‘How beautiful it is to do nothing, and rest afterward.’ ‘Do nothing and change your life.’ ‘Don’t just do something, sit there!’ Do you believe those things? They go to the very heart of what it is to be a Christian, and what it is to pray. For those who can come along, I will say a little more on Wednesday evening about this contemplative tradition which we Western Christians have often ignored, or at least underplayed. Today we are recovering its importance, in what is variously called contemplative prayer, Christian meditation and centring prayer. Some Christians – for example, the rather heady and fundamentailst ones - still find it a little strange. Yet it goes back to the very beginnings of Christian Faith. We find it particularly in the spirituality of St Paul and the writer of the Gospel of St John and we find it also in the other Gospels in such stories as the one we hear today. For Jesus, according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, constantly took time apart to be with God, to let go of the stresses and temptations around and upon him, and to be returned to his true centre – which is our true centre – the love of God.
The thing is, as someone once pointed out, we are not ultinately human do-ings. We are, first and foremost, human be-ings. Aren’t we? Of course it is good, and right, to do things, but being what we truly are is what really matters. It is hard to remember that. We human beings are so obsessed with becoming human do-ings. We want to do this or that, so that we can become rich, or powerful, or successful. Those are 3 important ways in which we can understand the temptations of Jesus we hear today. For, firstly, Jesus is tempted to make bread, to make things to feed his appetite. Then, secondly, Jesus is tempted to gain power by giving up all that he really values. And finally, Jesus is tempted to climb up high and gain attention. Just like us, because he is just like us, Jesus is tempted to do things to be someone. Fortunately, for us, as well as himself, Jesus chooses firstly to be someone – to be the human being God wants him to be – rather than to do something which damages that. Then, according to our Gospel today, when Jesus is that full human be-ing, he can do what God wants him to do. In being himself, he shows us how we too can be human beings: human be-ings who are able to do what God wants.
It is so terribly simple - which is part of why we forget or struggle with it – the great thing about Christian Faith is that it is all about sharing in God’s Love, and not about doing anything particular at all. That is so often hard to believe, that people, all down the ages, keep thinking ‘yes, but there must be something else – something else we must do! Surely we have to believe, worship and pray in some special ways, or be moral in some particular ways?’ Well, no, actually: we don’t! Have a look at our second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans which we hear today. What St Paul is saying is that we do not find salvation and righteousness – that is, healing and peace – by doing things, like keeping the law. We find salvation and live in righteousness when we experience God’s love in Jesus Christ. Knowing that we are loved by God as human beings, not doing things as such, is what truly matters. For doing things, in themselves, doesn’t make us loving human beings. But being a person who knows God’s love, inevitably flows out into loving actions.
Sadly, the words of St Paul today have sometimes beeen misused by some Christians to create a new essential form of doing. It has been said that Paul is saying that we have to confess Christ with a particular formula or set of words. That however is to twist what Paul says about believing in the heart and believing with the lips. For when Paul is talking about believing, he is talking about experiencing God in Christ, trusting in God in Christ, not simply saying or doing something for Christ. Paul is calling us back to being, and to doing nothing, so that we can know, and trust, in God’s love in Jesus Christ.
On the back of the postcard I mentioned earlier, are some details of worship and activities at St Mark’s Buderim, introduced by the following words: ‘Take a few minutes out of your week to do nothing and see how it changes your life. At St Mark’s there are plenty of ways in which you can build some quiet times into your busy week when the phone won’t ring, the TV isn’t blaring, and you can simply ‘be’ in the presence of something very special… maybe even sacred.’
The same goes for St Luke’s parish here. There are many ways in which we can learn to ‘be’: to be the human beings God loves, not just the human doings we can make ourselves into. Noone said it was easy: it wasn’t for Jesus! Yet we too, if we choose, can make some extra time to do nothing this Lent and maybe we too will begin to find our lives changed: through the love of God in Jesus Christ, Amen.
by Jon Inkpin, for Lent 1, Year C, 14 February 2016