Letter from the Vicar (March 2012)
Have you ever been caught in a severe storm? I slept through the Great Storm of 1987, even though I lived in Chichester where there a lot of devastation. I wasn’t so lucky in 1990 and the date, January 25th will always be imprinted on my mind.
I was taking a funeral as the storm struck and as the service went on the wind grew louder and louder, the rain teemed down and the sky grew dark. There were thunder claps and lightning flashes. When we went into the churchyard for the burial I watched the trees. Some were swaying backwards and forwards, bending under the force of wind. The wind was howling through their branches shaking them so violently that I thought they would be ripped off at any moment. But somehow, they managed to withstand the pulling and jerking of the wind, and apart from the loss of a few leaves, they were straight and tall when it was all over. On the other hand, there were other trees of similar size whose thickest branches came crashing down under the strain of the wind.
This provides an excellent illustration of life itself and the nature of the Christian faith. Both kinds of trees experience the same bough-breaking wind. But whereas some succumb and lose a lot of their branches or are completely destroyed, others remain flexible and withstand the storm. During Lent we remember the time Jesus was tempted to break away from his Father in heaven. The temptation was to see these forty days of testing as a sign that his Father in heaven no longer loved him, or if he did, then was playing games with him. The temptation was to give up the whole Son of God idea and go back to being a carpenter in Nazareth. But Jesus did not break away. At this time and throughout his ministry and even in his suffering and death, he remains connected with his Father in heaven. Jesus was not like the trees surrendering to the storm, snapping off, and crashing to the ground. Instead, he was like those trees which were bent low by the force of the wind but resolutely remained firm until the storm was over.
Sometimes when we face the force of the wind, when we face temptations we choose what is wrong. Why is that? Sometimes it is simply because it is difficult to know what is the right thing to do. In such circumstances if we make a wrong choice I am sure God will not condemn us, because he knows how difficult it is to sort out the dilemmas we face. Often I think we give into temptation because we are facing problems in our lives. We find ourselves in an unknown and confusing wilderness and it is all too tempting to break away from God. But the question is this: when the storm finally lifts, will you be lying on the ground like dead wood, or will you be straight and tall and growing again? Jesus was tempted. We are tempted. There is no sin in that. What matters is how we handle the temptation. And the truth is that we can handle temptation infinitely better if we remain close to our Father in heaven who loves us as his children. In this Lenten season we must reflect on the extent to which we give into temptation, change those things that need changing, and thank God that evil doesn’t have the last say. Jesus has won the victory. Thank God that even though we are sinners, our God is a gracious and caring God, his love never ends and no matter how many times we fall away he is always calling us back.