Psalm 22:23-end, Genesis 17: 1-7,15-16, Romans 4: 13-end, Mark 8: 31-end
For some peculiar reason, Sundays in Lent take precedence over saints’ days. This, you may well think, reflects the miserable thinking of those who impose such strictures upon us, that fun and celebration are out of the question during this time of penitence and self-discipline, and that the lives of the saints, especially our national ones, are of little relevance or advantage during this season. However, a casual look at the life of St David will afford us a glimpse into a monastic rule that makes our Lenten observance seem trivial:
“monks had to pull the plough themselves without draught animals, must drink only water and eat only bread with salt and herbs, and spend the evenings in prayer, reading and writing. No personal possessions were allowed: even to say "my book" was considered an offence”
David lead by example, living a simple life and practised asceticism, teaching his followers to refrain from eating meat and drinking beer – the last part of which would appear not to have made a lasting impression on the nation.
David knew and understood well the deep meaning of Jesus’s words, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He would have recognised the severe temptation of refusing to acknowledge the temptation of the siren voices that lead us to an easy life, as distinct from a life that challenges the world to see in Christ the love of God made human and the very necessary life changes that flow from that. Jesus could have gone along with Peter’s admonitions, avoided conflict with the religious authorities, preached his message and made no lasting impact on this world at all. It is only by his suffering, death and resurrection that we can see God as he really is, a holy God who loves his creation to the uttermost, and triumphs over death to bring us the full life he intends for us.
Now, all that is fine for Christ, and fine, perhaps, for someone as saintly as David, living in a monastic community in West Wales, but for us, how practical is this? We are not called, surely, to live like that? We are called to love, to be tolerant, to include, to care and to consider all equal in the love of God. This is very true, but there are some words attributed to St David which are of great relevance and value here as well. They are a farewell message to his monks, that have been used through the following generations to inspire faith and to foster faithful, practical Christian living.
"Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us."
What were those “little things” that they had seen St David do? The simple life, the faithful prayer, the deep Bible study, the encouragement of people to persevere in their faith, acts of love and generosity – not the big things, like the pilgrimage to Rome, or the extension of Glastonbury Abbey, nor even the establishment of the governance of the Welsh Church in present day St David’s, but the little things.
Grand schemes keep us going for a while, but day by day we need the little things to help us see God in others and for them to see God in us. To have the faith of an Abraham, to believe that God would give him a son, even though he was ancient, takes little things which back up that grand promise of God. To make the huge leap that St Paul does from law-based righteousness for a few people to faith-based righteousness for the whole world requires the love of God made real to him on a daily, small-scale basis.
So what do we have? We have each other, we have, this Lent, all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Kew, working and thinking together about national issues of great importance, and in that process we can support each other in generosity and care, love and concern, to persevere with those “little things”, and to notice them in others.
St David was confident that his followers had observed the “little things” that David had done every day in his life that set him apart as a saint, a hero of God. We need that same confidence, to know that God is at work in us, giving us holiness, enabling us to be kind and inclusive, generous and loving, awake to opportunity to give of ourselves and the love of God, and to receive such offers with gratitude.
So may God bless us on this second Sunday of Lent. May God bless the people and country of Wales, and may each one of us persevere with the little things, so that God may achieve great things, here, and throughout the world.
Rev Peter Hart