, find quiet and private time to get to know a bit more about ourselves and about others who are around us, and spend time in our inner room with shut doors to discover something more of the profundity of God?

Warnings in Matthew 6, 1-6 and 16-18 about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting – the classic disciplines of the penitent – point to the need to shed superficiality, to remove any traces of attention getting, to eschew mixed motives. These warnings are a call to self-disclosure, the disclosure of some of our secrets. But they are also a guarantee that going to God in intimacy will unveil for us some of God’s own profound truths and mysteries. And such an encounter with God is not going to keep us where we are; rather it would lead us to where we are expected to be. The challenge of Lent here is one for change and transformation: to become what we are meant to be.

The gospels show how Jesus modeled taking time to focus on being close to God.  Yet he also showed us the resolution and determination to focus on the task God appointed him for. He was set for Jerusalem to fill his purpose in his death and resurrection. He was not to be diverted from this divine task.

We must be determined face the challenges before us as we serve God in the contexts he called us to. At our last Diocesan Synod we heard of the financial challenges, pressure on church numbers, the loss of giving and the strain that places on all church communities. We need to support each other through the challenges but we need to have a Jesus-like clarity to remain on course.

We have a clear vision and purpose. We want to see more people knowing Jesus and have more justice in the world. We know that if we are to achieve that then we all need to introduce people to Jesus and deepen their discipleship. From there we can grow leaders and have communities working for justice. Agreed by synod and one that I, my senior colleagues and all who serve at St James House are working towards. We hope that this is something you have signed up to and are working towards.

It is easy to be swayed off course. It is tempting to find the easy way out, to duck the challenges and to follow other paths believing this is right. It is tempting to lose heart besieged by tales of failure and overcome by a sense of responsibility for the place we find the church in. This does us no good. We are part of God’s church, called by Jesus to make disciples and we can do that together.

Togetherness in Christ’s service is massively important. Our diocese carries the marvelous legacy of the Sheppard Worlock vision of being better together. This vision was carried forward by their successors and I am honoured to hold it now. As such I was privileged to be part of prayers for unity in Merseyside then conferring with Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops in Norwich.

In our diocese, parishes are still aiming to come together in the discernment over Fit for Mission. It is the people of God discerning locally how best we do the mission of God – locally, determinedly, and humbly. This reimagining of church trying to create a parish system for the 21st century that maintains a resilient Christian presence in every community will only succeed if we work at it and pray for it together.

Lent marks the time before Jesus started his public ministry. The bible shows us that he was tempted to shape that ministry according to the patterns that might have made him popular in the short-term.  During his journey to Jerusalem, his enemies are shown to be trying to prevent him achieve his purpose. He remained resolute.

I call on you to spend this lent to focus your heart and mind on God’s purpose for you. I encourage you to support each other in this. And I hope that, as part of your spiritual discipline, you will join me at the diocesan Chrism Eucharist where we renew our commitment together. Then my prayer for you is that you remain resolute in achieving that purpose as you seek to build the kingdom in the context God has called you to serve in.

With every blessing

Bishop John

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