As you read this we will be at least a couple of weeks into Lent. I'm writing though on Ash Wednesday, at the very start of Lent. The Methodist Worship Book includes in the preamble to the Ash Wednesday order of service the invitation to "observe this holy season of Lent, by prayer, self-denial and charitable giving; by self-examination and repentance and by meditating on God's word". Why? Because it is a reminder that we are flawed people who "fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). As I write, one section of the Worship Book quote jumps off the page: "...charitable giving, by self-examination and repentance". The story may have moved on by the time you read this but I imagine that the "charitable giving" sector will still be engaged in a period of "self-examination and repentance" following the scandal surrounding Oxfam. The shocking events, the lack of thoroughness in investigation and the lack of decisiveness in action illustrate the point that even organisations and individuals with the best intentions can fail. We know this well from abuse cases in the church. Aid workers paying prostitutes reveals the dark side in a humanity that is also capable of altruism and compassion.
Jesus came to save humanity, to save us from ourselves and all that corrupts and distorts within us the image of God in which we were made. The forty days of Lent mirror Jesus's own forty days in the wilderness being tempted and tested. Jesus alone didn't fail. He gave himself that we might be rescued from the consequences of our brokenness. Perhaps at a time when many would add aid workers to the list of professions in which the public has declining trust (a list already populated by teachers, police, and yes, ministers) we're reminded that the only one in whom we can fully trust is Jesus. Placing our trust in him, dedicating ourselves to follow where he leads is answering his call to repentance, a call to literally change our minds. During Lent we follow Jesus to the cross. We examine ourselves to see what in ourselves we need to leave there, meditating on God's word, the good news of forgiveness for all. As we stand forgiven we are called to show forgiveness to others, including charities. Whatever their shortcomings may be they do an immense amount to alleviate suffering and hardship, and deserve our continued support.
Rev. John Mills