I’m Coming Back
The content of this Reflection is a summary of the contributions of church members who shared insights and ideas during the Zoom Study Time during the week of Ash Wednesday.
A Gospel Reading from Luke 18.9-14
“9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you; this man went down to his home right with God rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He’s Behind You!
Our tendency is to think of the Pharisee like the baddy in a pantomime.
Generally, Pharisees were good people and were wonderful students of scripture. Nicodemus (John 3) was a Pharisee; maybe Joseph of Arimathea who gave his tomb for Jesus, and Gamaliel in Acts, a wise scholar, who was the leader of a Pharisee school.
The problem here is the spirituality of keeping rules. Once a religion contains laws and rules, believers are easily confused into thinking enthusiasm for rituals and ceremonies, fine detail and any outward observance is true faith. These may also be the things that make others think you’re spiritual. They aren’t, and can never be spiritual. The issue at the core of Lent is always: what’s going on deep inside you?
What was Jesus saying through this Parable?
Somebody at Study Hour suggested that however pious and devout the Pharisee thinks he is – he isn’t. Another suggested that without love, it’s impossible to be what God wants you to be. The real baddy, the tax collector gets it right. He is aware of himself; he knows what’s going on in the dark places of his life; he acknowledges his sin, and in this way breaks through to God.
Going Back to the Other Path
Many years ago, when I was a youth leader in a Pentecostal Church, we took a group of young people into the Peak District, in winter, in snow covered fells …. and got lost.
Neil, the leader who was with me, suddenly declared: “We’re not on the right path.” We back tracked, and then using a compass and map, Neil pointed to the north saying: “That’s the path we should be on.”
The tax collector, like us, realised he was on the wrong path – a path that would lead to death, and, crying out to the Lord, confessed his sin.
Going Further with the Lord
In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul points out that the feelings of sadness, and remorse we have as we confess our sin on Ash Wednesday, are not enough:
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly remorse brings death”
(2 Corinthians 7.10)
Paul points out that the Lord requires something beyond feelings of guilt and regret. In this passage, he points out that only true repentance will save the sinner – not absolution, nor ashing, nor the Eucharist, nor faithful service to the church. Only repentance. This is the Greek word he uses:
This word is two Greek words glued together. Meta means “change” (like metamorphosis and metabolism) Noia exists in our local dialect as Nous (nowse), an old word for mind. So metanoia means a change of mind, which leads to a change of heart, which leads to a change of path.
The power for this change comes from a God who deeply loves us and longs to respond to our unconstrained openness, and desire for change.
Our study time finished with this song:
“When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart
“I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart
“I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus
“King of endless worth
No one could express
How much you deserve
Though I’m weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath!
The Collect Prayer for Ash Wednesday
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may receive from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.