We continue our Community Chapel's themes of Lent this week with Bishop Jenny Andison (St. Paul's Anglican Bloor Street). Bishop Jenny will reflect on our desire for cleansing through contrition and the asking for forgiveness with attention to Psalm 103.
Bishop Jenny was born in England and has lived in Pakistan, India, Singapore and Japan. She earned a Hons. BA from Queen’s University in 1994 and received her Master of Divinity from the University of Toronto in 1997. In 2017, Wycliffe College honoured the bishop with a Doctorate of Divinity (honoris causa).
Bishop Jenny was ordained to the priesthood in 1998 and has served in parishes in the Diocese of London (UK), the Diocese of Tokyo and the Diocese of Ontario. She became the rector at St. Paul's in 2021. Bishop Jenny lives in Toronto with her husband and their three daughters.
Friends, just where you're seated, let's pray. May God's word be spoken. May God's word be heard and may God's word be lived. Amen.
Well, good morning. Thank you so much for leading us in worship like that. It's really terrific to be back in the Tyndale chapel. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to come and be with you this morning, and those of you who are joining us online as well.
Now, this past Sunday, was the first Sunday in the 40 day season of Lent. But it's no use taking out your Bible, and thumbing through, trying to find the word Lent, because you'll be looking for a long time in vain. Now, there's some evidence that the early Christians fasted for 40 hours between Good Friday and Easter day, but the custom of spending 40 days in prayer and self denial, it didn't arise historically until much later, when the initial thrill of being a Christian community began to wear off. And those earliest Christians began to get relaxed and blase about their faith. Because you see, those earliest Christians, the one who'd known Jesus personally, or who were converted by the apostles, they believed that the end of the world was coming within their lifetimes, and that Jesus would be returning soon. And so when that didn't happen, they began to stop expecting big things from God. And little by little, generation by generation, Christians became so devoted to their creature comforts instead. You know, the comfy couch, the crisp sheets, Netflix, the crisp, a roast chicken in the oven, and soon they decided that there was really no contradiction between being comfortable in life and being a follower of Jesus. And before long, it was actually hard to spot a Christian in a crowd they blended in so well. They decided it was better to be nice than to be holy. And finally, someone noticed this gradual change that was happening in the Christian community, and they suggested it was time to get back to reality, with the Bible offering some clues about how to do that.
The people of Israel, of course, spent 40 years in the wilderness, wilderness, learning how to trust God, and the prophet Elijah had spent 40 days, also in the wilderness, before hearing the still small voice of God. And of course, there was the record of Jesus's own 40 days in the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan as he prepared for his public ministry. So the church announced a season of Lent, from the Old English word Lenten, which means spring, not only a reference to the season before Easter, but also an invitation to do some spring cleaning for the soul, a time to empty out some spiritual junk from our closets, air out some dark and musty rooms in your life. And Psalm 103, which we heard George read for us this morning, it gives us a great opportunity to do just that. So if you've got the Bible with you there on your phone, I'd encourage you to open it up to Psalm 103. Now, have you ever said something like, I will never ever do that again, like never again. It was so obvious in the moment that, that choice was really destructive, you know, either something trivial, like eating the whole bag of chips, or something much more serious. You fill in the blanks. And then within days or weeks, you've done it again. Oops, I did it again. One of Britney Spears' biggest hits, and a memory, even if something that at the time was so clearly disastrous, that memory can fade, it can lose its power and its grip on us, and we do it again. We forget the things that we need to remember. And then on the other hand, we remember the things that we actually want to forget.
There may be words in life that you've heard. You will never amount to anything. Or pictures or videos that you've looked at, or situations that you've been part of that you would dearly love to forget. And you can't. They have a grip on your heart. You're not just mentally recalling them. They're seared into your consciousness, and physiologically they affect you. They impact your choices, they impact your relationships, it, it impacts what you think is possible for your future. What we remember, and what we forget, what is seared into our consciousness, and what is not, hugely impacts the choices that we make every day, and whether or not we have hope for the future. Spring Cleaning for the soul requires us to look at what is sticking to our soul. And Psalm 103 allows us to do just that. Because this psalm is about what we remember, and what God forgets. What we remember, what God forgets. So as an exercise of Lenten spring cleaning, I think this Psalm can be a gift for us today. The Book of Psalms, or the book of songs is, of course closely associated with King David since he wrote roughly half of the 150 of them, including Psalm 103. And the Psalms is the pre eminent place in the scriptures that deals with matters of the heart. You know, it's like a counselling, a casebook, with cases of just about every type of struggle imaginable. Anger, doubt, fear, shame, you name it, and emotions that may be very real to some of you here today. But what's interesting about this Psalm is that it's not addressed to God. It doesn't even reference enemies, or particular problems that someone is struggling with. No, it's addressed to us. And very specifically, it's addressed to our hearts, what our hearts remember, and what they forget. Have a look at the opening verses, verses one and two. They're great. "Praise the Lord, oh, my soul, all my inmost being praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, oh, my soul and forget not his benefits."
Right here, the Psalm is diagnosing our problem. The reason we struggle to handle so much of, of daily life. We forget God's benefits. We forget God's character. We forget what God has done, and therefore what God will do. And it may not sound like a earth shattering revelation to us, but this is the key that Psalm 103 is holding out, as the way to handle life. Forget not God's benefits. And this is because our English word, remember, doesn't do justice to what it meant in the original Hebrew. We think of remember, just like, you know, mental recall. Oh, yeah, that's right. I went to the hockey game on Friday night. Or I can't remember the 28 variations on my password for every stupid online transaction I need to do. But King David, here, is talking about something much deeper than just mental recall. The Hebrew word for remember, is the one where you don't want to forget. It's "zacar". To "zacar" is to use your hands and your feet and your lips in action, based on what you're remembering. Its bodily action, not just the mental remembering of something. And it's kind of like the difference between two men who remember their wedding anniversary. Let's call these men George and Joshua. George remembers his wedding anniversary by buying his wife flowers and writing in a card how much she loves her. But Joshua remembers his wedding anniversary by marking it in his phone. And he's genuinely surprised when his wife bursts out at the end of the day. "You forgot our anniversary". "Of course I didn't", says Joshua. "I've been remembering our anniversary all day long."
Zakar. Remembrance, seared on our consciousness, that leads to action. Not simply the remembrance of the mind, of just remembering things. You see, one of the things horrible things that sin does in our lives, in in my life and in yours, is that the beautiful, the loving, the good, wonderful things that have happened to all of us, that, the things that should keep us hopeful, that that should keep us patient, that should make us kind of calm, even in the midst of of troubles. Those memories, they fade, they fade. And it's the ugly things, the lonely things, the painful things. Those are the ones that stick. You know how you can receive a million compliments about something you've done at work or an essay you've handed in. And it's the one critical email, the one negative post, the, the one person who didn't speak to you afterwards. That's the thing that sticks in our mind. Because what we remember, what becomes seared onto our consciousness, is what controls us, for good or for bad. And if what is imprinted on us, is that God is to be relied upon, that God loves us, that God has good plans for us, then we will be able to handle whatever each day throws at us. But, but if instead if what's imprinted on our hearts are the slights, are the hurts, are the injustices, the disappointments that we all experience. If that's what seared right here, we're going to be bitter. We're going to be frightened.
So how do we Zakar, how do we remember all of God's benefits, so we can handle whatever life throws at us. Those first two verses, "Praise the Lord, oh my soul, all my inmost being praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, oh my soul and forget not his benefits". Notice here the phrases in those first two verses "my innermost being, my my soul". And King David then goes on throughout this psalm to recite many of God's past actions. It's as if he's, he's preaching to himself, he's talking to his own soul. And the rest of the Psalm is then a very logical, a practical outlining of God's activity in the past, because past behaviours, best indicator of future behaviour, and of how God has never abandoned God's people. This is why it is such an essential habit to be reading the Bible every day, a logical, practical remembrance of God's character and activities. This is why the God, why God has given us the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, of Holy Communion, tangible physical reminders of God's grace and activity in the world. It's why being part of a physical Christian community is essential. Because we're reminded that we're not alone, as we learn how to follow Jesus, and we can then link arms with fellow Christians to make a tangible difference in other people's lives. And these logical, practical, tangible reminders of God's presence and activity, the scriptures, sacraments, being part of Christian community, those are the things that are feeding our innermost being, our souls. They're physiologically searing into our consciousness, the character of our Heavenly Father. So we do not forget God's benefits. Now you could be forgiven for thinking that all that I'm really talking about this morning, with this remembering Zakar, or remembering that shapes us for action is a kind of pious form of self talk. I'm great, you're great. It's all going to be great, as the secret to get through life. Just telling yourself in the mirror each morning that God loves you. It's just an abstraction. Those are just words. It's not going to do the trick in real life. But the gospel, the gospel is not an abstraction. One of the worst things that can ever happen to us is to be forgotten. You know, you go to a party, or you don't go to a party, you don't show up at the party and no one realizes you didn't come. Or for people at work. to not notice that you've been on leave.
Arguably the most haunting moment in the life of Jesus was when he was dying on the cross. And He cries out to God the Father, oh, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? In fact, the Greek word used, and translated for forsaken is forgotten. My God, My God, why have you forgotten me? As King David talks to his own, innermost being in this Psalm, in verse 10, we hear about how God does not treat us as our sins deserve. And multiple times the scriptures talk about God actually forgetting our sins. God forgets our sins, because on the cross, Jesus was forgotten. Jesus was forgotten so we would not forget God's benefits. God forgot Jesus for one agonizing moment on the cross so you and I could be remembered for all eternity.
Why does President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine inspire us so much? Why are we moved by this man? Because he's not forgotten his people. He's not abandoned them in their darkest hour. It seems as if he will stay with them, even as the bombs fall and death descends. He moves us, because he's willing to lay down his life so that Ukraine will not be forgotten. He moves us, because that's what we all want. We want someone who will not forget us, who will not abandon us in the hour of our death. We want someone who's willing to die for us. This is not an abstraction. This is the gospel, that God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son to lay down his life for our eternal freedom, for our eternal hope for our eternal life. This is not simply an idea, a feel good mantra that we can say to ourselves, to send ourselves positive vibes. That's not what that man is saying to us from Ukraine. This is the reality of what God has done for us, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses, David and Solomon. When this reality becomes imprinted on our consciousness, seared in our innermost being, then we will also be able to face whatever is coming. And you see, the gospel is not simply about us. It's not simply some life hack to help you get through the week, although it does do that. Not forgetting God's benefits is about us being equipped to serve other people. And George was telling us about some of the graduates from this college who've done just that, over the decades. For us to serve our children, our friends, people we've never met across an ocean. Miroslav Volf, is a Croatian theologian who now teaches at Yale. This is what he says. "If the absence of pain in our own life, is our highest value, we will lack the courage to struggle against pain in the lives of our neighbours. If the absence of pain in our own life is our highest value, we will lack the courage to struggle against pain in the lives of our neighbours". Only, only when we have set aside our desire for comfort, or for advancement, or physical beauty, or whatever it is that we believe will make our lives pain free, only when we've set that aside as our greatest good, as our our highest goal. Only when we've seared onto our consciousness, that God is good, that God is faithful, that God is to be trusted, will we then have the courage and the strength to sacrifice for other people, let alone people we've never met. What pain is the West willing to suffer, to struggle against the pain of Ukraine, or South Sudan, or indigenous peoples?
Lent is Spring Cleaning for the soul, a time to look at what is sticking to our soul and what is not. So we can take hold of the full joy of the Gospel, of what God has done for us this Easter. God forgets our sins, so we can remember God's love. We have a God who has laid down his life for us, so we can live for other people. That is what our worship today can sear into our hearts, soak into our innermost being for tomorrow, and for however many days God grants each of us on this earth.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Friends, would you please stand for the closing benediction.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and the blessing of God Almighty the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you this day and forevermore. Amen.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Have a great rest of the day.
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