Sunday, 28 January 2018

Magazine Article for February 2018: Lent

Have you ever stopped to think why you do things the way you do? Why do you shop on that particular day, or set the table in a specific way? Why do you drive that route, when you're going to the shops? Why is your morning or evening routine the way it is?

There will be good and carefully thought-out answers for these questions in some cases, but for most of us, the habits we have fallen into have just happened by accident - or we have inherited them from someone else. Of course, there are times in life when our patterns and habits get challenged - going to college, getting married and so on. But often, we just carry on, because that's what we have always done.

But I have to say that some of the most positive and creative experiences I have had is when people have challenged the norms I lapse into, by asking questions or suggesting alternative ways of doing things. It's not always comfortable, but it can be very life-giving if you're brave enough to listen.

For those of us with faith, we have a whole different set of habits and norms, which can be very deeply embedded in our being. The church we go to, the time of the service we attend, the pew we sit in, as well as the roles we fill or the activities we attend. If those are ever challenged by someone else, it can feel a very personal intrusion and we can find ourselves being very defensive.

However, if Lent means anything, then it is a time to question, to review and probably to change. It might be a simple change - allocating a little more time to prayer, Bible study or serving God in some way. It may raise bigger questions for some of us about our priorities, our values and our commitments. It may even ask us if we are in the right place or job.

But we don't have to do that work alone - I value having someone who is a spiritual director who I meet every few weeks for that sort of review conversation. If that would be helpful for you, have a word with me, Anne Cunliffe, or Sue Kiernan.

That may not be for all of us, but if we're paying attention to Lent, we can't go through it without any questions being raised, or without being prompted to think again about our lives. Just remember: it's not a reason to fear. It might just be the exciting start of something new.

Treasure the questions

Mike Peatman

Sermon for Candlemas, 28 January 2018.




Being fortunate enough to have a car and 2 good legs, I’m not often dependant on buses. But last week I didn’t have time to walk from Galgate to Lancaster while my car was being serviced. I might have been warmer if I had – the bus was 50 mins late.

Many thoughts went through my head while I waited; gratitude for having a car; sympathy for folk who wait for buses every day and less charitable thoughts about the bus company! But also how difficult I find waiting; how impatient and crabby I get!

Life is full of waiting isn’t it?

- waiting for your dream job – or at least something that would be more fulfilling
- waiting for the time when you can live without money worries
- waiting for circumstances to change so that you will be free of some responsibility
- waiting for an operation or the results of a medical examination you are dreading
- waiting for God to answer a prayer

Life is full of ‘waitings’, major and trivial. Some things we wait for are just vague wishes, some we long for with all our hearts. Waiting is part of life but when it comes to waiting for God, we have some things we can learn from this passage.

Simeon and Anna were waiting for something God had promised over a long time. And they were part of what God wanted to do that day, because they’d waited. They’d learned to wait attentively, to live expectantly, and they had the great joy of seeing what they’d waited for.

1 SIMEON v 25 - 35

We don’t know if Simeon was an old man, we are only told Anna’s age. I guess we presume he is an old man because he says he’s ready to die once he’s seen the Messiah. He lived every day in expectation – will this be the day? If he was indeed an older man, maybe, as he grew more creaky and prone to illness, he might have been tempted to wonder if it really would happen in his lifetime.

And how would he know which child? So many infant boys were brought by their parents to pay the usual 5 shekels to redeem the first-born. Simeon had to be always ready, always listening to the voice of God. When the day came he was there, in the place where there would be a fulfilment of the promise, where he would hear: “this is it”.

Simeon takes the child in his arms, and he prays this prayer that we have had sung to us just now: the Nunct Dimitis. This beautiful prayer has been used at Evensong and Compline for more than 350 years. But actually “dismiss your servant in peace,” for Simeon meant dying not sleeping!

As Simeon looks down at this child in his arms, he understands that this Jesus he has waited for, would bring salvation, not just to his own race, but to everyone: Jew and Gentile. Outsiders would find the light they are groping for; insiders would see his glory in its fullest and truest sense. He recognised this wonderful revelation in a tiny baby. This was worth waiting for; now he could go in peace.

2 ANNA v36 - 38

The second person here is Anna. She had also learned to wait – probably longer than Simeon. We do know that Anna was old. 84 is a good age now, but a great age then. It says she was widowed after only 7 years of marriage, so she could have been a widow for at least 60 years.

This was no ordinary lady! She was a prophet, always in the Temple day and night worshipping, fasting and praying – no mean feat for someone 84 years old! She was also waiting, waiting for the Promise to be fulfilled, waiting expectantly.

Anna was old but hadn’t ceased to hope in the Lord. She had suffered aloneness but hadn’t grown bitter. As a result, here is someone else in the right place at the right time. She didn’t have to go far because she was always there waiting in God’s presence, and speaking about him to everyone she met in the most natural way. The waiting had made her who she was.

Anna and Simeon were probably long dead before Jesus began his ministry but they played a very important part by not losing hope, always listening, speaking the truth, waiting expectantly for the promise of the Lord.


At Bible Explorers last Tuesday we were studying this account and I asked the group what do we learn from these 2 people about waiting.

Here are some of the things they said:

- Waiting teaches us to stay with our convictions
- Waiting helps us get our priorities right – we have to push away what isn’t important
- Waiting teaches us perseverance and patience. We have to simply trust that the promise will come.
- Waiting on God like Simeon and Anna, means allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us; so we take note of the nudges – do that now; go and see that person today.

It’s great what comes out of those discussions – I love it!

One or two other observations about the waiting process:

Firstly, God is not in a hurry. 
We live in a very impatient culture that wants everything now. We hate waiting for things to happen. But this time of year in our country teaches us something very important – we can’t hurry spring. I’m longing for the daffodils and even more those long light evenings. But nature is not in a hurry – and neither is God.

Secondly, waiting is not a waste of time. 
It isn’t necessarily inactive. Years ago I read this: “When you’re waiting you are not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is, you’re allowing your soul to grow up – you’re becoming what God created you to be”. (Sue Monk Kidd: When the heart waits). Waiting matures us.

Thirdly, waiting is open-ended. 
As far as we understand, Simeon and Anna did not know exactly how they would recognize the Messiah when he came; they had to wait for the nudge of the Holy Spirit. Those who had got it all worked out at the time didn’t recognize him when he came, because they were too sure they knew what they were waiting for. To wait like this, open-endedly, is not an easy way to live, because we are not in control, we have to let go of our ideas.


If we want to know what direction the Lord wants us to go in and that applies to us as a church, what we should do, what he is calling us to be, we are going to have to learn to wait and listen. So let’s learn together how to wait attentively, to listen expectantly for the nudge of the Holy Spirit.

- Sue Kiernan