Snow Vision

Sermon preached on 4th March 2018

This morning I’m going to speak about “snowflakes” – both the literal kind, that clump to gather to turn our world white, and the human kind – “snowflakes” in the modern sense of people who can’t stand any criticism, or even being exposed to strong views with which they disagree, who need to be warned in advance if a particular talk or film might contain themes of an upsetting nature.

I’m not sure who first used the term “snowflake” to apply to a person – or quite what they had in mind – but there are perhaps two ways in which human and “literal” snowflakes are similar – just one strong blast of heat and they simply dissolve; and, clump enough of them together and they can very effectively distort reality.

Beginning then with actual, fluffy white bits of snow, and on Wednesday morning I heard a new phrase on the weather forecaster when the presenter spoke of a pestering of snowflakes”. I’ve heard phrases before like “persistent rainfall”, but a “pestering of snowflakes” had a slightly poetic ring to it.
Over the next two days, of course, much of the country has seen rather more than a pestering of snowflakes – with heavy falls and drifts of snow in many places.
And it’s remarkable how quickly the landscape changes. From the warmth of our homes, looking out – the pristine white that covers the ground can seem very beautiful, adding a brightness to the sky, after weeks of soggy greyness, and bringing our surroundings into sharper focus – making everything seem fresh and clean.

Out in the countryside, however, the snow-covered landscape can feel rather bleak – threatening even.
It’s often no longer easy to tell where the road surface ends and the roadside ditch begins.
One wrong turn and you find yourself well and truly stuck, and feeling a long way from any human help.

And it seems to me that the snow-laden experience of the past few days provides us with a good image for Lent.

This is the time when we are called to change the “landscape” of our own lives, just as Jesus took himself into the wilderness – enduring heat rather than bitter cold – away from familiar routines, familiar faces, away from his usual means of support.
During Lent we are meant to echo that wilderness experience to some extent, in order to bring into sharper focus our lives and our dependency on God, rather than the frills and distractions of human society.

For me, not being able to wander off somewhere for 6 weeks, the only way of refocussing that I could think of was to limit my reliance on technology – and I decided not to check emails either before 9am or after 9pm: to spend half of each 24 hours ignoring the annoying ping on the phone and keeping my attention on something else instead.

The effects of that MAY be that some of you will wait slightly longer for a response to your messages – but it also means, hopefully, that when you do hear from me it will be better thought out and at a more social hour.
For me, not being in thrall to the email means beginning the day with a little more time for the things I’d normally rush through without thinking, and ending the day without quite so many ideas jumbling around in my brain.
I think I might just keep this up when Lent is over!

Part of our “collective refocussing” here, each Lent, is the installation of the Stations of the Cross – I never get used to how different the church feels the first time I walk in and see them each Lent.

Like the snowfall, they change feel of our surroundings – perhaps making our church seem even more Italianate.
Those symbols of Christ’s passion – of the Way of the Cross – help to point us beyond the noticeboards and notices of our activities – and to remind us of Christ’s presence in his temple.

And, again like the snowfall, those stations can appear both beautiful and also rather stark
– a reminder of Jesus’ very real pain and death
– a reminder that Jesus knew the bleakness of isolation, feeling very far from human help,
despite the pressing crowds all around him.

The seriousness of Lent, and the starkness of those Stations, point us to what we heard in our first reading -that “the Power of God is Christ Crucified” – a notion which the author himself suggests is a “foolish” one from a worldly perspective.
But I would interpret that as saying that Christians should not be “snowflakes” – in the sense of overly-fragile people.

We should not expect to experience God’s power as a means of keeping us always safe – cushioning us from the harsher realities of life, or as a hiding place from anything that might upset us. (Jesus himself was not spared suffering and distress.)

The power of God is revealed most clearly precisely when we do face hardship and challenges, but then, by God’s grace, find that we can work through those difficulties, and emerge from them with new energy and insight.

To stretch the analogy a little further –
we appreciate the warmth of the sun far more powerfully when we are thawing out after a cold spell,
than when its heat is constant at the height of summer:
it’s in the transforming process – in the changing of the seasons – in the healing of broken hearts and minds – that God’s power is most vividly displayed.

During Lent, then, yes – we are called to look beyond some of the ordinary, everyday things that clutter our lives – in order to focus our minds more clearly on seeking God, and his ways.

And yet, we need to be careful that doesn’t become an escape into fantasy.

Lent isn’t just about making ourselves feel virtuous, or hiding away in some private sanctuary of holiness. Nor should we clump together, like snowflakes, to disguise the realities of life under a false covering of perfection.

If we are serious about seeking God – we shouldn’t be surprised if what we find challenges us, rather than consoles – just as Jesus challenged the temple traders who seemed to have lost sight of what their Temple was really for.

God, whose wisdom and power is revealed through Christ crucified, calls us into the dark places – calls us to notice what is wrong in the world around us – and to use our faith to do something about it.
In the last few days, we’ve heard of some heart-warming acts of kindness – from 4 x 4 drivers getting through urgent supplies and stranded workers; the determination of medical staff walking miles to and from work each day; the Greggs delivery man giving out cakes to motorists stranded on the motorway with him.

It’s that same generosity, that same awareness of other people and of our responsibility to and for each other, that God challenges us to find in more usual circumstances.

Let us pray then, this Lent,
that the vision of Christ crucified might teach us
to see more clearly the needs of the people around us,
and honestly to acknowledge our own needs,
and, in the power of God, to find the resources we need to bring about the transformation that he wills for us all.