"Weighed on the scales" - a reflection for Ash Wednesday
I have just written a newsletter for our congregation at All Saints church, Weston, Bath. I started like this. As you read this we are starting the next “great era” in the Christian year – Lent to Easter. This is a good time to reflect on our own journeys of faith. I am not advocating “flying solo” – such is the mood of this age we are in. In thinking about our own journeys, together, we encourage (and not criticise) each other – and so the body of Christ is built. It is easy to become demoralised by others. We must not.
The book of Daniel is an amazing, and unique book in the Old Testament. Daniel, in exile, and promoted to high rank, stays true to the one true God. It is an account of amazing happenings, and conflicts between God and the local culture/people. God wins, again and again. There are several recognitions of God’s ultimate sovereignty in the affairs of men, and his power and grace. Two early chapters show contrasting responses.
Reflection on chapter 4, and Nebuchadnezzar’s recognition of God, prompts some questions of us, to ask ourselves:
• Am I too proud?
• What are the lessons God wants me to learn?
• What might need to be stripped away?
These questions should be a regular part of our walk with God.
Chapter 5 looks at another person’s behaviour.
“Weighed in the scales - some people just do not listen!”
Let us look at this chapter, and then pause and reflect. Belshazzar is Nebuchadnezzar’s son. Not only is he practicing idolatry, he is actively mocking God. Then a “human hand” writes on the wall. He is mentally and physically terrified. He calls for Daniel, and we see, in Daniel’s reply, his confidence in God, and his humility.
And Daniel’s interpretation? God is saying “You, Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, even though you knew your father’s history. You have set yourself up against the Lord of Heaven. You praised the gods who cannot see, hear, or understand. But you did not honour the God who holds your life and all your ways in his hand. You have been weighed and found wanting. Your days are ending”.
That very night Belshazzar was slain.
For us, we can begin by remembering that God is all powerful, Jesus is alive, and we live, as people who believe this, in the world, but not of the world. We are countercultural. It is, in human terms, a “strange thing that we do”, coming together and experiencing the love of God. The Holy Spirit completes this experience (Romans 8: 26-27). The Lord knows our hearts and for whom they search.
And how about our living? The world is full of things that distract and entice. All people have vulnerability. We also bargain with God. We think “I am so busy doing this (OK thing) that that (distraction) is permissible”. We see that the allure of sin offers short term pleasure, but there are always consequences, eventually, and things unravel. What does “Found wanting” mean now? Isn’t it different with Jesus? We are people of the New Testament. Doesn’t that mean we’re forgiven?
Well……… yes, we are forgiven, saved by grace, but there is still work to do. Proverbs 29: 1 says that whoever remains stiff necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed without remedy. And Jesus, teaching about the parable of the rich fool, concludes “but God said to him - you fool. This very night your life will be demanded from you (Luke 12: 20). I think it boils down to our attitude.
My thought for the University Chaplain’s Facebook page this week says: “Aim to be [physically] fit, to be [mentally] fit, and to be [spiritually] fit (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). This is a positively reinforcing circle – or, as we are transformed (Romans 12: 1-2), a spiral! Be encouraged. Physical fitness gives endurance, a sense of well-being, and opens up new frontiers; mental fitness gives ability, self-control and resilience; and spiritual fitness gives freedom, joy, guidance and the power of prayer.
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Paul reminds us of the link between what we teach and do, with how we are. “Thank God for God’s grace and patience” we all say. Of course….. but there is a place for work and self-discipline here too. I know we are not all young athletes. Exercise is still good. There is evidence of the role of gyms in hospices to help their patients’ morale.
Writing to the Corinthians, a city full of athletic prowess, Paul says “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave (i.e. I train) so that after I have preached to others I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:27). Wasn’t Paul saying that he did not want to be weighed in the scales and found wanting?
And as we pray, and listen to God too, we engage with the ongoing process of being transformed (Romans 12: 1-2, Hebrews 12:1-3) into the person we were intended to be at our creation. That process is God guided. So the cycle becomes a spiral, moving towards God.
So let us be encouraged, and reflect and learn this Lent. Daniel is a book intended for us. Look at our attitude, drive, and priorities. It helps to pause, be honest with ourselves and be inspired by others doing the same. And keep going. The Lord is in the boat with us.
Nigel Rawlinson – University Chaplain.
1st March 2017 (Ash Wednesday)