From the Letter to the Philippians:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Philippians 4:8 (NRSV) – March 7, 2014.)
In thinking about yesterday’s readings, I suggested that the Lenten question we should be asking one another is not “What are you giving up?” but “What are you rejoicing about?” Along comes Paul today and tells the church in Caesarea Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (v. 4) following up with this list of things to consider, things about which we might rejoice.
As a contrast, today’s Old Testament lesson is from the prophet Ezekiel and focuses our attention on a variety of things one can do in violation of the Law of Moses, things not honorable or just or commendable, and decrees the Lord’s displeasure in such things. The point of the prophet’s words on God’s behalf is turn us away from such things. The reading concludes:
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. (Ezek. 18:31-32)
I don’t think the prophet succeeds in redirecting our attention, however. The priest under whom I served my curacy was fond of saying, “What gets your attention gets you.” So, although I know the point of Lent is to “put [us] in mind of . . . the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith” (BCP 1979, pg. 265), I think we might better focus our attention on the things Paul suggests rather than on our sinfulness.
As a Lenten discipline, I suggest focusing each day on one thing we find praiseworthy and honorable — today, for example, I have decided to rejoice in and give thanks for the good work of all the people who make it possible for me, on a cold, snow-covered morning in northeastern Ohio, to enjoy fresh fruit each morning. Yes, I know there are important environmental and social issues raised by our failure to “eat locally” and by our global food industry, but today I’m thankful for the orange and the banana and the kale that just went into my breakfast “smoothie” and for the people who made that possible.
Every dark cloud, it is said, has its silver lining. I choose to focus on the “silver lining” rather than on the “cloud;” perhaps if we do that more often we can do more about the “clouds.” After all that’s what we’re supposed to do in Lent, “turn from [our] wickedness and live.” (BCP 1979, pg. 269) As Johnnie Mercer wrote, “Accentuate the positive [and] eliminate the negative.” That’s positively Lenten!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.