Lent 2 – Spring weeding

This is the will of God, even your sanctification.

MagdaleneEmbracesCrossfullSo, how are your gardens growing?

The snow drops and crocuses are blooming everywhere.  Are you seeing some new shoots springing up in your souls as the fruit of your Lenten fasting? This morning we are continuing with our Spring gardening, our Lenten project of attending to the garden that is our soul.

Last week I spoke about the giving up of some good, of something we like during Lent, for the sake of discovering and feeding on a greater good – even God. It is painful at first – we reach out for the immediate relief and can’t have it and that hurts – but it is to prepare the soil of our hearts for new growth.

We are learning in this self-denial about how to redirect our loves from the earthly to the heavenly – from bread to every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  It is one aspect of embracing the way of the Cross.

So just at that moment where we would satisfy ourselves, our Lord would say, wait… wait… look to Me… and I will refresh you. And every time we do that, we relate to distress in our soul in a new way. We form the habit of looking up to God inwardly, and asking for the grace to wait upon Him. It is actually a habit of mind that will help us in every distress and trial and tribulation – a quicker remembering to turn to Him in prayer.

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The Old Testament lesson is background for understanding today’s Gospel.

Jeremiah (17:5-10) contrasts the cursed and the blessed saying, Thus says the Lord, Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.

Cursed are those whose desire is fixed only on earthly consolations, whether in the case of Israel, as in Jeremiah’s time, it was to trust in armaments or the backing of Egypt, to trust in wealth, or other earthly consolations – all will fail in the end if we are not also looking up.

Here’s the contrast:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green; is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Lent is a deliberate creating of the drought conditions, so that our roots reach more deeply into the soil that is our soul, to drink from that well of living water welling up from within. [John 4] If we are more connected, rooted in, to what is eternal, regardless of what happens in worldly terms outwardly, our lives will continue to bear spiritual fruit, and abundantly.

The heart is deceitful above all things; and desperately sick; who can understand it?, says Jeremiah. In Lent we are trying to understand better the human heart – to know its deceits and also its true salvation.

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In New Testament readings we are being counseled to take that same insight about transferring of desire and to relate it to something that keeps troubling our soul, some besetting sin, in other words, to do some weeding.

St. Paul says,

This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 

The focus in the Epistle reading is clearly on one particular weed, sexual immorality – which for St Paul means sexual relations outside of marriage.

And Jesus reminds us the commandment not to commit adultery is not just about the outwards acts but also about the thoughts of our hearts. We’re to reflect on that and take care that our hearts are chaste.  Do a bit of weeding, taking care about what is going on not just outwardly but also in our minds.

But the weeding we are called to do in Lent is related to any carnal desire – that means any desire of “the old man”, the one that looks only to earthly ends – whether it be proud thoughts which bind us within ourselves and make us unpleasant to be around, or envy of the good things that happen to our neighbour rather that feeling joy, whether our weed is anger, continually brewing below the surface, or sloth or greed or gluttony.

In all these cases, our readings are telling us to confront them head on with the same habit we are forming in our fasting.  We are giving up some good (meat or drink or sweets or something) during Lent that we might know a greater good – divine consolation.  Now we are asked to zero in on some bad habit and root it out, and when we want to go there again in deed or even in thought we turn immediately to that greater good – every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  In forming these new habits our hearts become pure, holy, and this is the will of God, even our sanctification.

And as our minds are purified, as we are freed from these troubling thoughts and bad habits, these causes of distraction and of dissatisfaction, we begin to see the face of God ever more clearly in Jesus Christ – prayer opens up, divine consolations fill us inwardly, we know true peace and enduring joy.

The psalmist says, “Blessed is the man whom you choose, and receive to yourself: he shall dwell in your court, and shall be satisfied with the pleasures of your house, even of your holy temple.” [65:4] God is not against pleasure – but would have us know the joys of lasting spiritual pleasures. What are they? a clear conscience, a state of being reconciled with God and with every person (to the degree that is possible), and thus entering into His rest – to be able to sit still and enjoy God! And in that state of rest, having a clear sense of following God’s leading, having a mind lifted up to taste of divine wisdom, a mind full of expectation of new possibilities opening up to love.

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You and I know how hard it is to weed a garden – those weeds keep springing up! We have to be ever vigilant.  Or think of those dandelions with the very deep roots that if you just snap off the top, you know they will rise up again.

God knows it is impossible for us to overcome temptation and to be pure in heart and mind if we rely on our own strength.Lent 2 - canaanite-woman

In the Gospel today a mother begs Jesus for help because her daughter who is grievously vexed by a devil – in other words, the daughter is out of control in the same way we can sometimes be out of control, each of us in different ways, each with our own besetting sins.

Our healing comes about, first, when we stop avoiding looking at our sins and face them head on, and second, when we stop trying to overcome our troubles by our own strength.

Instead, we are to take the example of this most faithful woman of Canaan. We humble ourselves before God like this woman, not demanding from God healing as our right, but in faith and humility begging Jesus for deliverance.  That means, not trusting in ourselves to be strong, but in God to uproot all sin in our lives that our hearts might be places of rest, places where love flourishes.

And God will remove the weeds, even their roots, from us.  Then we will see within ourselves a new creation – the earth [bringing] forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God [will see to it] that it [is] good. [Gen 1]

Let us pray…

Almighty God, who sees that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  [Collect for Lent 2]