The First Sunday in Lent

I heard an interesting statistic recently that 25% of the adult population here have a criminal record. I was surprised and so were others … and a bit of research revealed that perhaps the statistic isn’t too far wrong – though with many qualifications! The general view emerged that it was probably lower than 25% but of course it all depends on how you count and what you classify as criminal.

A few days later I came across an anomaly. In our sexual laissez faire society which emphasises personal fulfilment and challenges the assumptions of lifelong monogamy, sociologists are suggesting that women are now increasingly disapproving of and are hostile to infidelity and affairs. If I understand the research correctly it means that I can do as I wish for my sexual fulfilment but should I be in a committed relationship – I can’t have an affair. If I want to end a relationship so be it but it shouldn’t be by ‘cheating’ because that it is ‘wrong’. Adultery or cheating are wrong and painful but they are not illegal (in most countries).

We live with right and wrong in the world. The difficulty is that we live in an increasing number of worlds! Each world has its version of right and wrong – rules and citations – sanctions and rewards – ‘carrot and stick’. As children, I think, we quickly realised as we visited our friends’ homes that things were done a little differently there; rights and wrongs weren’t diametrically different but there was some variance. Outside the home, it is not illegal to wear black shoes one would have thought but don’t do it on the squash court! (There are big signs reminding you so this is important.) School, work, shopping, ‘out on the town’ all have rights and wrongs about them. Overarching all these worlds are the ‘laws of the land’. Over the last decade or so there have been increasing discussions, decisions, court cases both judicial and in the ‘court of public opinion’ as to the boundaries between the laws of the land and the rules of one’s ‘castle’, between the laws of the land and one’s personal code of behaviour, and between individuals whose specific individual rights compete against each other. Criminality, illegality, immorality, discrimination, disobedience may overlap in places but they are not identical. How do we determine right and wrong?!

By recognising the ‘world’ in which we are in at the time. By understanding who we are at that time. I believe that behaviour is ultimately about identity and about relationships … as I’ve said before, really it is our relationships which govern our behaviour. (That’s why infidelity hurts so much.)

It is interesting that the idea of sin is associated, I think, with ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’. One thing the Christian Church has failed to do is to communicate to the world and to its members that at heart it is a group and a place akin to ‘Sinners Anonymous’ – except that we’re not that anonymous. We are sinners needing help. Groups gathered around Jesus receive many things from him but most fundamental is the forgiveness of sins – and with it, life and love. Sin is about breaking the relationship with God. Rebellion. We don’t trust God. We want to be gods in all our worlds and make others serve us (and we make messes not paradises).

And it is not just 25% of us – as we sit in the pews and try and work out who it is this week. No. Everyone who gathers around Jesus hears his Word to us – Law (showing us our sins) but also Gospel (declaring what has been done about our sins). The focus is always Jesus – and then he gives us a tough task – now that you’re forgiven, how are you going to live this week? How will you serve those people around you in all those worlds you’re in? (How wonderful to realise that Jesus is Lord of them all!) This doesn’t make working out each day what to do automatically ‘easier’ but it does reflect the relationship that is the most important of all in this world. Why else would we want to be close to Jesus?                                                                                                                 GS