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14 February 2013

Frozen by perfection

It's Day 2 of Lent.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and I was involved in meetings at the Med School all day so I had no opportunity to go to an Ash Wednesday service.  I did spend a fair bit of time THINKING about the liturgy of Ash Wednesday.  "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." "Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."  These phrases have been passing through my mind over and over the last couple of days.

Meanwhile, I haven't for the life of me been able to figure out what to write about.  I can't work out a "perfect" blog post to start off my Lenten journey.   And so I have been frozen into inaction, a sort of "writer's block."  But in my readings and prayers these last few days I have come across this concept of perfection more than once.  Lent isn't about being perfect.  It's about being REAL.  Being naked before God.  Letting God heal us from our imperfection.  Knowing that God has already redeemed us and healed us and accepts us as we are.

Lent isn't about empty piety either.  One of the listed readings for Ash Wednesday is Isaiah 58.  The prophet is talking about fasting as a self-serving exercise so that others and God might take notice.  But, the prophet, notes, these same people are oppressing their workers and stirring up trouble.  Instead, he says,
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am."

All of my Lenten discipline and striving for perfection is a big waste of time if I'm only doing it to for the sake of perfection or to look good.  If all I'm doing is trying to write a clever blog post to show you all how pious I am then it's all about me.  But Isaiah is saying that the fast that God wants is to break the bonds of oppression and injustice.  What am I doing today for the sake of justice?

That's not to say that I should give up this blog-writing discipline as meaningless. I'm not letting myself off that easily.  But in so many areas of my life I have allowed my own perfectionism (a very egocentric attitude) to get in the way of working for the cause of justice, of simple acts of sharing my bread with the hungry, clothing the naked, sharing what I have with the poor and homeless.  I make the same excuses that we all make.  "My little bit won't make a difference." "They're probably taking me for a ride, how do I know that person is really needy." "I can't afford it." "I don't want to pry into someone else's affairs." The list goes on.  Because I can't do it MY way, because I'm not rich enough or clever enough to come up with the PERFECT solution, I am frozen into inaction.

The opportunites are often subtle and small.  They usually do not involve making a big splash and getting our names out there for all to see.  And that's good.  Once my ego gets involved then I stand in God's way.  If I get in God's way then I frustrate all possibility of perfection as only God CAN make things right and perfect.  Likewise, if I turn my back on the opportunities God puts before me, it's quite possible that God will simply start giving the opportunities to someone else.  These opportunities to serve are opportunities to see Jesus, "God with skin on."  If I miss them, I miss God.  I miss the point of the journey to the cross.

What opportunities might I have today or tomorrow to meet and serve Jesus, to break the bonds of injustice, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked? How might I have to step outside of my comfort zone to do so? And how might my obsession with perfection get in the way of these small acts of service that might present themselves before me?

Almighty God, the Redeemer of all who trust in you; give heed to the cry of your people, deliver us from the bondage of sin that we may serve you in perfect freedom and rejoice in your unfailing love; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. (NZBB p 572)

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