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Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 18/02/2021

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.  I can’t quite believe I’ve been recording these videos for nearly a year now.  I’m grateful both for all the positive comments and the helpful, critical feedback.  I’m always intrigued by the numbers that watch each week.  One hopes that a high number means that particular subject has spoken into people’s lives.  A very amateur analysis tells me that different themes are more likely to strike home.  The most popular has been not long after I got here when I told my own story of faith. Not as popular as twitter posts about the hedgehogs in the garden, but close!  Stories that ground Christian principles in everyday life are also popular, and those which talk about people you know.  Strategic musings don’t really do it for you, and cultural reflections even less so.

All preachers struggle with the challenge of not repeating themselves too much.  As a parish priest after 11 years in post, I well remember people’s eyes rolling up when I preceded an illustration with the statement, “I may have used this one before!” I probably had – several times.

The movement towards holiness that all preachers are trying to encourage is inevitably a mixture of disturbance and casting a vision of a new way of living.  I have asked myself what people mean when they kindly compliment you on your sermon after a service.  I hope its not a thank you for reinforcing their existing prejudices in an entertaining and well-argued way!

Please forgive a little internal musing, but we are entering Lent, where all of us are invited on that inner journey of self-reflection.  Our culture doesn’t encourage that. Social media tends to provoke strong, immediate, visceral reactions, that a reflective pause might have prevented.  Someone passed an internet petition on to me this week, that had clearly been provoked by the articles in the Spectator and Times I mentioned in last week’s video. I was tempted to sign it, if only to access the comments function to tell the organiser that his premise was bogus. However, experience tells me that disappearing down those sorts of rabbit holes rarely ends well.

According to psychological research 40 days of self-discipline is enough to establish a new habit. In the past my Lenten fasts have enabled me to give up sugar in coffee and tea for example – something I never thought I’d manage.  There is value in giving things up for Lent.  The pang we feel when we experience the craving can be a useful encouragement to pray. But using Lent to establish new, healthy spiritual habits could be even more valuable. It could be setting aside a particular slot in the day to pray, or reading a chapter of the Bible or a lent book a day through the season, or joining a lent group online, or downloading an app like Lectio 365, or Pray as you go, which gives you a liturgical structure for a short time of prayer and reflection.  The important thing is that you don’t get too ambitious.  If you aren’t used to praying or reading the bible regularly at home don’t set yourself some impossibly ambitious target.  You wouldn’t go out and run a marathon tomorrow if you hadn’t done any training.

The point about these disciplines is not to earn brownie points with God. They simply put us in a quiet reflective place where our lives are open to God’s Spirit working with us.  It might be more helpful to refer to them as spiritual training or practice, rather than discipline, as it conveys the purpose rather better. When Jesus spent those 40 days in the wilderness it was clearly training and preparation for the ministry that was to come. The led him to a place of unusual spiritual sensitivity.  In fact, some have argued that the 40 days of fasting, far from making him more vulnerable to temptation, actually fortified him to resist it. 

So, you might want to ask, “What am I doing for Lent?” Well, recognising my capacity for distraction, I’m going to give up some social media apps, which certainly don’t help me focus and be present in the moment.  And I’m giving up cheese. I love cheese, in quite an unhealthy way, and every time I feel the urge, I shall use it as a spur to praying for two things.  Firstly, for those who have far less than I do.  Secondly, I will seek with GOD’s help to use that desire for something I like to spur a greater desire for Him and for the revival and renewal of God’s church in this diocese and throughout the world.   I pray that this lent the first few verses of Psalm 42 might come alive for all of us.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” And from Psalm 43, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my joy and my delight.”

Have a wonderful and holy Lent

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